Manolo Quezon is #TheExplainer Newsletter — Column and Coverage Omnibus

Being on the road meant an extended hiatus. Thank you for your patience and continuing support. My columns have chronicled the onset of the Marcos Restoration, the end (for now?) of the Duterte Era, and the first weeks of the Marcos Jr. administration. The Banyan column of The Economist last June 29, took note of the perspective I’ve been pursuing for some time now, that this marks the continuing End Times for the 5th Republic. The Financial Times correspondent also mentioned me in his story on the Marcos inaugural.

My column today now brings the story up-to-date.

Coverage of June 30, 2022

Some clips of the coverage of the Marcos inaugural: trying to set the stage as to the meaning of what is about to unfold, and then, after it unfolds (the oath-taking and inaugural address) having to analyze it not once, but twice, in quick succession. Such are the dynamics of television commentary.

This week’s The Long View

Pragmatic party problem-solving | Inquirer Opinionopinion.inquirer.net

THE LONG VIEW

By: Manuel L. Quezon III@inquirerdotnet

Philippine Daily Inquirer / 04:35 AM July 20, 2022

Manuel L. Quezon’s death, even in exile and in the midst of war, created a problem for the political class that persisted for over a generation. The unscheduled removal of the top leader led to a fracture as preexisting factions reemerged with no paramount leader to resolve matters, resulting in the split that created the two-party system in 1945.

Both Manuel Roxas and Ramon Magsaysay, poised to achieve reelection in 1949 and 1957 respectively, more likely than not, would have achieved a restoration of the prewar single-party system; but both died before it could happen and so the artificial two-party system persisted (artificial because in the post-colonial world, the single-party model, based on the legitimacy and prestige conferred by being the independence party, was the rule). Ferdinand Marcos in a sense achieved — by force in 1973 — what his predecessors could have achieved by charisma; and while none of his successors since has achieved a permanent, monolithic party, they have repeatedly come close. Still, in many ways, since then, the political class still instinctively yearns for the consolidation of factions under a strong chief executive.

Back in 1940, Jose Yulo said six years is too short for a good president and too long for a bad one. If we assume that under the old, two-term possibility for a presidency, when presidents more often than not obtained majority mandates, it would have taken the better part of two terms or eight years for a president to recreate a one-party state, then it becomes all the more clearer why presidents in the Fifth Republic, which is designed to prevent majority mandates and forbid reelection, also failed to do so. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo with her unique stay in office (nine years, second longest in our history) came close, but the design of the Fifth Republic meant there was no incentive to maintain party cohesion in the absence of a viable successor.

Still, no administration since 1935 has lost the House of Representatives. Even in the days when presidents sought reelection, those that failed to be reelected still won the House. What happened, then and now, was that when a winning presidential candidate became known, a stampede took place almost instantly, depleting the formerly ruling party and bloating whatever party the new president belongs to. And so, every new president has ended up controlling the House, too. I’ve mentioned elsewhere this has been a gift with a cost: moving as a herd, retains herd solidarity, it means presidents must bargain with the herd that represents a permanent majority party. A system that, in the tried-and-tested Asian way, contains competing factions under its umbrella.

We know that our new President has neither sentimental nor proprietary attitudes toward parties. He has been KBL, both in its heyday when it rivaled the old prewar NP in its dominance, and after his father’s fall; he has been a candidate under an NPC coalition and that of the NP (both of which are essentially un-reunited factions of the old Nacionalista Party) and he has run as an independent and was elected president as a member of the obscure Federalist Party (one can almost boil it down into this formula: if I am the State and the State is Marcos, then the Party is Marcos, too). And like every president before him, he was the standard-bearer of a coalition, in his case, the UniTeam composed of his recently joined Partido Federal, the regional Hugpong ng Pagbabago of his vice presidential running mate, the Pwersa ng Masa vehicle of former president Estrada, and the Lakas-CMD vehicle of former president Arroyo.

