Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

[Newspoint] Where Marcos has taken us since Duterte

Vergel O. Santos

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

[Newspoint] Where Marcos has taken us since Duterte

David Castuciano

In a way, Marcos is lucky to have come after Rodrigo Duterte, who left the country in so fine a mess it looked impossible for his successor to do worse

Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has just about completed the second year of his six-year presidential term, and he seems to have not done badly – especially by himself and his family. Of the only two things he publicly, specifically committed himself to doing, it’s the self-serving one he gets to do, and that is, in his very words, “to protect my family.” 

Concededly, the other promise is much harder to fulfill. First of all, it’s in the nature of prices that you find yourself falling behind, always, and, second of all, the poor state of the economy does not allow for subsidy. So, how can you ever hope for the price of rice to come down to the P20 per kilo Marcos has promised? Its price now is more than two or three times that.

Keeping the family protected, on the other hand, is a mere matter of predisposition to self-indulgent use of power, which is central to the Marcos character. In fact, even before coming to power this second time around, the Marcoses remained scarcely touched, despite the gravity of their crimes. For one thing, none of them went to jail. And after all these nearly 40 years since the dismantling of their patriarch’s dictatorship, only half of the $10 billion worth of plunder they amassed has been recovered.

President now, Ferdinand Jr. has been able to keep the collectors away altogether. For instance, he has avoided paying the P200-plus billion in estate taxes he has long owed, notwithstanding a Supreme Court ruling affirming the assessment. He also has been able to keep his mother, a graft convict, out of jail – she was sentenced in 2018 to serve from six to 11 years.

In a way, Marcos is lucky to have come after Rodrigo Duterte, who left the country in so fine a mess it looked impossible for his successor to do worse. Duterte’s indiscriminate war on drugs left thousands dead. During the COVID-19 pandemic, business slackened, livelihoods disappeared, and the poor subsisted on scanty state aid under lockdown. Duterte cronies, meanwhile, made a killing brokering for ridiculously overpriced medicines and other health supplies, from China mostly.

Duterte also favored China with public-works contracts and as a creditor, in both cases on odious terms, so that when he left office the Philippine debt had ballooned to P12.79 trillion, from P5.9 trillion. Even the one potential source of the nation’s economic hopes has been compromised – the mineral-rich West Philippine Sea. Duterte surrendered control over it, again to China, even after the Philippine territorial claim on it had been affirmed in arbitral proceedings China had itself agreed to as the rival claimant, only to reject the arbitrator’s ruling and proceed with its own aggressive ways.

President Marcos himself could not have been expected to even begin to turn things around. He came in as a close Duterte ally and with a Duterte daughter as his vice president. Furthermore, he had no track record of public service, never mind public leadership – he was most known as Ferdinand Sr.’s spoiled brat. True, he did sit in the Senate, but he only, mainly sat. He and his family focused their efforts on falsifying and deodorizing their smelly past – efforts that obviously paid off with his election as president. 

Having now broken with the Dutertes, President Marcos has taken up a subsequent preoccupation – dynastic entrenchment in power, for which much groundwork actually has been laid. Son Sandro is now a member of the House of Representatives and first cousin Martin Romualdez its Speaker. Eldest sister Imee is herself in the Senate, although, an apparent family castaway, she has aligned herself with the Dutertes. 

Still, Ferdinand Jr.’s dynastic primacy appears secure, and his political strategizing quite sound.

He has been able to divert public attention from his pursuit of self-interest by conceding to the popular mood when he can, although he tends sometimes to bite off more than he can chew. The P20 per kilo of rice is precisely such a case, and, because it hits consumers right in the gut, he is reminded of it now and then. 

But he more or less gets away with certain graver imprudences, because they are just too abstract for the general public to grasp and therefore bother with. One is the P1.8 trillion he already has added to the nation’s debt, bringing its total to 14.62 trillion, and another is the fund he is raising from state banks to invest for promised quick gains but at underplayed risks.

