I was in Cebu these last few days, and even there where the second presidential debate was held on March 20, the apparent consensus among those who watched the April 10 vice-presidential debate in Manila was that it was far more instructive than the last two presidential debates in Cagayan de Oro and Cebu, and that Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. outshone and outflanked all his rivals and adversaries.
In their view, LP Rep. Leni Robredo, Mar Roxas’s unseeded running mate, did unusually well. Even the normally abrasive Sen. Sonny Trillanes was refreshingly reasonable and constructive. Sen. Francis Escudero delivered his usual mechanical lines without excessively calling attention to himself.
Sen. Gringo Honasan stuck to his old classical lines. And Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano tried to look like a “budding Rambo from Davao,” who offered “federalism” as a solution to all the problems, which presidential candidate Mayor Rodrigo Duterte could not promise to solve in 90 to 180 days.
But Bongbong Marcos outperformed his rivals on all counts.
A TV treat
On TV, he was not only pleasant to look at; he was above all cool, unflappable, and intelligent. Against Cayetano, who pompously repeated Duterte’s ambitious promise to solve the nation’s criminality, drug and other major problems in three to six months, he very gently reminded the latter that it was to him (Bongbong), rather than to Cayetano, that Duterte had promised to hand over “his presidency,” if he wasn’t able to deliver on the things he had promised to do in a few months.
Except for Honasan, who as a military colonel had played a key role in ousting Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, all of the vice-presidential candidates seemed to have a personal bone to pick with Bongbong, not for any transgressions of his own, but just because of his father, who had lost the presidency in a US-assisted coup. Bongbong alone was subjected to toxic questions from the propaganda arsenal of the old anti-Marcos camp manned by its last straggler, President B.S. Aquino 3rd.
The soundbites included “martial law,” “corruption,” and “human rights abuses.” These are pressing issues against Aquino himself, who only had to corrupt Congress and terrorize the Judiciary to mount his own “dictatorship.” Led by Aquino, Malacañang partisans had been demanding that Bongbong apologize for his father’s martial law response to the communist attempt to seize the government. Bongbong has responded by saying he would apologize anytime for his own mistakes, but only for his own mistakes.
No apologies needed
For that reason, he would not ask Aquino to apologize for his grandfather’s treason during the war when he collaborated with the Japanese occupation forces in the Philippines, even though this had caused so many deaths and incalculable hardships among Filipinos. Neither would he demand an apology from Aquino for his father’s treasonous conduct when he exposed the government’s secret project to recover Sabah, which has been illegally incorporated into the Federation of Malaysia.
If Marcos were alive today, I would probably ask him, as his former information minister, to apologize for failing to turn over the country to the communists in 1971, seeing how powerful they have become under Aquino. Despite the dismantling of the Soviet empire, which ended the Cold War, the communists in the Philippines appear to have won the ideological struggle, and even the shooting war. Their armed partisans continue to grow in number, even as the political commissars enter Congress and certain areas of government.
The martial law attacks
To this day Marcos is attacked for proclaiming martial law by those who made it necessary, as though it were a “cause uncaused,” and a US court has assumed jurisdiction over human rights cases allegedly committed by the Philippine military, without anything being done about those killed by the communists everywhere.
In the 20 years Marcos was in power, the government spent a little more than P600 billion to build more roads, bridges, ports, airports, schools, hospitals, dams, irrigation and hydroelectric and other infrastructure facilities than were built by all his predecessors combined. Cory Aquino spent twice that amount in only six and a half years and left nothing but a few flyovers. Her son PNoy misused over P150 billion in DAP funds alone, and now wants a “transition budget” of P3.5 trillion. Yet Marcos’s more corrupt enemies are the ones accusing him of corruption.
The record shows that Marcos fell after he had taken a strong position against the bases.
He did not fall because of corruption. He “became corrupt” after he fell. As soon as he was ousted, the new power-holders assigned to Marcos the authorship and fruits of their own corruption. This continues to this day. But their biggest corruption goes beyond money; it involves the sale of our national sovereignty and territorial integrity. This is one of the fundamental issues Bongbong Marcos is up against.
A solid record
Unlike Aquino who ran for the Senate in 2007 and for president in 2010 solely on the basis of his parents’ dubious record, the young Marcos is running for vice president on his own steam, after a solid record of 25 years in office. After initially serving as vice governor and then governor of Ilocos Norte during his early years, Bongbong spent years of exile with his family in the United States. Upon his return, he served as congressman for the second district of Ilocos Norte from 1992 to 1998, then as governor of Ilocos Norte from 1998 to 2007, then as congressman again from 2007 to 2010. In 2010, he won a seat in the Senate where he fought for a meaningful Mindanao peace process and many important legislations.
