CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines – Averse to debate and media in general, presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. faced the media this week, but the press conference in Cagayan de Oro (CDO) was controlled, while CNN Philippines skipped the hot issue of non-payment of estate tax in its sitdown interview.
Organizers of the press conference on Tuesday, April 26 – Marcos’ first since launching his campaign – drew flak among CDO’s more veteran journalists who were not invited.
The press conference was attended by relatively new reporters performing junior-level tasks for their news organizations.
It was a press conference by invitation only, and questions were known to organizers at least a day earlier.
John Michael Bustamante, a reporter of the local broadcaster Strong Radio, said he tried to get in but was refused because he wasn’t on the organizers’ list.
Bustamante said he did not force the issue and decided to just wait outside the function room where the press conference was held.
Nicole Managbanag, a local coordinator for media of the Marcos campaign, said she sent out invitations to news organizations in Cagayan de Oro based on the recommendations of the capitol and her recollection.
Managbanag is familiar with the local media terrain – she is a former newspaper reporter in Cagayan de Oro and once served as information officer of the Misamis Oriental provincial government.
She said the invitations were sent to all local media outlets, a claim that Mindanao Gold Star Daily editor-in-chief Cong Corrales laughed off.
“There was no invitation whatsoever. We didn’t receive any,” Corrales said.
One of the newspaper’s correspondents, Shiela Mae Butlig, said she was able to attend the press conference “only by accident.”
Butlig said she wasn’t on the list, but she was given access by Managbanag herself at the eleventh hour when the Marcos group’s coordinator learned that she was covering the story about the campaign sortie in Cagayan de Oro.
Corrales said the press conference organizers created an environment that ensured only questions acceptable to them were asked, and that reporters – particularly the more senior among local journalists who were seen as critical were kept out.
Menzie Montes, news coordinator of Radio Mindanao Network’s iFM in Cagayan de Oro, said she saw several reporters prevented from covering Marcos’ press conference.
“We were asked earlier to fill out a document online for clearance. They were strict about who got in, and double-checked using their list,” Montes told Rappler.
Montes and Nef Luczon, editor of the state-run Philippine News Agency (PNA) in Northern Mindanao, also said organizers asked them what their questions for Marcos were a day before the press conference.
Luczon posted on Facebook: “Organizers claimed that this is the ‘first time’ Marcos Jr. holds a face-to-face press briefing/presscon since the campaign trail started. And talks about his platforms (questions have to be sent in advance).”
The reason for this, according to Managbanag, was to avoid redundancy in the questions.
She also said those invited were “intelligent enough not to ask questions that have been repeatedly asked, and answered before” by Marcos.
Managbanag said one of the reasons why organizers had to list those allowed to cover the press conference was because of security measures in the hotel which the Presidential Security Group (PSG) implemented for Marcos’ running mate, presidential daughter and Davao Mayor Sara Duterte.
On April 22, four days before the press conference, Managbanag created the exclusive Messenger chat group called “BBM-Sara in CdeO” where she added reporters of her choice and invited them to the “press conference with BBM in the flesh.”
The group included several reporters from neighboring Bukidnon and Lanao del Norte provinces.
Marcos’ media team screened questions even in chance or so-called ambush interviews until they eventually just stopped making the candidate available to media.
In the CDO presser, Marcos was asked about policies of President Rodrigo Duterte he would continue should he win. Marcos mentioned fiscal policies, and in another question, expounded on his plan to revamp the war on drugs so it is focused on getting the big fish drug dealers, and drop targeting the small-time drug peddlers.
Marcos was hardly scrutinized for his answers. The most controversial question was a question premised on his father’s, the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, “not so good issues” with Moros. However, Marcos cut the question off to assert “there were no issues, there was a war,” before the reporter continued his question to say such issues were being used to destroy him.
CNN skips estate tax
CNN Philippines’ interview was taped and aired Tuesday night too, where Marcos sat down with anchor Ruth Cabal for nearly 50 minutes.
In 50 minutes, the pressing issue of the Marcos family’s non-payment of P23 billion – potentially P203 billion – estate tax was not asked.
While Marcos’ spokesperson Vic Rodriguez has continuously claimed it is a pending legal issue, records prove he is misleading, or downright lying. The Supreme Court’s entry of judgment shows the 1997 unappealable ruling, ordering them to pay, was made final and executory in 1999.
No less than Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez said “BIR is collecting and demanded payment from the Marcos estate administrators. They have not paid.” The Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) confirmed the last demand was sent on December 2, 2021, but denied Rappler’s freedom of information (FOI) request to see the letter.
Marcos is the court-approved executor of the late dictator’s estate, alongside his mother Imelda. Experts said Marcos as executor is directly liable for failing to pay the estate tax.
On March 22, in one of his rare chance interviews, Marcos was asked if he had paid the tax liabilities, but he just laughed at the question and walked away to abruptly cut the interview short. The following week, Dominguez made the statement declaring that they had not paid.
CNN Philippines asked how he can reinforce the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), given that its mandate is to recover Marcos’ ill-gotten wealth, and P125 billion more remains in litigation.
Marcos avoided having to account for their wealth by saying it’s different cases he’s not very familiar with, then proceeded to say he plans to expand the mandate so it covers all ill-gotten wealth, not just their family’s.
“Instead of directing themselves against the Marcoses only, I mean, kung meron akong corrupt na kamag-anak, eh di lalabas ang pangalan niya but not only us. Lahat,” Marcos said. (I mean, if I have a corrupt relative, their name will come out, but not only us. All.)
Marcos was also asked how he would treat media, given the great difficulty of access even on the campaign trail.
“I don’t know kung bakit sinasabing that mahirap ako i-ambush interview. I’m always out in public. Pero siyempre, we are doing something else also. I don’t know why they say that because hindi naman ako puwedeng magtago. I’m always out in public,” Marcos said.
(I don’t know why they say it’s hard to have an ambush interview with me. I’m always out in public. But of course, we are doing something else also. I don’t know why they say that because I can’t hide. I’m always out in public.)
Marcos is undoubtedly and consistently hard to interview, and recently his camp has resorted to media officers and guards blocking, shoving, and even grabbing cameras. Even if Marcos hears the questions, if he doesn’t want to answer, he just walks past reporters.