Can Marcos Jr 'unify' the Philippines?: Inquirer contributor


MANILA (Philippine Daily Inquirer/Asia News Network): "Perception is real, the truth is not," former First Lady Imelda Marcos once infamously claimed. The philosopher Theodor Adorno once described modern politics as a struggle between "mythos" (subjective-mythical thinking) and "logos" (factual-logical reasoning).

What has been at the heart of the Marcoses' bid to reclaim the Malacañang Palace is clearly a politics of mythos - or, to put it more bluntly, a set of radically revisionist claims that found a fertile ground on social media and among millions of disaffected Filipinos.

The Marcoses have claimed that their previous reign marked a "golden age," where a supposedly decisive and competent strongman provided order and prosperity for majority of the citizens. Ferdinand "Bongbong" Macros Jr (pic) even went as far as claiming that "If there [were]no Edsa 1 [revolution], if my father was allowed to pursue his plans, I believe that we would be like Singapore now."

Never mind that no less than Singapore's founding father Lee Kuan Yew himself lamented, "[o]nly in the Philippines could a leader like Ferdinand Marcos, who pillaged his country for over 20 years, still be considered for a national burial."

But the Marcoses' campaign of "disinformation" proved effective precisely because it targeted a large and quite receptive audience, which bemoaned decades of unfulfilled democratic promise. Not to mention, the Marcoses deftly exploited a plethora of systemic vulnerabilities, which cut across our judicial and educational institutions.

In any mature democracy, the Marcoses would have likely struggled to even return to politics, never mind winning back the Malacañang Palace. As things stand, however, another Marcos is set to occupy the presidential throne in the coming weeks.

Largely shunning any serious presidential debate, Marcos Jr has presented himself as a "unifying" force, who could catapult the country toward a bright and prosperous future. That line of messaging obviously worked during a highly polarised and popularity-based election, where voters largely chose their next leader based on their animosity toward the opposing camp.

Once in power, however, Marcos Jr will have to also respect the politics of "logos."

After all, opposition leader and vice-president Leonor "Leni" Robredo, who beat the ex-dictator's son in the 2016 election, managed to garner close to 15 million passionate voters in this year's elections. TikTok videos and nostalgic populism can only get you so far.

Shortly after his election victory, Marcos Jr embarked on major moves, which portend the contours of his presidency. On one hand, he signalled his independence, and preference for reliance on trusted partners and longtime aides, by denying top positions to tactical allies during the 2022 elections.

Presumptive vice-president Sara Duterte had to settle for the Department of Education (DepEd) only hours after her spokesman reiterated their preference for the much-vaunted position of secretary of national defence. It soon also became clear that Marcos Jr is backing Rep. Martin Romualdez, rather than former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, to be the next speaker.

Meanwhile, Marcos Jr held cordial yet dignified conversations with leaders of major powers, beginning with the Philippines' traditional ally, the United States.

In a nutshell, having an independent-minded president is always better than the alternatives. It reflects the political will of a commander in chief, namely his commitment to advocating for his/her own distinct vision of the country.

And if Marcos Jr truly wants to be a more "unifying" figure, not only should he shun the authoritarian legacies of his own father, as well as the outgoing incumbent, Rodrigo Duterte, but also avoid institutionalising his revisionist views through the organs of the state.

In the meantime, however, there are three relatively low-hanging fruits, which could go a long way in broadening the base of and (partially) redeeming the president's familial reputation among the international community: (i) restore the franchise of ABS-CBN (via allies in the legislature); (ii) free Sen. Leila De Lima; and (iii) re-calibrate Duterte's scorched-earth drug war by emphasising rehabilitation and targeted operations.

After all, Marcos Jr himself wasn't involved and isn't invested in any of those politically motivated moves, which coloured the reign of the outgoing president. Thanks to his broad mandate, the incoming president can make a fresh start, not only for his family but also for the entire country.

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