So why is it, that this time, the Partido Federal isn’t bloating? As I wrote in this column, the Partido Federal that the new President belongs to continues to have a paltry grand total of one to two representatives. While it was expected that the 66-member bloc of the former ruling party, PDP-Laban, would deflate from the time the results were in up to the time inauguration day approached, it still remains sizeable. In the same period, Lakas-CMD, the nominal party umbrella sheltering Vice President Sara Duterte, and which is for all intents and purposes, headed by the President’s first cousin and anointed speaker, Martin Romualdez, grew from 27 to 55 (it grew from 12 to 24 over the period 2019–2022); while the parties that I consider subsidiaries of commercial interests, the 34 NUP associated with Enrique Razon, the 39 NP associated with Manuel Villar, and the 36 NPC associated with Ramon Ang have held steady (though Ang claims it will expand to as many as 50 members).

Within days of the Marcos victory, it became clear that the coming administration understood national power dynamics. On one hand, it put the incoming vice president in her place when her clumsy bid for the defense department was rejected; on the other hand, it undertook a friendly-looking but still hostile takeover of the only party in the UniTeam with real muscle: Lakas. With the new crown prince as his herald, the President sent word that his anointed for the speakership was his first cousin, then Majority Leader Martin Romualdez. Everyone had to bend the knee, including Arroyo, the hitherto widely expected speaker-in-waiting.

Since it seems Energy Secretary Raphael Lotilla was selected more for his technocratic reputation and private sector bonafide, it seems that up to now, the Arroyos have had little say and even less of a share in the Cabinet. The continuing stature of Arroyo then depends on the perception of the closeness between herself and Vice President Duterte, a fondness not shared by former president Duterte, described by one reporter as still sulking over the decision of his daughter to settle for veephood. Put another way, she had to be displaced by making someone else very clearly the person to talk to in Lakas, otherwise Arroyo (and by extension, Inday Sara) would have been the dominant, and not subordinate, partners in the ruling coalition. Pragmatically, the President dispensed with his newly found party to do so.

The Restoration Story to Date

Heir apparent | Inquirer Opinionopinion.inquirer.net

By: Manuel L. Quezon III@inquirerdotnet

Philippine Daily Inquirer / 04:35 AM June 15, 2022

Inday Sara is going to be the 15th vice president, the first military reservist, and the first to hold the education portfolio, the second ethnic Cebuano, the second member of a tandem to win in an election under the Fifth Republic, and second Mindanawon, as well as the third mayor (and second city mayor), and third woman, to become vice president.

As our second Cebuano (ethnically, at least) vice president, she probably inspires the same feelings of wary unease in her partner president-elect as the first one did in his time. Our system departed from the American experience by mandating a separate election for the top two positions. The reason for this was a practical one. Since we would be having our first national election, and there hadn’t been such a position before, the drafters of the constitution believed it was important for a vice president, as possible successor to a president, to have a clear mandate of their own so as to be considered legitimately entitled to the position.

It was widely taken for granted that, in a national election, Sergio Osmeña would certainly win the vice presidency, and so the position was almost not created at all. At first, following American practice, it was assumed by the framers of the 1935 Constitution that a vice president would become concurrent president of the Senate; but then the bicameralists ended up divided on the question of a regional or national election for the Senate, so the unicameralists won. What, then, was there for a vice president to do?

The proposition made by delegates Mariano Jesus Cuenco of Cebu, Luis Morales of Tarlac, and Ruperto Kapunan of Leyte was that a vice president was unnecessary. Fine-sounding reasons were given: suppose a vice president should be made a member of the Cabinet, what if the president and vice president came from different parties? And if you only wanted a vice president as a spare tire, why not just select a member of the national assembly to succeed the president if they died in office?

But two Cebuano delegates, both rivals of Osmeña, were more blunt, admitting “that if [the vice president] position was created […] in view of the reconciliation between […] Quezon and Osmeña, Mr. Osmeña would be the Vice President and they would again be the underdogs in Cebu.” In the end, Quezon sent word he would only run if Osmeña did, too, and an optional Cabinet job for the vice president was included in the charter. Interestingly, when the Senate was restored in the 1940 amendments, it didn’t include making the vice president presiding officer of the Senate.

The result of all this is that presidents have, more often than not, been jealous of their vice presidents, not least because the contests are different, so vice presidents tend to receive more votes and enjoy larger percentages of the votes than presidents. Four vice presidents have succeeded to the presidency (three because of the death of the incumbent, one because of people power) and the only limit, in actual fact, to the scheming of vice presidents is a phenomenon in public opinion: When vice presidents break away from presidents, they usually take hit in terms of popularity. We expect the top two, regardless of partisan differences, to be team players.

