Government News Analysis

It’s time for Marcos

Philippines DFA and DILG logos

Speculation is mounting over the likelihood of former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos being handed a post in the Philippine administration. And that could happen as soon as next month. What can be guaranteed is that if it does, reaction will be polarised throughout the country – Marcos is either loved or hated. Indifference to him is hard to find.

The Liberal Party of Vice President Leni Robredo detest Marcos – not least because he’s challenging her in the courts over alleged corruption fraud perpetrated in last May’s VP election in which she pushed him into second place by the smallest-ever margin in the history of the race; 219,127 votes.

Ironically though, if he is appointed to the government by President Rodrigo Duterte, as a member of the Cabinet he will have far greater political clout than her. Robredo resigned her Cabinet post as chairperson of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) on 5 December last year after Duterte told her she should no longer attend Cabinet meetings. She was replaced as head of the Council by Cabinet Secretary, Leoncio Evasco Jr.

HUDCC chairperson, however, is a relatively minor administrative rank. Former president Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino parked his truculent VP, Jejomar Binay, in the HUDCC chair possibly believing he could do least damage there – likely the same reason why Robredo was parked there by Duterte.

We believe that if Marcos is appointed, however, it will be to a senior position – possibly Foreign Secretary or Interior Minister, two posts that have no permanent heads right now.

At the beginning of March, Perfecto Yasay Jr had his appointment as secretary at the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) rejected by the congressional Commission on Appointments for failing to disclose his citizenship status. Last week, Ismael Sueno lost his job as secretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) after being fired by Duterte on the strength of corruption allegations that had been made against him.

Caretaking these two top posts while Duterte weighs his options are career diplomat, Enrique Gonzales Manalo, who was appointed as Acting Secretary of the DFA on 9 March, and the former Commander of the Philippine National Police’s Special Action Force, Catalino Cuy, who was made Acting Secretary at the DILG on 5 April.

Up until recently, it had been assumed that the DFA position would go to Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, a close confident of Duterte and his VP running mate in last year’s election. Under the provisions of the 1987 Philippine Constitution there is a one-year ban on the appointment of any losing candidate to a government post – that’s the same ban that’s precluded Marcos to be considered for a government post up until now.

Article IX (Constitutional Commissions) Section 6 reads: “No candidate who has lost in any election shall, within one year after such election, be appointed to any office in the Government or any Government-owned or controlled corporations or in any of their subsidiaries”.

Cayetano’s senatorial term, however, doesn’t end until 2019 which would mean that were he to accept a government post he would have to relinquish his Senate seat – which if he did next month would free him to take up a government post.

But that would leave Duterte one supporter – and in this case a strong and influential one – less in the upper chamber of Congress. And given Cayetano’s forceful promotion in the Senate of the government’s policies, there may well be a feeling in Malacañang that Cayetano is better left where he is.

Marcos’s loyalty to Duterte, meanwhile, is as strong as Cayetano’s. When Duterte first announced that he’d run for president – well before he picked Cayetano to join him on the ticket – Marcos offered to be his VP running mate.

Duterte and Bongbong are close – they’re friends and share a similar vision for the country and for ways of tackling the problems besetting it. Also, Duterte has never hidden his respect for Bongbong’s father, former president Ferdinand Marcos who locked the country down under martial law from 1972 to 1981.

That respect was reinforced by his decision to approve Marcos’s burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, the Hero’s Cemetery, at Fort Bonifacio, Taguig, Metro Manila – a decision, taken shortly after assuming office. It generated street protests and appeals to the Supreme Court. Duterte, however, stuck by his guns, the Supreme Court upheld the decision and Marcos was laid to rest at the cemetery on 18 November last year.

That will have further strengthened Bongbong’s loyalty to Duterte. The DFA and DILG are very big portfolios and Duterte will want to have people running them whom he can depend on. And Marcos certainly fits that bill.

But he’s also a seasoned politician and he’s capable. In the Senate he chaired a number of committees, among them Public Works, the Oversight Committee on the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao Organic Act, and – significantly – Local Government. During his time in the upper chamber he authored 86 Senate bills and co-authored a further 21.

For the Liberal Party and Robredo in particular, the spectre of Marcos at the heart of government fills them with horror. But on the political chess board they’re in a difficult position.

Presently, there’s a case, filed by Marcos with the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) at the Philippine Supreme Court, challenging the veracity of Leni Robredo’s claim to the vice presidency. The PET has already ruled that the case will proceed despite exhaustive efforts by Robredo’s legal team to have it thrown out.

Of course, losing the vice presidency to Marcos would be a much bigger loss for the Liberals than having him heading a government department. The Liberals and their political affiliates are hoping – vainly we would add – to impeach Duterte, thus leaving the way free for Robredo to assume the presidency.

Thus, as if to cut their losses, they are now arguing that if Marcos accepts a government position his case with the PET becomes redundant; null and void – in effect that he’s abandoning the case, meaning he’ll automatically forfeit his claim to the vice presidency. But this is based more on a hope and a prayer rather than any sound legal reasoning.

Addressing that issue, Solicitor General, Jose Calida, said this: “Bongbong Marcos will not effectively abandon his protest against Robredo even if he is appointed to a Cabinet position after the one-year ban”. He quoted the ruling in a precedent case: “that acceptance of an appointment cannot be considered as inconsistent with a protestant’s determination to protect and pursue the public interest involved in the matter of who is the real choice of the electorate”.

During the previous administration there was a parallel situation; Mar Roxas – the Liberal Party challenger whom Duterte defeated in the election – filed a case with the PET against Vice President Binay, claiming he was the rightful VP. The case went ahead, despite Roxas’s appointment as DILG secretary.

We believe that Marcos would be a good addition to this government. We believe it’s time for Marcos – it might also help elements of the country to move on and stop blaming him for things that happened when he was a boy.

Of course, the Liberal opposition – Robredo in particular; she was a loud outspoken critic of the former president’s burial at Taguig – will feel it’s in their interest to keep old wounds open and oozing. As we’ve seen, negative politics is their forte; they believe – wrongly in our opinion – that they can win over the people by undermining Duterte and his policies; that they can win the people’s love by harnessing hate.

Whether we’re right about Marcos Jr being earmarked for one of these two positions, however, we’ll have to wait and see. But one thing we are sure of is this: if Duterte wants Bongbong Marcos in his administration it will happen. If he can get Marcos’s father buried in the Hero’s Cemetery, he can certainly get his son into his Cabinet. For Duterte that’s like a walk in the park.

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