The winners in the May 9 elections have not been officially proclaimed, but world leaders have already recognized former Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. as the 17th president of the Philippines. US President Joe Biden is the first one to extend such recognition. China’s President Xi Jinping and others have followed.
With 65.7 million votes cast in the polls, the 65-year-old son and namesake of the late former President Ferdinand Edralin Marcos who ruled the country for 21 years has polled over 31 million votes against his closest rival, Vice President Leni Robredo, with 14.8 million votes. Since the 1986 EDSA “uprising” forced the old man Marcos to vacate Malacañang without any resistance, no Filipino president has ever earned such mandate. BBM is the first.
No one has explained how it happened, but it is an uncontested fact and young people are dancing in the streets to the music and words of “Ang Bagong Lipunan” (the New Society). From this point onward, BBM’s only task is to accept his mandate and lead the nation out of the deep crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic that has destroyed jobs and incomes and caused inflation and the national debt to shoot past the roof, and the highly divisive presidential campaign that has virtually vaporized all forms of civility in our political and social life.
The depth of the crisis defines the enormity of the task ahead. Clearly, a massive shift in our perceptions and priorities must take place. Until now, many still blame Marcos and his 1972 proclamation of martial law for the country’s deep political crisis. This must change. It’s time to realize that the CPP/NPA insurgency caused the crisis and martial law was the constitutional response to it. If that did not completely work, we had 36 years to make things right. If we have failed to do that, we must now do all we can in the next six years.
Between the two Marcoses, the nation has produced six presidents. Cory Aquino, Fidel V. Ramos, Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Benigno Simeon Aquino III, and Rodrigo Roa Duterte. Without discounting any of the six, it would be good to look at the two Aquinos—Cory, the mother, and PNoy, the son—as a point of departure for the next government.
After the military generals withdrew their support for Marcos in 1986, they installed Cory Aquino, who had lost the snap presidential election, as revolutionary president. She quickly abolished the 1973 Constitution, replaced it with a provisional “Freedom Constitution,” and had the entire Marcos family flown by the US Air Force to Hawaii for exile, never to return to the Philippines. Then she freed all the communist prisoners in jail, handpicked 48 individuals to write a new Constitution since she could not trust the “people” to write their own Constitution. Although she had started joining anti-bases marches before the EDSA uprising, after Mt. Pinatubo erupted and the US-Philippine military bases agreement (MBA) expired in 1991, she had a new treaty rushed in an attempt to extend the MBA by another ten years. Her Senate allies, however, shot it down.
After her “revolutionary” presidency, Cory continued in office without the benefit of an election. She invoked Section 5 of the Transitory Provisions of the new Constitution, which provides: “The six-year term of the incumbent President and Vice-President elected in the February 7, 1986 election is, for purposes of synchronization of elections, hereby extended to noon of June 30, 1992.”
Nobody questioned the legitimacy of her position, but Section 5 did not provide a constitutional basis for it. The military had installed her and Salvador “Doy” Laurel to head the revolutionary government, but they were never “elected” by the people. The only ones elected and officially proclaimed as such by the Batasang Pambansa were Ferdinand E. Marcos as president and Arturo Tolentino as vice-president. As revolutionary president, Cory could have easily reworded Section 5 to say that at the end of the revolutionary period, she and Doy would continue in office until June 30, 1992, “under the express terms of the new Constitution.”
But she did not do that, so their occupation of the presidency and vice-presidency violated the Constitution.
Neither was her governance nearly irreproachable. For one, she went out of her way to exempt Hacienda Luisita, her family’s large sugar estate in Tarlac, from the comprehensive coverage of agrarian land reform. When on January 22, 1987 protesting Hacienda Luisita farmers marched on Mendiola, a street away from Malacañang, to dialog with her, they were met with a hail of bullets that took the lives of at least 12 farmers and injured 51 others.
PNoy’s presidency was even more unreal. His candidacy was launched by media celebrity-friends from his mother’s bedside before she died on August 1, 2009. Later he told President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo that he expected to win by at least five million votes, but that he would have to call for “people power” to keep her from trying to prevent his election. Of course this could be avoided, he suggested, if she guaranteed his win.
GMA yielded on the condition that PNoy would do nothing against her when he became president. PNoy kept this agreement for a year, but thereafter, he had GMA jailed on some non-bailable charges at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center. At the same time, he had Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona, whom GMA had appointed, impeached by the House of Representatives and convicted by the Senate impeachment court, by paying 19 senator-judges P50 million to P100 million apiece for his removal. This crime remains unpunished until now.
