Crony tells of ri­valry in Mar­cos’ in­ner cir­cle

Philippine Daily Inquirer - - FRONT PAGE - By Amando Doronila

(First of two parts) THE 58TH an­niver­sary of the mar­tial law clam­p­down in the Philip­pines went un­marked on Thurs­day, Sept. 21. The event was over­shad­owed by Pres­i­dent Aquino’s first visit to the United States, the con­tro­versy over the govern­ment re­port on the Aug. 23 hostage-tak­ing cri­sis and the con­gres­sional in­ves­ti­ga­tion into al­le­ga­tions that peo­ple close to him had re­ceived pay­offs from “jueteng” op­er­a­tors.

Pres­i­dent Fer­di­nand Mar­cos se­cretly signed the mar­tial law edict—Procla­ma­tion No. 1081—on Sept. 21, 1972, but he an­nounced the mar­tial law edict on na­tional tele­vi­sion only two days later, im­mo­bi­liz­ing the en­tire nation.

Ob­vi­ously tak­ing a leaf from the de­ceit­ful se­rial an­nounce--

ment of mar­tial law, Mr. Aquino, who claims to be an apos­tle of democ­racy, re­leased only a por­tion of the govern­ment re­port on the hostage-tak­ing cri­sis last Mon­day when he left for the United States.

But Mr. Aquino sup­pressed the more sub­stan­tive sec­tion delv­ing into sanc­tions rec­om­mended for in­sti­tu­tions and in­di­vid­u­als deemed li­able for the hostage res­cue de­ba­cle un­til af­ter a re­view of the com­mit­tee re­port shall have been com­pleted.

Trans­parency is not one of the hall­marks of the Aquino ad­min­is­tra­tion’s han­dling of the hostage cri­sis. The govern­ment can be as de­vi­ous as the Mar­cos dic­ta­tor­ship or as the much-re­viled Ar­royo ad­min­is­tra­tion that has been ac­cused of repli­cat­ing the Mar­cos prac­tices in sup­press­ing in­for­ma­tion.

A crony’s bi­og­ra­phy

On Fri­day, a new book was launched, re­veal­ing the in­tense strug­gle for power in­side the Mar­cos regime dur­ing its last three years.

The book, a bi­og­ra­phy of con­struc­tion mag­nate Rodolfo Cuenca who ad­mits to be­ing a Mar­cos crony, re­veals for the first time an in­sider’s view of the height­en­ing ri­valry among power blocs within the Mar­cos in­ner cir­cle as the dic­ta­tor’s health started to de­te­ri­o­rate in 1983—the year op­po­si­tion leader Benigno S. Aquino Jr. was as­sas­si­nated upon his re­turn from a three-year ex­ile in Amer­ica.

Ti­tled “Builder of Bridges, the Rudy Cuenca Story,” the bi­og­ra­phy writ­ten by Jose Dal­isay Jr. and An­tonette Reyes is more than a story about the rise and fall from grace of Cuenca’s Con­struc­tion and Devel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion of the Philip­pines (CDCP), the biggest Philip­pine con­struc­tion con­glom­er­ate at the time.

The book re­veals the cor­rup­tion and the cor­ro­sive ten­sions among the Mar­cos’ Palace elite that con­trib­uted to its down­fall dur­ing the last three years of the dic­ta­tor­ship.

Dys­func­tional regime

The Mar­cos regime is de­picted as dys­func­tional, torn by the vi­cious ri­valry among con­tend­ing fac­tions who had carved up their own power bases, in­clud­ing eco­nomic sec­tors cre­ated by the dic­ta­tor to es­tab­lish mo­nop­o­lies con­trolled by fa­vored cronies in an ar­range­ment de­scribed by schol­ars as “crony cap­i­tal­ism.”

Cuenca was one of those cronies. His con­glom­er­ate held sway over a broad range of con­struc­tion en­ter­prises based on in­fra­struc­ture devel­op­ment, which, ac­cord­ing to Cuenca, was the Mar­cos dic­ta­tor­ship’s last­ing legacy, de­spite his de­mo­li­tion of rep­re­sen­ta­tive and elected democ­racy with his mar­tial law dec­la­ra­tion.

Cuenca’s con­glom­er­ate ranged from ce­ment pro­duc­tion to ho­tel build­ing, su­per­high­way con­struc­tion, mass trans­port sys­tem for Metro Manila, projects for Manila In­ter­na­tional Air­port devel­op­ment, and bridge-build­ing, no­tably the fab­u­lous San Juanico Bridge span­ning Leyte and Sa­mar. The bridge, an ar­chi­tec­tural gem, looks very much like the iconic, Syd­ney Har­bor Bridge, in Aus­tralia.