Together with the late former Senator Joker Arroyo and Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, Marcos was one of the three Senators who opposed the conviction and removal of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona at Aquino’s behest. Aquino literally paid off 188 congressmen to sign the Articles of Impeachment against Corona without reading the document, and 19 of the 20 senator-judges who voted to convict him at the Senate impeachment trial. Each of the senator-judges received P50 million or more from the so-called P150-billion or so Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), which the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional, in a rare act of courage.
The real corrupt ones
Except for Bongbong Marcos, all the senators running for Vice President received the P50-million or so largesse, with Escudero receiving the biggest chunk—-P98 million. But nobody asked the candidates why they believed they should be elected to high office, or allowed to talk about the alleged corruption of others, given this stain on their public record. Neither was the DAP issue raised. Although the Supreme Court has struck down the DAP and the entire pork barrel system as unconstitutional, and ordered the Ombudsman to prosecute all those involved in its manipulation and misuse, not a single wrongdoer has been prosecuted.
The pork barrel remains in the General Appropriations Act despite official assurances that it has been deleted, and Janet Lim Napoles, the reputed P10-billion “pork barrel queen” whom Aquino had personally received in Malacañang before escorting her to Camp Crame, has never been prosecuted. She was detained in connection with the charge of illegal detention, but never because of the alleged scam. Two days ago, she was allowed to post bail. This notwithstanding, Aquino and his cohorts continue to crow about their “daang matuwid” (straight path), as though we were a nation of fools. But this has failed to enter the public debates.
I had minimal expectations about the vice presidential debate. To begin with, the President, not the Vice President, runs the government. So the candidates, mostly Independents, were not expected to present any program of government.
None of them like to describe the Vice President as a “spare tire,” but until and unless the VP is given a specific assignment by the President (usually a Cabinet post), that’s exactly what he is—-a spare tire. Unlike the US vice president, who presides over the sessions of the Senate, the Philippine VP does not have a precise job description; he does not even have a permanent office address, or a decent operational budget.
Thus, it seems a little indelicate for a vice-presidential candidate to be talking of what Cabinet position he will want to have, especially if he is running as an independent. This only becomes permissible after a Vice President-elect is asked to join the Cabinet to a position of his choice. Otherwise, he is free to accept or decline only what the President offers.
The first successor
But because the Vice President is first in the line of presidential succession, what is otherwise a “spare tire” assumes an importance all its own. It is absolutely necessary to have a Vice President who is as qualified and deserving as the President. This has become so obvious and compelling, with the present problems that have caked around the presidential contest.
Because of the obvious efforts of the various parties to control the results of the elections, there is growing fear that we might not be able to proclaim a president-elect. The nation cannot risk any instability, so we need to have a dependable Vice- President-elect.
Under Section 7, Article VII of the Constitution, “If the President-elect fails to qualify, the Vice-President-elect shall act as President until the President-elect shall have qualified. If a President shall not have been chosen, the Vice-President-elect shall act as President until a President shall have been chosen and qualified.”
What we saw at UST
The UST debate gave the nation a glimpse of who among the VP candidates stands on solid ground as a potential acting President, should there be need for it. In this debate it was virtually impossible for any candidate to make any mistakes in responding to the hosts. But it allowed the public to see the breadth of mind, depth of character, and overall quality of the men and woman on stage.
Cayetano alone seemed to have the extravagance to believe that people would see in him the leadership qualities they need, by repeating what Duterte has been saying about ending criminality, drug trafficking, kidnapping, illegal gambling, smuggling and other major problems in three to six months, and by proposing “federalism” for all the bigger problems that not even Hercules can solve in 180 days.
Indeed it is our hope, it is our prayer, that we could solve all the problems that have covered the face of country in our lifetime. But it requires more than a monumental leap of faith in something that does not even claim any supernatural powers to believe that simply by putting one terribly flawed individual in charge, without changing ourselves or anything else, we could banish murder, lust, greed and the other vices in six months.
Some people were quick to applaud “federalism” as soon as they heard it. But even Cayetano did not know what he was talking about. Federalism is not a program of government, which the next president-elect could implement just because he wants it.
Federalism is a constitutional proposal, whose implementation provides no public role for the President.
Under the Constitution, it is the Congress or the Filipino people or both that should decide whether or not the Constitution should be revised or amended to allow a change in the form and structure of government. The President could try to influence efforts in that direction, but the Constitution as such provides no role for him to be involved in it.
Therefore no presidential or vice-presidential candidate can promise to transform the country into a “federal” republic. That would be a giant swindle where we cannot afford to sink ourselves.
My Cebuano friends say they are not the only ones who see Bongbong Marcos as our best bet for Vice President.