Here, the only example I could find of a vice-president-elect taking their oath ahead of the president-elect is not a particularly inspiring one. Arturo Tolentino had moved to reestablish the vice presidency in 1984 but what the Marcos parliament approved was to make the position eligible for a ministry or to be prime minister, but not to succeed to the presidency. Still, he ran as Marcos’ running mate in 1986.

Embroiled as he was, in the fall and exile of Marcos, Tolentino told many versions of events concerning his oath. He explained his absence during Marcos’ Feb. 25, 1986 inaugural by claiming he’d taken his oath ahead of time, before Chief Justice Ramon Aquino, on Feb. 16, 1986. On March 30, 1986, a little over a month after fleeing the country, Ferdinand Marcos in Hawaii declared his intention to reclaim the presidency. Loyalists began rallying in the Luneta every Sunday, calling for his return. Tolentino started attending, and on July 6, 1986, he took the plunge in the comical Manila Hotel takeover, during which he took his oath — again, if he was to be believed — and then proclaimed himself acting president. He called on the Batasang Pambansa to reconvene and he appointed a Cabinet — and was laughed out of town.

There has been speculation about why the vice-president-elect would insist on taking her oath ahead of the president-elect, when tradition firmly dictates their doing so on the same date and in the same place, the only one departing from precedent being her own father. But this makes the explanation very simple: Her father’s is the only precedent that matters to her, and she wants to make her own history by being the first in her position to be inaugurated in Mindanao. Symbolically, she will join the inaugural of Marcos Jr. as a guest and witness to the culmination of a historic election, and less obviously as a subordinate.

In memoriam | Inquirer Opinionopinion.inquirer.net

By: Manuel L. Quezon III@inquirerdotnet

Philippine Daily Inquirer / 04:35 AM June 22, 2022

Benigno S. Aquino III wasn’t only an honorable man, he believed that honor mattered. Belonging, as he did, to the generation for which the words of Churchill still resonated, I think it entirely appropriate to offer up that statesman’s words on his immediate predecessor, Neville Chamberlain, because what he said in 1940 applies to the loss we suffered in 2019.

“It is not given to human beings,” he told the Commons, “happily for them, for otherwise life would be intolerable, to foresee or to predict to any large extent the unfolding course of events. In one phase men seem to have been right, in another they seem to have been wrong. Then again, a few years later, when the perspective of time has lengthened, all stands in a different setting. There is a new proportion. There is another scale of values. History with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the past, trying to reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes, and kindle with pale gleams the passion of former days. What is the worth of all this? The only guide to a man is his conscience; the only shield to his memory is the rectitude and sincerity of his actions. It is very imprudent to walk through life without this shield, because we are so often mocked by the failure of our hopes and the upsetting of our calculations; but with this shield, however the fates may play, we march always in the ranks of honour.”

Back in 2008, Randy David observed: “Our leaders and rulers, on the other hand, suffer from a nobility deficit. A sense of honor, drawn from tradition, no longer deters or restrains them. The poverty and ignorance of the masses bring out the predator rather than the hero in them. They take advantage of the weaknesses of the legal system and the persistence of the old habits of an unequal society, even as the old values like delicadeza no longer compel them.”

Honor is that fine line that, even in the absence of a statutory prohibition, an official won’t cross, all other lines, politics being what it is, being equal. The difference perhaps between a Fidel V. Ramos, for all his shortcomings, who moved heaven and earth to amend the Constitution but handed over power to his elected successor, and those who argued in Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s administration that the national interest called for any means necessary to prevent a Poe presidency (and Poe himself, who took the national interest to heart and stayed the hand of mob rule when he could have unleashed it after his defeat).

Aquino had that sense of honor, informed by tradition, primarily that of his parents’ service, but he was also willing to break precedent in the interest of the common good. This is best demonstrated by the difference between Aquino as a president capable of being outraged by his predecessor violating the constitutional prohibition on midnight appointments (so that she could put in place a chief justice midwifed by a convenient precedent-breaking decision by the high court), and his successor shrugging off the same court eliminating that chief justice’s replacement through the kind of dexterous reconfiguration of old legal precepts to suit the present, that was the true and longstanding legal legacy of Marcos Sr. and his minions such as Estelito Mendoza. Aquino would fight in the light of day and in the political arena (which is what impeachment is) while to undo his good work legal legerdemain had to be resorted to. The old habits had to persist; the legal system could not resist its own arbiters redefining matters to accomplish what can be described as a self-coup; all under the assumption, accurate as it turned out, that observers would not or could not tell the difference.