The book re­calls “In­side the Third Re­ich,” the mem­oir writ­ten by Al­bert Speer, Nazi min­is­ter of ar­ma­ments from 1942 to 1945, who drafted Hitler’s grandiose plan of build­ing mag­nif­i­cent build­ings and mon­u­ments cel­e­brat­ing his vi­sion of Ber­lin as the cap­i­tal of the re­ich “of a thou­sand years.”

Crony cap­i­tal­ism

Cuenca’s bi­og­ra­phy tempts one to dub his role in the Mar­cos regime as the ar­chi­tect and even the ex­ecu­tor of the dic­ta­tor’s ’ in­fra­struc­ture vi­sion.

Speer’s book has been de­scribed as the “de­fin­i­tive work” on the in­ner work­ings of Nazi Ger­many. Cuenca’s bi­og­ra­phy sim­i­larly re­veals the in­ner work­ings of the Mar­cos elite hi­er­ar­chy and his role in that power struc­ture.

Cuenca is not em­bar­rassed by his much-crit­i­cized close as­so­ci­a­tion with Mar­cos and his be­ing tagged as a crony.

But the book for the first time re­veals what was hap­pen­ing be­hind the scenes in the Mar­cos close cir­cle and the dy­namic of crony cap­i­tal­ism. Much of what we know comes from out­side sources and from Mar­cos’ self­serv­ing di­aries.

From avail­able data, the book is the first time a Mar­cos crony or a se­nior func­tionary has writ­ten about his role in the Mar­cos hi­er­ar­chy. The book re­veals quite a lot of things, but it does not tell all.

Cuenca is not apolo­getic about his as­so­ci­a­tion with Mar­cos and ad­mits his con­glomer- ate ben­e­fited enor­mously from this. The book also re­veals that he was an out­sider among the cronies.

Cuenca re­calls his first en­counter with Mar­cos, some­time in the 1950s. “Fer­di­nand Mar­cos was al­ready a con­gress­man when I first met him. My mother had a le­gal prob­lem and she hired him as a lawyer.”

Cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions

The next meet­ing took place in con­nec­tion with the set­ting up of Filip­inas Ce­ment in the late 1950s, when Cuenca’s group needed Sen­a­tor Mar­cos to take up the cud­gels for them with the Na­tional Eco­nomic Coun­cil.

The third time he met Mar­cos was when Cuenca was work­ing with the Lopez group on Sher­a­ton Ho­tel (now Hy­att Ho­tel). By that time, Mar­cos was aim­ing for the pres­i­dency and wanted to be­come the Lib­eral Party can­di­date, which Pres­i­dent Dios­dado Ma­ca­pa­gal promised to him.

But when Ma­ca­pa­gal re­neged on his prom­ise, Mar­cos bolted the Lib­eral Party and sought to join the Na­cional­ista Party. He turned to Bobby Bene­dicto of the pow­er­ful sugar bloc for help.

The Filip­inas Ce­ment group made a P50,000 con­tri­bu­tion to the Mar­cos cam­paign, al­though it did the same thing for Ma­ca­pa­gal. Cuenca said this equidis­tance was the “prac­tice of po­lit­i­cally pru­dent busi­ness­men.”

In the 1969 elec­tion, in which Mar­cos ran for re­elec­tion, Cuenca was ap­proached by the ad­min­is­tra­tion for help to raise funds. He some­times do­nated printed items. “At times, they’d bor­row our air­craft,” he adds.

Pas­sion for golf

Golf, for which Mar­cos had a pas­sion, ce­mented the ties be­tween him and Cuenca. Cuenca re­calls that he first played golf with Mar­cos and Bene­dicto in 1967 at the Mala­cañang golf course.

Some­times, af­ter golf, they would play pelota or swim at the Olympic size swim­ming pool where, Cuenca re­calls, “I could re­ally talk to him.”

He says that golf was “one of the ways by which any­one who had busi­ness to do with the Pres­i­dent would have ac­cess to him.”

Cuenca says that dur­ing one of these talks, they talked about the Lopezes, and Mar­cos told Cuenca that he sus­pected the Lopezes of fi­nanc­ing the stu­dent demon­stra­tions, but “he didn’t tell me any­thing about declar­ing mar­tial law.”

Mar­cos keeps to him­self his plan for mar­tial law dec­la­ra­tion to a smaller cir­cle of cronies, in­clud­ing De­fense Sec­re­tary Juan Ponce En­rile, AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Fabian Ver and Con­stab­u­lary chief Lt. Gen. Fidel V. Ramos. Mar­cos com­part­men­tal­ized his crony sys­tem. Cuenca, the in­fra­struc­ture builder, was out of that.

(To be con­tin­ued)

MAR­COS: New book pro­vides an in­sider’s ac­count of the power strug­gle in the last years of the dic­ta­tor­ship.

INQUIRER PHOTO

THEN PRES­I­DENT Mar­cos de­clares mar­tial law in Septem­ber 1972. Be­side him is his press sec­re­tary, Fran­cisco Tatad.

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