In the 2013 midterm election, PNoy made sure that his senatorial candidates won 60 percent of all the votes, while some opposition candidates got only 30 percent, and the rest got 10 percent. Election watchers did not suspect anything until Ateneo IT Professor Alex Muga denounced the sophisticated form of cheating.
On his first visit to the US, PNoy assured President Obama and State Secretary Hillary Clinton he would enact a law that would impose artificial birth control on all Filipinos. For the past 15 years, Filipino legislators had opposed this proposed measure, which violated the pro-life provisions of the Constitution and the religious belief of most Filipinos. But PNoy gave Obama and Clinton his word after receiving a grant of $454 million from the US Millennium Challenge Fund. Upon his return he railroaded the legislation, and the Supreme Court threw out all petitions against it, declaring the patently unconstitutional population control measure “not unconstitutional.”
PNoy’s rule was not untouched by corruption. On the day the Makati regional court ordered the arrest of Janet Napoles, the alleged pork barrel queen, she appeared in Malacañang, accompanied by presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda for a private meeting with PNoy. Hours earlier, PNoy had announced a P10-million bounty for her arrest. She was now with him, purportedly “to surrender.” PNoy personally escorted her to the PNP headquarters at Camp Crame where DILG Secretary Mar Roxas and the PNP chief were waiting to receive her.
So much of PNoy’s presidency was written in blood. During his first year in office, a tourist bus hijacking at Manila’s Rizal Park resulted in the death of eight hostages and the hostage-taker and injuries to seven other hostages and two bystanders. It also chilled relations between the Philippines and Hong Kong for sometime.
In mid-February of 2013, some 235 militant followers of the Sultan of Sulu, Jamalul Kiram II, clashed with Malaysian security forces in Lahad Datu in Sabah, resulting in the death of fifty-six militants, six civilians, and ten members of the Malaysian security forces. The Sultan’s men had come to Lahad Datu to assert the Sultan’s rights over Sabah which is the subject of a territorial dispute between the Philippines and Malaysia. PNoy promised to address the Sultan’s grievances if he would recall his men from Sabah, but he never complied with his promise after the incident.
On September 9, 2013, some 300 rogue elements of the MNLF tried to raise the flag of their self-proclaimed “Republik” in front of the Zamboanga city hall. This resulted in a running gunbattle with the military for 17 days. Eighty-seven persons were killed and 146 wounded, about 100,000 people in Zamboanga and 20,000 in Basilan were displaced, more than 10,000 homes were razed to the ground or destroyed. The leaders of the rogue elements escaped.
On November 3, 2013, typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), the most destructive typhoon in the nation’s memory, battered Tacloban, Leyte, leaving 6,352 dead, 1,071 missing, the entire city population displaced, and $2.98 billion worth of property and public infrastructure lost. The US, Japan, Australia and European governments became the first responders. But CNN veteran correspondent Christiane Amanpour and Anderson Cooper found “no sign of government” in Tacloban.
The humanitarian crisis created by Yolanda prompted Pope Francis two years later to make an apostolic pilgrimage to Leyte to express his solidarity with the Yolanda victims.
But the most heart-rending incident that bathed PNoy’s presidency in blood was the Mamasapano massacre on January 25, 2015. Forty-four elite troops of the PNP Special Action Force were slaughtered by a combined force of MILF and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in the worst defeat ever suffered by the military in the hands of its enemy anywhere.
PNoy had taken personal command of the operation against two Malaysian terrorists, assisted by PNP General Alan Purisima, who was under suspension by the Ombudsman at the time. But he failed to coordinate with any member of the police chain of command or any of the military units deployed in the area. Consequently when the killing started, the SAF commandos could call no one for reinforcements. PNoy was ultimately blamed for the slaughter of the SAF 44.
Against this background, the BBM presidency should have a vigorous and roaring start. His first order of the day should be to appoint a strong Cabinet, and to define its priorities. Having called for unity during the campaign, he will now have to define the particulars of that unity—unity for what? For the economy certainly, but what specific areas of the economy? Agriculture, tourism, energy, telecommunications, small and medium-scale industries?
He will also have to define his true governing style. The campaign showed us a conflict-averse personality who refused to be drawn into any controversy. Will this continue? He had little time and patience for the nitpicking and superficial press—will this also continue? Or will he, like his late father, want to lock horns with the best in the trade, like the conservative American public intellectual William F. Buckley Jr. and others in his class?