Aquino was the last of his line; he took the leadership his family and background represented to its furthest extent.

Proof of this was how Aquino had an almost missionary zeal when it came to believing that the public valued rationality and facts. Yet he himself had experiences aplenty to prove otherwise.

I remember one senior citizen going up to him and telling him how he’d not only voted for him, but had been a passionate admirer of his father. “I loved hearing him speak,” the senior enthusiastically reminisced, as the president smiled. “I had no idea what he was saying but he said it with such conviction I had to believe!” The president just shook his head in reply.

Later on, when, in the midst of some issue or another, the president insisted on the facts, time and again he discovered, as all officials do sooner or later, that the Philippine government’s relationship with facts is a tenuous one at best, because no vetted fact is ever fresh enough to be much use and what is needed now more often than not has been manufactured elsewhere by someone far less scrupulous. An enormous amount of time, including the inevitable raging behind the scenes, was spent trying to find out the facts, on the increasingly slender, it seemed to me, a premise that if only given these, the public would understand.

This is how I came to believe that in witnessing the old-fashioned “bomba” (in the sense of detonating a bomb) style of his father, Aquino III overlooked what made the machine-gun facts of Aquino Jr. so politically lethal.

What was needed were three things: the facts themselves, the style of delivery, and the appetite of the public for these dramatic public executions by means of exposés. Aquino Jr. and Aquino III both had a mastery of marshaling facts; the father may have been more flamboyant, rhetorically, but the son developed his own effective style; but what the father enjoyed that the son did not was a public with an appetite for such things. Or to be precise, the era sandwiched by the two Aquino presidencies was the sunset of such things, which rapidly became extinct so that by 2022, the electorate was telling the surveys 69 percent would be influenced to vote against candidates presenting accusations involving anomalies by rivals and 75 percent would do likewise against anyone perceived to be destroying the character or reputations of other candidates. This change in public opinion is a change in public values: it makes both the electorate and candidates immune to the very relevance of graft and corruption, and honesty in the selection of leaders. We are left, not with honor, but merely amor propio.

Year Zero | Inquirer Opinionopinion.inquirer.net

By: Manuel L. Quezon III@inquirerdotnet

Philippine Daily Inquirer / 04:35 AM June 29, 2022

Since every administration suffers from the delusion that it has reset the clock, to point out that none of the three presidents who were inaugurated at the former Legislative Building finished their terms achieves nothing. Now, the National Museum of Fine Arts, the inaugural site for Ferdinand Marcos Jr., is both understandable and surprising for other reasons. It is understandable as an accessible, photogenic location that happens to have its fair share of inaugural history. The inaugurals there marked the start of three eras: the Commonwealth in 1935, the so-called Second Republic in 1943, and the restored Commonwealth in 1946.

As its former name tells us, the Legislative Building was also the home of our legislature for the longest time. And the Marcoses are part of that story. Mariano Marcos had attended sessions in the building when he was a congressman. When Ferdinand E. Marcos entered the House of Representatives to take possession of his father’s old seat just when the House had returned to its old premises in the rebuilt Legislative Building (it had been destroyed during the Battle of Manila in 1945), he did so as an act of vindication for his father’s memory, and as an act of promise, the first stepping stone to the presidency. After three terms in the House, he became a senator in 1959.

Marcos Sr., a provincial grandee given short shrift by his cosmopolitan peers, seems to have had little to no affection for the place. But, perhaps, he’d suffered too many indignities there. Just two months after he became only the second president to be reelected (but in the inevitable rewriting of the past, often asserted erroneously to this day, as the first), he suffered the indignity of student radicals rioting as he delivered his fifth State of the Nation Address.

