Father's Son - Miracles of Quiapo by Ingming Aberia

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To the brink

Former president Rodrigo Duterte.

"To the brink" was also published by The Manila Times on 7 February 2024.

Former president Rodrigo Duterte has a reputation of being a strong man and a strong mouth, although no one could tell which one preceded the other.

At a “prayer” rally in Davao held on 28 January 2024, he was at his usual blabbering self as he denounced attempts to change the constitution through people’s initiative.

He addressed the troublemakers and prepped a junta-like takeover by the military:

“Wala kayong prinsipyo, mukhang pera kayong lahat. 'Yan ang totoo. Kaya ang gusto ko pag nagka-letse-letse na, pumasok ang military…palitan ninyo lahat, arestuhin ninyo kasi nagsasayang ng pera at yung ginagastos nila is a fraud. Swindling ang ginawa nila. You must account for the wasted money or the money that you bought the signature of the Filipino…bribery."

Reminiscent of his calling Richard Gordon being “a fart away from disaster,” he asked: “Bakit pumasok sa utak ninyo 'yang people’s initiative? Anong nakain ninyo? There’s nothing wrong with the Constitution right now." He charged that the true agenda of people behind the people’s initiative was to perpetuate themselves in power.

In his diatribe against Gordon, who was a sitting senator at the time and had criticized him for the series of appointments of retired military officials to key civilian positions in government, Duterte was referencing brain cells that dripped towards the visceral parts, ready to bomb out as the dreaded smelly air. Gordon also chaired the Senate committee that probed anomalies in the procurement of COVID 19 supplies involving Pharmally Corporation, eventually drafting a report that recommended the filing of plunder charges against Duterte, among others, as soon as he stepped out of office.  

In keeping with the grain of the metaphor, the two separate public rallies two Sundays ago had the flair of two camps trying to out-fart each other. Another serving of that kind could well drive either of them to the brink of aborting a partisan union, if a divorce has not yet happened, flirting disaster for a political marriage that has been arranged for convenience in the first place.

One wonders why these show of forces—one organized by Malacañang in Manila and the other by a Malacañang-like overlord in Davao—needed to be mounted on the same day when both camps had at least 700 days left in the calendar to square off for the next mid-term elections. The inuendo is that neither event was a prayer rally nor a kick-off blast, but one to sieve which of the freeloading minions were friend or foe. The likes of Gloria Arroyo and other prominent politicians that joined Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr.  in the Manila rally have been known to aim for the best of both worlds, but the required logistics kept them from wielding the perfect art and the practice of traditional politics. 

The opposition to charter change is best left at the hands of anyone other than Duterte. While in power, he tried but failed to revise the constitution. In 2019 media interview, he called the 1987 Constitution provision on the country’s exclusive economic zone “senseless and thoughtless,” further defaming it as a piece of “toilet paper.”

The use of what his spokesperson described as yet another metaphor came out in the context of a 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruling that “China’s claim—including its nine-dash line, recent land reclamation activities, and other activities in Philippine waters—were unlawful.” China trashed the ruling and, consistent with its snub of the proceedings that led to the decision, did not recognize PCA’s jurisdiction on the issue, a position that China has since defended by taking bullying and aggressive actions to the detriment of the Philippine government’s exercise of sovereignty.

The treacherous bent of the man showed throughout the whole time he represented the country. But no one in Congress dared to impeach him, probably out of fear from losing either physical or financial wellbeing, or both.

Two days after his expletive-littered rant, he called for the secession of Mindanao from a sovereign country whose constitution provides that its territorial integrity is inviolable.

When he was president, he bombed Marawi City to its ground to kill rebels who espoused the same cause. What makes Duterte and the Maute group different is that the latter employed arms to achieve their ends, although he reportedly got licenses for more than 300 firearms two weeks before he stepped down from office.

Duterte warned that President Marcos, Jr. risked being ousted from power unless the latter stopped the charter change drive, perhaps suggesting that public opposition to it constitutes the magnitude of the 1986 people power revolution that toppled the government of his father, the late Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. Despite the obscene manner by which the people’s initiative has been undertaken, I would think that the warning seems presumptuous at this point. The Joseph Estrada parallel is closer to this case—he who fell from power on account of greed and betrayal among friends.    

I would also attribute to friendship as the force that allowed the burial of the late president Marcos, Sr. at the Libingan ng Bayani, as well as the dodging from jail time for convicts like his wife Imelda Marcos and those charged for plunder like Jinggoy Estrada, Juan Ponce Enrile, Gloria Arroyo, among others. 

The charge that Bongbong Marcos Jr. is a drug addict, debunked promptly by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), was probably meant to mount a compelling call to action.

Duterte knows if he has been lying all his life, otherwise he discriminates if his drug war killed thousands of drug suspects while the one he believes is a user beyond doubt lives another day to in fact rose to succeed him. In the end, whether he or PDEA is a liar is of lesser consequence than the troubled mind his blabbering strong mouth has exposed.   

President Marcos rebrands his administration

The harder the government presses to sell “Bagong Pilipinas” (New Philippines), the easier it is to recall old, broken promises. 

A few months after President Bongbong Marcos assumed office, he issued an Executive Order and a Memorandum Circular launching the “Bagong Pilipinas Campaign as the Administration's Brand of Governance and Leadership.” Dated 3 July 2023, the Circular defines Bagong Pilipinas as “the overarching theme of the administration’s brand of governance and leadership, which calls for deep and fundamental transformations in all sectors of society and government and fosters the State’s commitment towards the attainment of comprehensive policy reforms and full economic recovery.” The directive also calls for all national government agencies to use communication tools with the “Bagong Pilipinas” logo.

