On Sunday evening, I sat briefly with the young Ferdinand Alexander (Sandro) Marcos during a small dinner with friends at the EDSA Shangrila hosted by Chita Romualdez Yap on the 86th birth anniversary of her famous former First Lady-sister Imelda Romualdez Marcos. Sandro is the eldest son of Sen. Bongbong and Liza Araneta Marcos. He recently charmed the campus crowd when he read his father’s speech on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines.
I tried to elicit a word about Bongbong running for President in 2016. I thought I was being discreet, but the young man turned out to be the real soul of discretion. “Do you see your Dad running in 2016?” I asked. “I really have no idea. He hasn’t said anything about it,” he said. “But would you not want him to become President?” I asked. “I guess I wouldn’t mind,” he said.
It was most refreshing to see this from someone so young. If only everybody else could be half as circumspect, I thought. This was obviously because his own father has until now kept his cards so close to his chest. On at least two recent occasions, someone in the audience put the question bluntly to the senator, and he got away by saying, “As my father used to say, you have to keep your options open.”
But time is flying fast, and he may have to announce his option soon. This seems to be the common hope and prayer of those around him. Yesterday I got a call from a Filipino economist in Florida who said that at least 80 percent of the Filipinos he had talked to in Las Vegas, where he has his home, and in Los Angeles, where he has many relatives and friends, “expect” Bongbong to take the presidency in 2016. Even those who were in the First Quarter Storm protest marches against Marcos in the seventies had completely turned around, he said; aside from one or two “fanatics” who would say, “never again,” the most that the non-enthusiastic supporters of Bongbong are saying is, “we’re open to it.”
“After four anti-Marcos presidents have failed to lift the country from its pitiful state, the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction,” said this former anti-Marcos activist. “There is an intense nostalgia for Marcos. People now realize that Marcos made the Philippines a leader of nations, and PNoy’s continuing political meltdown, after his late mother’s miserable performance, has brought this nostalgia on,” he said. You sense this from Luzon to Mindanao.
But whereas PNoy ran and was machine-elected in 2010 on no other basis than that he was the only son of the late former Senator Benigno S. Aquino Jr. and the late former president Cory Aquino, people want Bongbong to run not necessarily because he’s the son of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, but because of his own merits as an executive and senator. To many Filipinos in the West Coast, his performance as governor of Ilocos Norte is well-known, and he’s about the only truly performing senator in the totally washed out Senate, my long distance caller said.
At Sunday’s dinner, a number of entertainment personalities who used to occupy the limelight during the Marcos years came to pay tribute to Mrs. Marcos. Among them was the veteran performer Victor Wood, who offered the former First Lady a couple of popular musical numbers and an impressionist painting depicting “the mother of the nation,” which he said he had worked on for years. After his performance, he spoke to me to say “there’s no argument anymore, this is the time of Bongbong Marcos!”
Meantime, an email from the West Coast which my Times colleague Yen Makabenta shared with me recently speaks of the Ilocanos in Hawaii, Guam, Saipan and other parts organizing in order to launch, on their own money, a Bongbong for President movement all over the world. This promises a rebirth of the solid Ilocano “nation,” which had catapulted Elpidio Quirino and Ferdinand Marcos to Malacanang. The Ilocanos are among the clanniest and hardest working among the Filipinos; they were the first Filipinos to settle the West Coast mostly as fruit pickers. A huge number of settlers in Mindanao are Ilocanos.
I heard Bongbong speak to the Ilocano residents of my own village in Quezon City a few weeks ago, and the response was profoundly electric. He did not speak of any plan of his to seek the presidency; he spoke only of the need to bring back the solid Ilocano vote to the nation’s politics, and to realize the greatness his father had promised and would probably have accomplished if his health and political fortunes had not run out.
