A satisficing president
At first, there was a feeling of exasperation when Bongbong Marcos (BBM) won the presidency over Leni Robredo. A significant segment of the Filipino population went into an extended period of stunned depression. Why is it, at a time when the country has visibly advanced economically (GDP-wise), politically (democratic institutions-wise), and socioculturally (Filipino pride-wise) under the P-Noy administration, we felt sufficiently adventurous to bet all-in on a dark character like Rodrigo Duterte?
Well, after Duterte, we chose to become even more reckless in our presidential choices, choosing BBM, who wouldn’t have won were he not supported by the political scaffolding of Sara Duterte, whose political puissance ironically issues from her pre-election defiance of her father Rodrigo.
But Marcos surprised a lot of people during his first year. He made good appointments to his Cabinet, and people gave him the benefit of the doubt when he appointed himself agriculture secretary and Sara Duterte as the education secretary, putting the most critical departments of government at great risk of not finding their proper strategic pathways. It seemed as if this President was capable of redeeming the tarnished reputation of his family.
BBM strategically leveraged the discredited framework of the New Society of Ferdinand Marcos Sr., capitalizing on nostalgia for the martial law era. He adopted the symbols of power associated with his father, tweaking old frameworks to consolidate influence and control. His foreign policy decisions, particularly the bold pivot back to the United States, garnered support both domestically and internationally.
This move has put the albatross on Rodrigo Duterte’s neck, who continues to sing praises and seek the grace of Xi Jinping, a tack that is clearly divergent from the current expression of Filipino patriotism. This has put the clueless Duterte in the funny position of hoping that a robust opposition would emerge to fiscalize the Marcos administration, pining for the systems of institutional and popular democracy that he conveniently forgets he pulverized during his administration.
Now Duterte imagines he is poised to take on the role of chief fiscalizer in aid of Sara Duterte’s dwindling claims to the presidency in 2028, with the loony online forum provided by his benefactor, Pastor Apollo Quiboloy as his pulpit, and Salvador Panelo and Harry Roque as his sacristans.
So BBM is a presidential Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. His decisions as they unfold give us more evidence of which persona he is destined to be remembered for by his people. His unceremonious appointment of Francisco Tiu Laurel Jr. as secretary of agriculture speaks volumes to which persona he will be. It is as if BBM thinks he has already earned enough credits to start squandering the critical positions and resources the nation depends on to reward people he is personally indebted to. In retrospect, it seems the President reserved the agriculture post for a special someone, but didn’t want to make it so obvious early in his term.
There is certainly no more hope that this President will be the pivotal president to jumpstart and drive the Philippine quest for vigorous sustainable development. This will not happen in the next four years. There is hope if there were a clear succession strategy over at least the next two presidential terms, but without a programmatic political party, without a clear ideology, and without even the preservation of the tactical alliance of the UniTeam that won the last elections. What we have is a satisficing President—suboptimal and good enough going into the midterm, but already short of the people’s expectations.
So, Filipinos should be thankful that life is not as dismal as the horrible genocides happening in Ukraine or the Gaza Strip and take in stride the inflation, unemployment, corruption, horrendous traffic conditions, and lack of real education for critical lifelong skills for our children.
The message is, “Sa gobyerno ang salita, sa tao ang gawa” (Talk is for the government, action is for the people). Do not depend on the government but on your own wits and efforts. As the optics of the Pharmally and confidential and intelligence fund scandals have brought home to us, the government is a grand conspiracy to concentrate public resources so these can be more efficiently privatized with impunity by those in power and authority. Protect yourselves; create your own safety nets and provide your own social services. Educate yourselves and your own children. When push comes to shove, continue to send your OFWs abroad as your lifelines and as the collective lifeline of the nation.