Among the Sister City delegates arriving in Salt Lake City this week are two Filipino officials who witnessed the death of a dictatorship and the birth of a democracy.
The trio touched down at Salt Lake International Airport Wednesday afternoon and spoke of the contrasts between the Philippines under dictator Ferdinand Marcos and elected President Corazon Aquino."We really are privileged to be given the right to again enjoy expressing ourselves to the government, to the press, and impart ideas that will really help our government to go on toward normalcy," said Quezon City Counselor Bert Galarpe.
Galarpe and Counselor Jorge Banal are two of the first democratically elected officials in the Philippines since Marcos declared martial law in 1972, dissolved the elected Congress and established his own constitution.
They, with other delegates from Japan and Taiwan, are visiting Salt Lake City this weekend as part of the Sister Cities program to enhance relations between their countries and U.S. cities.
Their homeland was thrust into turmoil during the waning rein of Marcos in 1986 when, after decades of a declining economy and a rising communist insurgency, Aquino was popularly elected.
"It feels just great," said Banal. "For 20 years we have been under a dictatorship and people were getting used to living under a regime. . . . Now, we will be legislating laws that will be for the benefit of the people."
Galarpe and Banal are two of 24 full-time elected city counselors in Quezon City, once the capital of the Philippines. The city council was abolished under Marcos and the mayor was Marcos' personal appointee.
Now the council, the mayor and the vice-mayor are elected by Quezon City citizens.
George, never before a public official, calls himself a "neophyte politician." He expresses confidence in the council's ability to cooperate with the Aquino government and give his people "a fighting chance."
They will need it. Since Aquino came to power, the Philippines has continued to be plagued by a Communist insurgency, poverty and a strife-ridden land reform policy. The Aquino government itself has been accused by Amnesty International of killing left-wing foes.
But the counselors are confident that their infant democracy is destined for success. George called the first year of democracy in the Philippines an "eye-opener," while Bert predicted that in within five years the country would see "big progress."
For the man who led the country into an economic tailspin and political upheaval, the officials offer a paradoxical review.
"President Marcos could have been the greatest president in the history of the Philippines; he was a genius in his own right," said Banal.
"In the early days of his presidency, he was hero," leading the country into relative prosperity, said Galarpe. But his own interests and the "bad influence of others" turned him into a dictator, they said.