It would have made more sense for Marcos the Younger to hold his inaugural at the House of Representatives, in the building still referred to as the Batasang Pambansa, built 44 years ago in that year of transformations, 1978. For that was the year the Elder Marcos transformed the image of the government into one that bore his indelible imprint. First, he essentially demolished Malacañan Palace, dissolving the past of the presidency and recasting it; second, he finally built the National Assembly building but only after eliminating Quezon City as the national capital two years earlier: through sheer regime longevity, he would erase all institutional memory; and he did so after breaking the promise he’d made to the members of the old, pre-martial law Congress and the Constitutional Convention, that their respective members would automatically sit in the new Interim National Assembly as a reward for their accepting a new Constitution. He did this first by holding a plebiscite to void the deal, and second by attempting a Year Zero move by instituting regions to break the power of the provincial barons (by 1981, he’d reverted to provincial representation though the regions continue to exist as a ghostly reminder of the stillborn Federalism of the New Society), and third, taking away the prospects of becoming purely a ceremonial president by making himself prime minister, too. To top it off, he changed the official year to begin not on Rizal Day, with elections in November, but instead in June, with elections in May.

The cost of reelection for Ferdinand the Elder in 1969 was to print money literally (expanding the money supply by 20 percent), the accumulation of $480 million in short-term debt with only $126 million in reserves, a 60-percent plunge in the value of the peso, and increase the cost of living by 20 percent, requiring an austerity-inducing bailout by the IMF. What came as a political achievement unmatched since the prewar single-party years took place at a time when the country was already facing a fork in the road: the pressure to turn into a more pluralistic society with all the accompanying uncertainties of modernity, versus the appeal of reviving the old top-down certainties of the single-party pre-independence era of Marcos’ own youth. Marcos did one better by dressing himself in the costume of a modernizer while trying to institute one family royal rule harking back to precolonial times.

What was the cost for achieving the third-highest electoral percentage in the history of our national elections, the first incontestable first term majority in two generations? The administration that expires tomorrow enjoyed impunity in its command and control of the police as provincial barons enjoyed, in turn, liberality on the national government’s part in public works; a similar lifeline was extended in the name of pandemic survival. The parting gift of the expiring administration to the incoming one was a warning that six years of generosity would now require belt-tightening and, preferably, new taxes. Something no new administration wants to hear, particularly when the world situation is escalating the price not only of oil, but of fertilizer and foodstuffs.

I have read an eloquent argument that when he assumes the presidency tomorrow, Marcos Jr. will actually be bending the knee, so to speak, to the national consensus reached after his family went into exile, and designed in large part, never to allow any family, including his own, to ever enjoy such impunity as they once exercised, again. For he will be pledging fealty to the 1987 Constitution. Then again, he was taking that oath as a local and national official for much of the 30 years he has been part of the effort to dismantle the republic established on the ruins of his father’s monarchical enterprise.

Exit | Inquirer Opinionopinion.inquirer.net

By: Manuel L. Quezon III@inquirerdotnet

Philippine Daily Inquirer / 04:25 AM July 06, 2022

When Rodrigo R. Duterte was elected, his mandate on the surface was typical of the Fifth Republic’s plurality presidencies; his percentage (39.1 percent) put him in the lowest middle ranks of these (only Ramos won on a smaller percentage: both Estrada and Arroyo had higher percentages). What he enjoyed was a profound reorientation of the national political culture after the 30-odd year sway of the Aquinos as icons of democratic empathy shifted to Duterte incarnating it. The effect was that what was a middling mandate became a colossal one as he was rewarded with the highest public opinion approval marks ever achieved — and sustained.

In a sense, this was a victory built on a bluff but one his detractors and other sectors never dared call. He systematically, but selectively, intimidated and forced aside, a representative of the different gatekeeping sectors: big business, both old and new; media, in all its forms, starting with newspapers, then online, and most crucially of all, television and radio; at the same time, he gave free rein to his economic managers to generally pursue business-friendly policies, left the military alone, backstopped the police as it intimidated the public and local governments, and laid a thick carpet of public works funding to please all cooperative local barons. Much as he was criticized for using a blunt weapon — police power and lockdowns — to address the pandemic, the collapse of the economy it caused meant both the national and provincial barons and the electorate became even more dependent — and grateful — for any presidential largesse, creating a climate conducive to continuity.

