Political Fireworks Greet Bongbong On Day One

by Perry Diaz

June 30, 2022 marked the date of the Marcoses’ return to power in the Philippines. It was the most remarkable comeback of one family that was booted out of power 36 years ago during the EDSA People Power Revolution and sent the Marcos family to exile in Hawaii.

It rained that day, which seemed foreboding of the newly inaugurated 17th President of the Philippines, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. The day’s festivities included a “show of force” by the Philippine military.

Tanks rolled down on the parade ground. Uniformed soldiers from the various military units of the Armed Forces of the Philippines were in their best uniforms. And across the parade ground were the dignitaries and other government officials in their best barongs to match the new President’s simple barong.

In Bongbong’s 26-minute inaugural address, he said:

“I fully understand the gravity of the responsibility that you’ve put on my shoulders. I do not take it lightly, but I am ready for the task. I will need your help; I want to rely on it. But rest assured, I do not predicate success on the wide cooperation that’s needed.”  He asked for the people’s help, but he made it clear that he doesn’t need their cooperation to succeed.  So what is he going to do if he doesn’t get the people’s cooperation?  Declare martial law and rule by decree just like what his father did?

A divided house
“In this fresh chapter of our history, I extend my hand to all Filipinos. Come, let us put our shoulders to the wheel; and give that wheel a faster turn — to repair and to rebuild; and to address challenges in new ways; to provide what all Filipinos need; to be all that we can. We are here to repair a divided house; to make it whole and to stand strong again in the Bayanihan way, expressive of our nature as Filipinos.”

It must be remembered that during Marcos Sr.’s brutal regime, he amassed billions of dollars in unexplained wealth and was accused of looting the country’s treasury. Excessive foreign borrowing plunged the Philippines into debt and millions of Filipinos were mired in poverty.

To quell dissent, he jailed political opponents, shut down media outlets, and imposed nine years of martial law, which witnessed tens of thousands of human rights violations.

Defended father’s legacy
And after claiming victory, Bongbong vowed to be a leader “for all Filipinos.” To the world, he said: “Judge me not by my ancestors, but by my actions.”

Hmm…  But he went on to praise—and defended—his father’s legacy and glossed over its violent past. He said his father accomplished many things that had not been done since the country’s independence.

“I once knew a man who saw what little had been achieved since independence in a land of people with greatest potential for achievement and yet they were poor. But he got it done,” Bongbong said. “So will it be for his son. You will get no excuses from me.”

Bongbong promised to bring the country back to its “golden age” during his father’s rule. But the truth of the matter is: The economy was in shambles when President Cory Aquino took over from Marcos in 1986.

The Central Bank was bankrupted and was put out of business. The country’s gold reserves mysteriously disappeared, and the peso lost its international monetary value. It became worthless.

Bongbong took over an economy that was on the brink of imminent collapse. The exchange rate went down to P55 to the US dollar. Taxes became uncollectable including the Marcoses’ estate tax, which ballooned to P203-billion.

How do you expect to collect taxes from the people when their own president refuses to pay his taxes?  Bongbong should lead by example.

Charter change
But on Day One of his presidency, Pampanga Rep. Aurelio Gonzales Jr. introduced a resolution to change the presidential term of office from six years without reelection to five years with one reelection.

It seems that he’s more interested in laying the groundwork for him to stay in power much longer. And perhaps stay in power long enough to pass it to his son Ferdinand Alexander Araneta Marcos III, also known as “Sandro” Marcos, who is now 28 years old. He’ll be 40 years old in 12 years and would be eligible to run for president.

In his resolution, Gonzales cited the “overwhelming electoral mandate” that Marcos and Vice President Sara Duterte received in the May 2022 elections.

“The clear majority mandate of our new President and Vice President would be the green light from our citizenry to proceed to the discussion on Charter change,” Gonzales said in a statement.

Well, things could drastically change by then.  There is no point in discussing charter change right away. Why don’t they wait for a little while longer and see how Bongbong’s presidency performs.

Confidence in the future
Bongbong must be commended for his confidence in the future: “I have 110 million reasons to start with you. Such is my faith in the Filipinos.”

However, he must make sure that he delivers on the promises he vowed to deliver. Otherwise, he’d end up with 110 million unhappy Filipinos who would bring him down like they did to his father.

He promised food self-sufficiency as his top priority. And he will continue Duterte’s “Build, Build, Build” despite ballooning debt.

He also promised to fix shortcomings in Duterte’s Covid response.  He also promised to pursue an independent foreign policy, which is questionably unrealistic in today’s geopolitical reality where small countries have to kowtow to one of the superpowers to remain “independent.” But he was mum on human rights, low on detail, and high on false claims.

There are certain things that he did not talk about in his address. He did not talk about the corruption cases hounding his family.

Will he keep the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), which was created in 1986 for the sole purpose of recovering the ill-gotten wealth from the Marcoses and Marcos’ cronies?

As of 2021, the PCGG said it has recovered a total of P265 billion, or P175 billion in cash and P90 billion in assets.  About P125 billion in Marcos wealth remains under litigation.

So far, Bongbong has not appointed new members of the PCGG who serve at the pleasure of the president. Until then, there is no active PCGG. Critics raised the alarm that a second Marcos presidency could undermine PCGG’s mandate.

On his first day in office, Bongbong also exercised his veto power on House Bill 7575 creating the Bulacan Airport Special Economic Zone and Freeport adjacent to the proposed airport city in Bulacan province.

He justified his veto because of its provisions that “pose substantial fiscal risks to the country” and its “infringement on or conflict with other agencies’ mandates and authorities.”

Marcos also said that he decided to veto HB 7575 because it would be an additional burden to the taxpayers. He said the measure was in contrast to the government’s objective of developing a tax system with low rates and a broad tax base, as it “will significantly narrow our tax base with its mandated incentives applicable to registered enterprises.”

Incidentally, the main sponsor of the bill was Sen. Imee Marcos, Bongbong’s sister.

Hmm… Was this another family moro-moro? Perhaps, Bongbong should have solicited expert advice instead of killing the bill on his first day in office. It will drive away foreign investors.

The veto is reportedly seen as a sign of animosity between Bongbong and Imee, who has reportedly been pushed to the sidelines while First Lady Liza Araneta Marcos emerges as a major power broker in her husband’s administration.

It seems that political fireworks have greeted Bongbong on Day One.

PERRY DIAZ is a writer, columnist and journalist who has been published in more than a dozen Filipino newspapers in five countries.

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