For the benefit of those unfamiliar with this American colloquialism, SNAFU is an acronym coined by the US Marine Corps during WWII. It stands for SITUATION NORMAL, ALL FUCKED-UP.
That’s my impression of the next Philippine presidential elections set for May 2022.
As a backgrounder for the millennials who could be voting for a president for the first time, the Malacanang occupant used to serve a four-year term and could only run for a second term of four years, similar to the US system.
In the aftermath of the People Power Revolution of 1986, President Cory Aquino resolved that no future president should ever be tempted to become president-for-life like Marcos.
The disincentive? Limit the presidency to one six-year term – no reelection.
Of course, this hasn’t stopped incumbents from looking for a way to remain in power through a constitutional amendment which the incorrigibly punny Pinoy calls Cha-Cha (charter change) – or some “other means” as the current president is attempting.
That brings us to the first SNAFU – or more accurately the first ABNORMAL FUCKED-UP SITUATION of the 26-year old US-made Philippine Republic. That would become the NEW NORMAL in our country’s politics.
It all began in 1965 , when a senator from Ilocos Norte was elected President of the Philippines. Ferdinand Edralin Marcos considered himself a Child of Destiny, having lived a life allegedly replete with cinematic drama.
Convicted for the killing of a political enemy, Marcos reviewed for the bar in jail, and yet topped the 1939 exams; got a reversal of his conviction by the Supreme Court; fought in WWII and (by his own and his biographer’s account) was awarded multiple war medals; became a congressman, then ran for senator as a candidate of the Liberal Party, got the most votes and subsequently became Senate President; wooed and wed Imelda Romualdez, the beautiful niece of the Speaker of the House, Daniel Z. Romualdez of the rival Nacionalista Party; in 1965, jumped ship to become official presidential candidate of the NP against reelectionist President Diosdado Macapagal of the LP; and won for president aided by a biopic starring Sampaguita Pictures superstars Luis Gonzales, as Marcos, and Gloria Romero, as Imelda. The title of the film was Iginuhit ng Tadhana (Drawn/Created by Destiny). Macapagal may have inadvertently promoted the movie by trying to block its theatrical release.
It was a classic Hollywood fairy tale, except that embarrassing doubts were raised about the truthfulness of Marcos’ war exploits.
The first Marcos term was marked by aggressive infrastructure development funded with foreign loans that left the country deep in debt. But it was popular with the masses, thus enabling him to win a second term in 1969.
The Marcoses, towards the end of the second term, couldn’t see themselves giving up such perks as using the national treasury as a personal piggy bank and being in the mining business (i.e., that’s mine, this is mine and whatever are theirs are also mine).
Thus, in September 1972, claiming threats to democracy by Communists (triggered by an allegedly “fake ambush” of Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile), Marcos declared martial law – an act sanctioned by the Constitution (according to pundits, Marcos used the Charter like a condom – giving the citizenry a feeling of security while being screwed).,
For over a decade, human rights violations, official thievery, and Imelda Marcos’ profligacy became the hallmark of the martial law regime. Not surprisingly, these abuses became NORMAL (as in, Situation Normal, All Fucked-Up or SNAFU) with each succeeding administration. These days, benumbed Pinoys just shrug: What else is new?
Martial law made the Philippines pretty much like the “anti-Communist” banana republics in Latin America, favored by then US President Ronald Reagan. In fact, in a toast to Marcos, Reagan’s Vice-President, George H. Bush, actually gushed, “We love your adherence to democratic principles and democratic processes.”
But Marcos became too much of a liability when oppositionist and presidential wannabe, Ninoy Aquino, was assassinated. Marcos grudgingly agreed to hold a “snap election” with Ninoy’s widow, Cory, running against him.
Both Marcos and Aquino claimed victory, but when Justice and defense secretary Juan Ponce Enrile and Philippine Constabulary chief, Gen. Fidel Ramos mustered rebel forces against the regime, Reagan sent Sen. Paul Laxalt to advise Marcos to “cut and cut clean.”
Marcos and his family and allies were airlifted by the US to Hawaii, where he died years later from a lingering illness. But Imelda Marcos and family were not ready to fade out with the sunset. After Marcos died, the family was allowed to return to the Philippines. Thus did they rebuild their power base.
To her credit President Cory vacated Malacanang after serving her full term (which was marred by several attempted military coups). Sadly, the dream of reforms remained elusive.
