Interviewed on May 25 after the proclamation of the winning presidential candidate, the President-elect’s sister, Sen. Imee Marcos, described the victory as a “second chance” for her family.
In ordinary circumstances, people are generally wont to give others a second chance. Why not? Everybody deserves a second chance to make amends, to do better. As the writer Paolo Coelho put it, “God always offers us a second chance in life.”
But is that what the senator meant? Her statement was ambiguous. How she finished it in fact raises anxiety. It was an assertion that the Marcoses did not deserve the condemnation and court cases heaped on them after their 1986 downfall, that they in fact were the victims and not the perpetrators.
“Yes, we’re very, very grateful for a second chance, as it were,” Imee Marcos said. “Dahil medyo mabigat ang pinagdaanan ng aming pamilya. Talagang matapos ‘yong 1986 kung ano-anong kaso ang hinarap namin bukod pa do’n sa pangungutya at pang-aapi, sabihin na natin. Eh medyo hirap talaga ‘yong pamilya namin for the past almost four decades.”
Still, could a quip from the sister about a second chance offer a glimmer of hope that the brother would avoid the mistakes of the past? How much weight do we give President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s very short statement after his proclamation? This was what he said: “Pray for me, wish me well. I want to do well because when a president does well, the country does well. And I want to do well for this country.”
The candidate Bongbong Marcos, or BBM, didn’t articulate a program of government. He avoided the official debates and in his campaign sorties he relied on motherhood calls for unity. Only his announced Cabinet appointees offer a glimpse of how this country would be run in the next six years.
So far, BBM’s choices for his economic team has mirrored his father’s technocratic bent in the early martial law years. As in his dad’s administration, his economic managers are schooled economists. For better or worse, they will pursue the same neoliberal economic path this country has taken post-‘86.
These chosen men have served other presidents. Benjamin Diokno, for finance secretary, was budget secretary of President Joseph Estrada and President Rodrigo Duterte, and is currently governor of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP). Arsenio Balisacan, as economic planning secretary, was President Benigno Aquino III’s chief of the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) and, obviously trusted by him, was subsequently named chair of the then newly created Philippine Competition Commission. Felipe Medalla, as BSP governor, is a former dean of the University of the Philippines (UP) School of Economics, and Neda chair and concurrent BSP board member during the Estrada administration.
Notably, many are alumni of UP, and even its former president, as in the case of Alfredo Pascual, the incoming trade and industry secretary. BBM’s pick for public works chief, Manuel Bonoan, was a public works undersecretary during the Estrada and Arroyo administrations.
Filipinos know, however, that during Ferdinand Marcos Sr.’s authoritarian rule, the technocratic plans of the brilliant minds he tapped were hijacked by rent-seekers, cronies, and no less than then Metro Manila Governor Imelda Romualdez Marcos. We watched then how the funds intended for the infrastructure programs to build the City of Man in eastern Rizal and the long stretch of road named until recently as the Marcos Highway, leading all the way to the envisioned Infanta port, were diverted for use in the then First Lady’s pet megaprojects.
Filipinos saw how rent from the coconut industry was captured by the cabal of Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco, Juan Ponce Enrile and Clara Lobregat. To this day, Filipinos carry the burden of paying for onerous loans and foreign grants that were intended for energy and transportation, and that were diverted to Swiss bank accounts or shopping sprees in London and New York.
In the next six years, will Marcos Jr. not play favorites? Will he stand pat against powerful vested interests securing undue advantage in accessing state resources? Or will the technocratic takeoff end in another bout of patrimonial plunder, perhaps even more voracious than before because the time to do so is short?
Evading election paybacks
Some of Marcos Jr.’s appointments seem guided not so much by the technocratic ideal as by an intent to avert paybacks for which he apparently has no appetite. The early appointment of Crispin “Boying” Remulla as justice secretary closed the door on Iglesia ni Cristo’s Rodante Marcoleta. Vice President-elect Sara Duterte’s expressed desire to serve as the Philippines’ first female defense secretary was circumvented by her swift appointment as education secretary. And he did so not without the classic patronizing cliché inflicted on women—You are a mother, you will make a good education secretary.
The supposed desire of former president and broker of the BBM-Sara tandem Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to have her son Mikey take the post of energy secretary has so far not been heeded. And who he will bless among the contenders for the Senate presidency remains to be seen.
What is evident, however, is the return of the Romualdezes to eminence. Of course, they never really lost power in their provincial bases. BBM’s first cousin, Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, was House representative of the first district of Leyte for nine years from 2007. He has returned to his seat, and is now House majority floor leader and presumptive Speaker of the 19th Congress. BBM’s second cousin, Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel “Babe” Romualdez, is likely to remain so but is bruited about as a candidate for the post of foreign secretary.
The ambassador was quoted as saying to BBM: “You are not revising history, you are writing it.” And it seems that the Romualdez branch of the family will be there to dot the i’s and cross the t’s for him.
Are we thus seeing a comeback—a second chance, as it were—for a Marcos-Romualdez “uniteam”?
It does look like that BBM realizes the weight on his shoulders. He wanted it, but it doesn’t seem like he really prepared for it. In his own words, it took him some time to realize that it finally happened. And there will be a lot of cramming to do.
When people give others a second chance, they of course do not take it lightly. Often, in fact, the grant or the offer is more like a warning, if not a threat. It’s a risk after all. As someone said, giving someone a second chance is like giving that person another bullet, the first time being a missed shot. Not all would wholeheartedly take that risk, except that right now, it’s the only option available, thanks to populist elections.
In the next years, the battle of interpretation over what Imee Marcos really meant by that “second chance”—what it could or should have been for them, and for the Filipino people—will play out.