As the 2019 midterms approached (one he won with the most-resounding midterm victory since before World War II), I was surprised by the sanguine opinion of a veteran observer, former senator Sergio Osmeña, that Duterte’s priorities were merely two: to engineer the election of two of his factotums, Bato dela Rosa and Bong Go to the Senate, and to ensure he would finish his term unlike Marcos and Estrada. All his moves, Osmeña confidently asserted, should be understood in terms of these narrow objectives. By this time, I had been keenly observing the fascinating, little-remarked upon, because hardly noticed, showdown between the two main factions in the Duterte administration, one composed of the ideologues, represented by Cabinet Secretary Leoncio B. Evasco Jr. and the pragmatists, represented by his Special Assistant and Head of the Presidential Management Staff Bong Go. Evasco had an ambitious plan to promulgate a new constitution, purge the bureaucracy, and create a new national movement or party, by mobilizing Duterte’s political charisma. It included a coalition with the Communists and perhaps even the goal of absorbing them; it failed and was rather swiftly, and completely, rolled back by Go who proved even more adept at playing the game of presidential issuances to mark out and expand political turf.

The limits of the Go brand of pragmatism that we must assume the then president instinctively shared were proven when Duterte’s daughter embarked on a political partnership with former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to save the Duterte administration from itself, as it began to go adrift while its legislative agenda stalled due to presidential inattention and the House leadership riding roughshod over its members. Arroyo became speaker in an internal coup that maintained the fiction of presidential supremacy while deciding the leadership of the House without a president’s active participation for the first time in its history.

Sara would prove influential as well in the selection of Arroyo’s successor to the speakership, but her own political instincts proved parochial; she pursued, and maintained, Hugpong as a regional alliance instead of displacing the traditional national parties at their moment of maximum vulnerability. Instead, her continued deference gave them an undeserved second wind.

Duterte’s failure of political imagination, also obvious in his unintended political heir, his daughter Sara, left him a presidency with unmatched political capital, and nowhere to spend it. His own designated heir, Go, proved Caligula can make his horse a senator but that senator will never be emperor. Instead, Duterte found his political capital being spent for him, to boost a candidacy he opposed: his own daughter’s, whose powerful legitimacy was derived precisely because she was his daughter. Duterte’s tactical, because overlaid on a deeply personal antipathy for the Marcoses themselves because of his parents, alliance with the Marcoses never gave them as much as they wanted but in the end, they got what they wanted most: the presidency, thanks to his daughter’s alliance with them, brokered by Arroyo, who represents more of an existential threat to the Marcoses than a Duterte in retirement can.

It may be that had Duterte been more ambitious and imaginative, he couldn’t have become the president that so effectively incarnated the National ID, the incarnation of the pre-colonial and anti-modern insecurities, hostilities, and instincts of ourselves as a political collective. Much as his authority has relied on the same manipulation of social media algorithms as the Marcoses, he remains in many ways a more authentic, because more frankly provincial and baronial, political figure than the Marcoses with their rajah-like affectations can ever be; this means, as he himself has conveyed with his body language during his daughter’s early inaugural, which observers primed to observe from such signs instantly seized upon, that the Dutertes remain the only countervailing force, at present, to the Marcoses.

But what the newly inaugurated president and recently turned ex-president both know is that possession is 9/10th of the law; and that no position is more conducive to the evaporation of influence than the vice presidency. If the Marcos Restoration’s political horizon is a mere six years, then an enduring political partnership lasting 18 years: six of Duterte Sr., six of Marcos Jr., and six of Sara, would be the longest uninterrupted era of political dominance by an alliance since before World War II. In a sense, if the Marcoses will be content to be the filler in this Duterte sandwich, they will have deserved their restoration and claim to rehabilitation. The apple of discord, however, is what Duterte Sr. achieved, and which Marcos Jr. must fulfill: the replacement of our Fifth Republic, with a Sixth, made in the image, not of 1986, but 2016.

Administration in embryo | Inquirer Opinionopinion.inquirer.net

By: Manuel L. Quezon III@inquirerdotnet

Philippine Daily Inquirer / 04:30 AM July 13, 2022

Through sheer political longevity, Ferdinand Marcos Sr. hoped to accomplish, and greatly achieved, the erasure of the institutional past. Put another way, he could then afford to be selective about precedents, relying on his own rather than, as most democratic administrations do, deriving legitimacy from past practice. He did this in small and big ways (someone familiar with his style once told me, “What he would do was orate, ‘As a wise man once said…’ and promptly quote himself”).