A solid Ilocano bloc at home and abroad would be a formidable political juggernaut, more powerful than any of the existing political parties, with all their war chests. It would be something the ruling Liberal Party and Vice President Binay’s newly organized UNA will have to reckon with. Especially if the recently resurrected Nacionalista Party, which used to be Marcos’s party before he organized the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan during martial law, would weigh in.
But it isn’t all nostalgia for Marcos. Aside from that, what seems to commend Bongbong to the growing enthusiasm of an increasing number of Filipinos—especially the younger set— is his courage to take a principled position on fundamental national issues, where all the political opportunists choose to be silent.
This was evident in the senator’s speech on the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law before the Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa) on June 30. On that occasion some members of the National Transformation Council — Archbishop Emeritus Fernando Capalla of Davao, former Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales, and myself—were also inducted into Philconsa after joining its president, Congressman Martin Romualdez, in petitioning the Supreme Court to declare unconstitutional and void the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) upon which the draft BBL derives its spurious “mandate.”
This was by far the most substantive statement delivered by any sitting official on the controversial draft BBL. Beyond the question of regional autonomy for Muslim Mindanao, the speech proposed a comprehensive development program for Mindanao, which could be used as a model for the entire Philippines. None of those who have announced their desire to seek the presidency have had the courage to take a public position on this issue despite the obvious threats it raises against the Constitution, and to the right of other Muslim Groups, the Sultan of Sulu, and the more numerous Lumads in southern Philippines.
It was principally because of Sen. Bongbong’s objection to the draft BBL that Aquino was prevented from railroading the proposed legislation. Should the Philconsa petition against the FAB and the CAB prevail, the draft BBL would lose its basis, and the senator will then have all the leeway to craft a new bill that could respond to the just needs and demands of all the stakeholders in Mindanao without offending the Constitution or any of our laws. The threatened balkanization of Mindanao could then be averted, thanks to Philconsa, the NTC members, and Bongbong Marcos.
This, however, is just a starting point. Bongbong Marcos has to craft a complete program of government for the opposition, if he wants to run, if only to elevate the political debate from just heckling PNoy for his heartlessness and incompetence to an exchange of ideas on how to lift the nation from its present state. He must try to teach the nation what it does not know, and respond to the people’s search not for a new leader but above all for new and stronger institutions.
This is indispensable. In 1986, while accompanying Cory Aquino on her first campaign sortie in Bicol, I told the candidate it looked like she stood a very strong chance of winning the snap presidential election. So we had to have a program of government and a responsible political organization. She asked me what I meant, and I explained. But she said the people were “so angry with Marcos,” we did not need anything else. I tried to convince her to reconsider, and when I could not, I told her, with great sadness, that I would just vote for her, but would no longer be able to campaign for her. Without a program of government, I wouldn’t know what to tell the people, I said.
In launching UNA on July 1, VP Binay finally slammed the administration for its “heartlessness and incompetence,” and declared himself “the leader of the opposition.” But he failed to announce a program of government. Many applauded him for calling the Aquino government “manhid” and “palpak” (insensitive and a failure), although many of us had been repeatedly saying the same thing; but he quickly drew criticism from some, who pointed out that he was “in estoppel” for having failed to denounce the things he has now chosen to denounce, while he was part of the Aquino Cabinet from 2010 until his recent resignation. They also chided him for saying that he fully expected Aquino to anoint him as his presidential candidate, a few days before his Cabinet resignation.
Clearly Binay has to make amends, and he still can. But it is in this area of program of government rather than in the area of bought propaganda surveys and popularity ratings, where the real battle would be lost or won. So far only the NTC, which is not a political party, has been consistent in its advocacy of meaningful regime and system change. Bongbong Marcos has to show the nation and the world that he understands what the NTC has been talking about, and that, if he shares its ideas, he could even offer to adopt its program as his own.
With a solid Ilocano nation marching behind him, and a clear program for regime and system change to guide his words and actions, he could create the only juggernaut that could frustrate any plans of Lord Mark Malloch -Brown, Smartmatic and Malacanang to prearrange and control the results of the 2016 elections. He could be unstoppable.