The two-party system, scrapped during martial rule, was permanently junked, thus allowing the first post-revolution election, held in 1992, to become a battle royale among six contenders (including former First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos).
Former PC chief Gen. Fidel Ramos, won the presidency with only 23.58% of the votes, because of the many candidates (the new normal). Miriam Defensor-Santiago got 19.72%, prompting her to protest that she had “won in the voting but lost in the counting.” It was a typical SNAFU.
Ramos had a relatively stable presidency. He soon began to send signals about extending his tenure, but he encountered firm opposition. Ramos backed off and had to step down for the 1998 election – which his VP, Joseph “Erap” Estrada won.
However, Estrada was given the Machiavelli treatment by his own VP, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and was deposed after only two years (a brief tenure that Estrada detractors characterized as SUPER SNAFU).
Arroyo had Estrada arrested but allowed him to be “confined” in his private rest house where he could receive guests (a new normal for VIPs or Very Important Prisoners). Arroyo also successfully argued that serving Estrada’s unused four years left her still legally entitled to her own six-year term.
She won that in 2004, in an election against 4 other candidates, including film star Fernando Poe Jr. That election was… well… SNAFU (the election also popularized a new kind of SNAFU pejorative specifically associated with Arroyo: GARCIFICATION).
Arroyo occupied the presidency for ten years. On the positive side, her administration’s fiscal policies enabled the Philippines to ride and survive the dire Asian economic crisis. On the SNAFU side, she granted Estrada a full pardon and corruption became synonymous with her name.
But that didn’t keep her and her lieutenants from flirting with the idea of a parliamentary system by way of Cha-Cha (Charter Change) that would enable her to remain in power as Prime Minister.
Unfortunately, the Arroyo name had become so toxic such that when it was attached to the name of the leading candidate, Manny Villar (i.e.,Villaroyo), in the 2010 presidential election, Villar lost to a candidate whose main credential was that he was the son of Ninoy and Cory Aquino and was touted as the Great New Hope for Reform. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III won against Villar and 7 other contenders (including Estrada)
But Arroyo (perhaps still hoping to return to power in a parliamentary government), ran for Congress and won, despite being subjected to hospital arrest by Aquino.
How was Noynoy’s presidency? It was SNAFU in some respects (specifically the way he mishandled the aftermath of the massacre of 44 elite PNP officers by Muslim fighters in Mamasapano). But Aquino’s recent demise and the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte – which has been described as SNAFU in many respects – appear to have deodorized Aquino’s legacy.
Now comes the 2022 presidential electIon. It didn’t surprise anyone that Duterte, in spite of repeated claims that he was no longer interested in remaining in office, would actually be scheming to hang in there through the usual means (i.e, Cha-Cha). And no one really believed he was so desperate to stay in power that he would resort to running for vice-president with his daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, fronting for him as a dummy president (assuming they would win).
But the other day, both Dutertes filed separate Certificates of Candidacy for vice-president – the older one, ostensibly as running mate of Bong Go, who “withdrew” his candidacy for VP to run for president instead. If that seems as ridiculous as a ventriloquist and his dummy changing places, wouldn’t you think that this Duterte-Go arrangement is fishy?
And what about the daughter? Didn’t we bet that the presidential candidacy of Bato de la Rosa was for purposes of a switch with Sara? Well, Bato, the ever-loyal Davaoeno has indeed withdrawn, but Sara Duterte is said to have a slot in the slate of Bongbong Marcos.
The only “normal” development it seems is the fact that 97 candidates are officially vying for the top job. Of course, most of them are nuisance contenders and some may be lacking in marbles, but the serious contenders include Senators Ping Lacson, Manny Pacquiao and Bong Go (is he really serious???), Manila Mayor Isko Moreno Dumagoso and VP Leni Robredo and, of course, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, whose campaign initials, BBM, are said to mean Balic-Balic (returning to) Malacanang in 2022.
The SNAFU has indeed become SNAFU-ER.
I’m only sure of one thing: not even the wiley Dutertes will be able to deny Imelda Romualdez Marcos’ Magnificent Obsession of BBM 2022.
The poor, perpetually confused and puppetized people of the Philippines can only hope that, if the Pride of Leyte announces her reenactment of what we Warays refer to as MacArthur’s Leyte Landing and she vows “I shall return!”, she will mean the Marcos Millions…or Billions…or Trillions….