Can Bongbong survive the ABC?



With Election Day just two months away, campaigning is heating up particularly in the vice presidential contest. Indeed, never in the history of Philippine politics had there been more campaign propaganda used and resources spent to elect the vice president of the country, which makes one wonder: why the sudden interest in a job that does nothing but run errands for the president and attend funerals of deceased VIPs, weddings of political allies, christenings of rich dynasts, and the likes. Pretty boring, isn’t it?

But the best part of the job is that it’s only a heartbeat away from the presidency; if something happens to the president – death or incapacitation – the vice president takes over. And this brings to mind Miriam Defensor Santiago and Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., who are running for president and vice president, respectively, as a team. Nothing is wrong with that, but what is unusual is that Miriam is fighting a stage 4 lung cancer. Although she claims that it is controlled, anything could happen that could aggravate her health or affect her ability to govern. In such an event, her vice president would take over the presidency.

And the specter of Bongbong ascending to the presidency, if he were elected as Miriam’s second-in-command, is causing a lot of displeasure – and anxiety — to a lot of people, particularly those who had suffered during the martial law regime of Bongbong’s father, Ferdinand E. Marcos Sr.

But the young Marcos claimed that his father did a lot of good things for the people and the country and that there was no reason for him to apologize. And by highlighting the positive accomplishments of his father and ignoring the negatives, Bongbong has convinced the young “millennials” – those who weren’t around during the martial law years – to give him their support in his quest to regain the presidency that his father lost during the 1986 people power revolution.

With Bongbong’s popularity now at par with the leading vice presidential candidate Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero, the opposition is now in panic mode. The anti-Bongbong attacks have begun!

Sin of the father
Last February 26, it was reported in the news that Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, who is running for vice president as Gov. Rodrigo Duterte’s running mate, had told the media at a rally in Cebu City, “The sin of the father is not the sin of the son. If the father did something wrong, the son should not be blamed for it.” However, he added, “But if the son is involved in spiriting away billions of dollars in ill-gotten wealth that the government is trying to recover, that’s another story.” He then demanded that Bongbong should return the wealth that his family had allegedly stolen from the country during the two decades they were in power and that he should apologize for his role in concealing the ill-gotten wealth. He added: “The Marcoses inherited the money so for me what is more important than saying ‘sorry’ is their returning the wealth that they allegedly stole from the nation.”

Marcos loot
Cayetano then made references to “Operation Big Bird,” which was initiated in 1986 by retired Gen. Jose Almonte and banker Michael de Guzman to recover $213 million (others estimated it at $356 million) in ill-gotten wealth that the Marcoses had allegedly stashed in Swiss banks. But “Operation Big Bird” failed because it wasn’t approved by the administration of then President Cory Aquino. Was there a secret deal? Hmm…

It was estimated that the Marcoses’ ill-gotten wealth was valued at $10 billion. According to the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), which was created in 1986 to recover the Marcos loot, only $4 billion was recovered and turned over to the national treasury. Where is the rest of the loot?

But the question remains unanswered today. Instead, what we’re hearing now is a revisionist version of the Marcos years. “What am I to say sorry [for]?’ Bongbong said during a television interview in August 2015. Instead he glowingly boasted about his father’s achievements, to wit: (1) He built thousands of kilometers of road, (2) Literacy is one of the highest in Asia [but this was true since the American colonial era], and (3) The country was an exporter of rice, not an importer as it is now.

In 1991, the Marcoses returned from exile after President Aquino lifted a ban on their return, saying their presence was no longer a threat to national security.

Today, the Marcoses are back in power. Imelda is now a congresswoman representing her husband’s old congressional district in Ilocos Norte. Her eldest daughter, Imee Marcos, is the governor of Ilocos Norte, and Bongbong, who was elected Senator in 2010, is now running for vice president. And if he wins, he’d be in an advantageous position to win the presidency in 2022.

In my article, “Bongbong’s gambit” (October 30, 2015), I wrote: “It is apparent that Bongbong – from a regional/language standpoint – has a built-in advantage over his rivals. And his chances are further enhanced because four of the [vice presidential] candidates – Robredo, Escudero, Honasan, and Trillanes – have roots in the Bicol region, which could divide the Bicolano Vote among them. Cayetano is in a position to capture the Tagalog Vote and the huge Metro Manila Vote; however, Metro Manila is not as clannish as the Ilocano Vote and Bicolano Vote.

“Bongbong enjoys the clannishness of the Ilocanos and by extension the Solid North, which was the bailiwick of his father. The question is: Would Bongbong be able to get the support his father got from Ilocanos? And would Bongbong be able to communicate with Ilocanos in their native language just like how Marcos Sr. did with his mastery and eloquence of the Ilocano language?”

Waiting game
Surmise it to say, Bongbong must have decided against running for president because he was not sure if his electoral base was large enough to clinch the presidency.

But at age 58, Bongbong must have thought that waiting for another six years would give him time to solidify a national following. Indeed, the vice presidency would provide him the stepping-stone to reach his ultimate goal. He’d be 64 years old in 2022 and it would have been 36 years after the EDSA People Power Revolution that deposed his father. By that time, the millennials would have grown larger in number while the older generation who lived the “dark” years of martial law would have dwindled in number.

But Bongbong is not the only one waiting. Others – and their number is growing – are also waiting for him: that is, to stop him from achieving his dream of following the footsteps of his father.

Last February 24, during the 30th anniversary of the EDSA People Power Revolution, the Anti-Bongbong Coalition (ABC) was launched in Cebu City. In a press conference, the lead convenor of ABC said, “Bongbong was equally liable since he benefitted from his family’s alleged stolen wealth. He benefitted from the excesses of the dictatorship. The Marcos loot helped him live like a Marcos prince after the EDSA [revolution] and rebuild his political career.”

At this time, with only two months to campaign, the ABC has to go into overdrive to accomplish its mission of stopping Bongbong, which begs the question: How strong is it? And can Bongbong survive the ABC? (