The punch line of a well-received State of the Nation Address he delivered before Congress on the same month proclaimed that the “Bagong Pilipinas has arrived”. 

Amusing how the organizers of the event at the Luneta on 28 January 2023 could call it “kick-off rally” when Malacañang has already kicked around much of the pre-selling. It was a show meant to entertain a crowd. However, instead of charging fees for those who wished to be entertained by it, some were paid just to make themselves available to become part of the audience. They even lured the destitute which, in another place, should be a win for humanity. Prior to the event, the Presidential Communications Office (PCO) announced that the Department of Social Welfare and Development would distribute cash to beneficiaries of its Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situations program.

Reports said that by the time President Bongbong Marcos stood up to deliver his speech (serving as the highlight of the event, everything else were mounted to lead eyes and ears to it), crowd estimates ranged from 200,000 to 450,000. Among other things, he told the crowd that ‘sa Bagong Pilipinas, bawal ang waldas’ (in English, wasteful spending is not allowed in New Philippines, or something to that effect) in a show that cost the taxpayers at least Php29 million, according to PCO records. Of these expenses, Php5.3 went for “Entertainment Services”. It will probably take an eternity for the Commission on Audit months to count the total cost spent for per diems given to government employees who were required join the rally as these kinds of expenses are normally not reported as such.

What marketing for the new brand does is present an improvement offer, which forces people to admit past failures. The future of Bagong Pilipinas struggles to glimmer against the backdrop not only of a predecessor’s rule who envisioned a “Bagong Lipunan” (New Society), but also by the profile of a profligate, lying, and allegedly thieving younger version of the successor.

Reconciling the fresh rebrand with the mascot’s record is a challenging task. Marcos Jr. has been known for his profligate spending while attending college abroad, also at the taxpayers’ expense of course, which included support for a party-going lifestyle, watching Formula 1 races and rock band concerts, an addiction that he indulges in up to this day. Just recently, he watched an out-of-town concert using a publicly funded chopper for transport.

He claimed to have earned a bachelor’s degree at Oxford University in London, only to balk when the school debunked the accuracy of the claim.

Citing a Supreme Court decision, a former commissioner of the now-moribund Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) said during the 2022 electoral campaign period that then presidential candidate Bongbong Marcos was responsible for “hiding the wealth his family unlawfully acquired during the administration of his late father.” A 2003 Supreme Court ruling established the "undeniable circumstances" and an "avalanche" of documentary evidence against the Marcoses who, the same ruling said, “failed to prove they lawfully acquired $658 million plus interest deposited in Swiss bank accounts.”

An article featured in the University of the Philippines’ Kasarinlan: Philippine Journal of Third World Studies published photocopies of Swiss Credit Bank documents that showed his parents (Ferdinand Marcos Sr. and Imelda Marcos) had signed with fictitious names as William Saunders and Jane Ryan, respectively. An account with Citibank in New York in the name of Fernanda Vazquez has also been suspected of being owned by Imelda.

The PCGG estimated that the Marcos family's ill-gotten wealth amounted to billions of US dollars, from a low of 5 billion to a high of 10 billion. The government has reportedly recovered a total of Php170 billion (or around 3 billion dollars in today’s exchange rate) of the stained money since 1986.

When the late Ferdinand Marcos Sr. became president in 1965, the Philippines and South Korea have almost identical Gross Domestic Product per capita incomes. Since then and up to the point of his outer in 1986, World Bank data in current US dollar shows that South Korea’s per capita annual income had risen to $ 2,800, while that of the Philippines wallowed at $600. The average in the rural areas was even worse, hovering at about $100. (For context though: the widening gap between the two countries accelerated even after the Marcos Sr. years, suggesting that Marcos was not entirely the problem.) Equally noteworthy were his outputs in putting up infrastructures, although mostly funded by scandal-marred foreign borrowings) which continue to provide public benefits up to this day.     

Governments at all levels, regardless of who the president is, have never been corrupt free, yet even dirty money may find its way back into the hands of honest labor, helping stimulate economic activity in poor communities. What distinguished corruption during the Marcos Sr. era was that his cronies brought their loot out of the country at the first sign of incoming turbulent weather, perhaps typified by the Dewey Dee caper in 1981. Reportedly fronting Marcos Sr., Dee left the country with millions of unpaid debts, igniting a bank run that further stomped the economy already wobbly under the weight of kleptocracy and overall public distrust in his administration. Inflation rate in 1984 leveled at 50 percent, and as what pollster Mahar Mangahas described as a rare mood meter reading, the pessimists (30 percent) outnumbered the optimists (26 percent).

And yet recovering the stolen money was not the biggest issue then, contrary to what many cash-strapped Filipinos would want history to be written; it may not still be even now. While much of the hidden wealth issue remains unresolved and the stealing of public funds remains rampant up to this day, it is the murder of people that hurts the soul of the nation. The wounds inflicted by state-sanctioned summary killings are beyond healing; the psyche that drives the killings today are likely to be farts (to use a Rodrigo Duterte metaphor) of a residual anger generated by armed conflicts that happened during the dark days of martial law. We have seen enough to know that summary killings and other quick fixes of law enforcement that oversteps due process create more problems than what they intend to address.

The present administration has so much work to do to address the failures of the past, particularly in the protection and promotion of human rights. Facing up to the same broadside of mass murder that blighted the Duterte administration will determine if Bagong Pilipinas is true to its meaning or, like the kick-off rally, it is all for show.


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