The Marcos Restoration under his son continues to benefit from this not least because Marcos Sr.’ output of decrees was so vast (and useful to his successors) that much of it remains in force; and more to the point, civic ignorance under the Fifth Republic has been close to nonexistent: we lack that communal awareness of past practices being a limit on individual overreach that makes societies resistant to the siren call of populists or dictators. And so, though the Fifth Republic has almost existed as long as the Commonwealth and the Third combined (because they were only really one regime), it has hardly managed to create a popular expectation of what is acceptable — or to be expected. Add to this the weight of the crushing majority, and there is little left to foster any kind of questioning of things.

We are going into the second week in office of the new president, and there remains an incomplete Cabinet. Perhaps because it has never happened before, it raises fewer eyebrows when it should raise everyone’s eyebrows for precisely that reason. Not least when combined with the massiveness of the mandate obtained. At least two of the still-undesignated portfolios, health and energy, are critical; one sign of this is that the President himself has developed COVID for the second time and had to go into seclusion; another is that the names floated for another department, energy, suggested competing factions in the ruling coalition: Mikey Arroyo and Rodante Marcoleta. The former belonged to a cohort of names floated early on, suggesting the eagerness — or preparedness — of the Arroyos to collect, while the other sent a signal of political potency for the Iglesia ni Cristo and a shot across the bows to Meralco. Yet neither came to pass. What did happen on July 11 was the return of Raphael Lotilla to the portfolio he held under President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. This points to a kind of return of the coalition to an even keel, a return in the balance of power.

Aside from the formation of a Cabinet, it’s in the first executive issuances that presidents are expected to begin the process of making a mark by fostering strong first impressions. The impression so far is of an administration far more conservative in its self-organization. The first two issuances weren’t by the President but issued under his authority: two memorandum circulars that immediately cleared the decks, vacating all appointive positions, and another reiterating the need for complete staff work in all submissions to the Executive Office. When the time came for the President to issue his first executive orders, they demonstrated his priorities: They were essentially a reversal of the political and therefore, messy, administrative adjustments made by the previous two administrations. The position of Cabinet secretary made independent by President Benigno Aquino III to accommodate Rene Almendras was abolished and its functions returned to the Presidential Management Staff (PMS); the preeminence of the executive secretary and the firm subordination of the traditional head of the Private Office (the Special Assistant to the President), and the head of the PMS, was reasserted, reversing and in a sense, tidying-up, the battle for the soul of the Duterte administration waged between Evasco and Go. The anticorruption commission, created to give legal cover to the VACC as attack dogs of the Duterte administration, was also eliminated. On the other hand, the interesting position of presidential adviser for military and police affairs, under the ambit of the special assistant to the president, points to a concern for the new President who prefers to keep it on the political side of things (Lagdameo) than the administrative side of the fence (Rodriguez).

The President’s second issuance also tidied up matters in terms of communications. The position of presidential spokesperson was abolished, and in a kind of official joke, the position of press secretary was restored to preside over the consistent, thorough, and we can assume, effective because relentless, humiliation of the once-proud press. It is a patently Trump-like agenda to deliberately demean the traditional media which anyway has its fair share, as always, of boosters for the new dispensation, while elevating its own communications infrastructure to being on par, from an institutional point of view, with the media. What this tightening-up will not do, however, is give an inroad to the now ex-comms of the Duterte administration. Nor will there be any room for accommodating different factions under the communications umbrella as happened under Aquino. This will be purely Marcos comms.

If the weeks leading up to the inaugural revealed an aggressive vice-president-elect who found out she was in no position to make demands of a president-elect, and the first days of being president proved to the new president he couldn’t easily edge out the third partner in his coalition, then the only surprise the past two weeks have revealed is that the new president is not beyond being a second-time COVID victim, which serves as a memento mori of a sort. But now with only a few vacancies left, we might see them filled by the time he meets the next test of a new president: the State of the Nation Address.

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Columnist, Philippine Daily Inquirer. Editor-at-large Spot.ph. Views strictly mine. I have a newsletter, blog, podcast, and Patreon.

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Manuel L. Quezon III

Columnist, Philippine Daily Inquirer. Editor-at-large Spot.ph. Views strictly mine. I have a newsletter, blog, podcast, and Patreon.