Possibly the most likely reason Marcos has escaped reproach he otherwise would have deserved is that he has made an arguably fair account of himself on what has proved the most emotive issue for Filipinos – China. After all, these postwar generations have not faced any threat of subjection so overt and wanton as that from China – its bullying of Philippine patrols, fishermen, and scientists and researchers in their own territorial waters and the dispatch of its nationals in numbers for the apparent establishment of its own bailiwicks inland. 

Polls show that 76% of the nation – that’s three of four Filipinos – approve of Marcos’ assertive stance toward China, a complete reversal from Duterte’s submissiveness. The approval appears to extend to American soldiers’ being allowed again to station themselves in the country, in some cases right inside Philippine military camps. After hosting American army, air force, and naval bases for nearly a century, the Philippines expelled them in 1992, in a surge of anti-colonialist sentiment, refreshed apparently by the United States’ sponsorship of Ferdinand Marcos Sr.’s 14-year martial rule. 

Evidently, in any case, where China’s own expansionist designs are at issue, pragmatic thinking prevails in favor of the US – and in favor of Marcos too. Normally, taking 24 trips to 17 countries – a trip a month! – would have incited criticisms of insensitive footlooseness amid economic hardships, and it did, in the beginning. But now that he seems able to show something for it, the criticisms have died down. 

Marcos has succeeded in rallying other democracies to the West Philippine Sea cause. Among them, in addition to the US, are Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, France, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Germany – the European Union has proclaimed its support in a declaration of its own. For a show of united force, some of them send troops for joint drills with their Filipino counterparts and also warships to linger in those waters. It does help that the Philippines has a treaty with the US that commits one to the other’s defense in the event of a foreign military attack and also that the West Philippine Sea is a waterway, as such designated by international law to allow safe passage to everyone. 

Apart from the wealth under it, the sea has a strategic attraction to China: it connects the Philippines by a convenient route to Taiwan, the breakaway democracy China has been threatening to muscle back into its communist embrace. But whether China will risk grabbing the West Philippine Sea once and for all, by armed force, is a question only China’s despotic central committee can answer. The question relevant to us is whether we’re up to the challenge – with Marcos in command.

As it is, China appears to have succeeded in exploiting a flaw in the Filipino character – a culture of corruption and a consequent vulnerability to co-optation. For how explain China’s quick and easy successes? It didn’t need to fire so much as a warning shot to be able to impose much of its will in the West Philippine Sea – it only needed a collaborationist Duterte – neither to set up inland stations – it only needed inside official connections.

No wonder Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. has been just about the only official voice heard openly to declare China a serious national security problem. Not even the police would agree with him, but then, not a few of their own have been found carrying on with Chinese operating gaming and other businesses suspected to be listening posts or sleeper fronts. Asked how he managed to navigate those differences and the confusion they inevitably caused, Teodoro told me the government was finally getting its act together. 

Sure enough, President Marcos himself has just made a public delineation of where the “red line” lies. A Filipino death at Chinese hands would come “very close…to an act of war,” he said, adding, presumably as a signal to the US, “Our treaty partner, I believe, also holds that same standard.” Obviously, a Filipino soldier getting a finger crushed, as exactly happened when a Chinese Coast Guard boat recently rammed a Philippine Navy supply craft, does not quite come up to standard.

Marcos may not have sounded as definite and confident as you and I might have liked it, but, again, I’ve heard the remark made all too often these days: Would you have preferred Duterte to Marcos and China to the United States? – Rappler.com

This article is part of “Marcos Year 2: External Threats, Internal Risks,” a series of analyses and in-depth stories assessing the second full year of the Marcos administration (July 1, 2023, to June 30, 2024).

1 comment

Sort by
  1. ET

    I am grateful to Sir Vergel for helping me understand the true essence of the Marcos Jr. administration. I didn’t initially grasp it, but after reading Sir Vergel’s writing, the “core” has become evident to me. Once again, thank you, Sir Vergel.

Summarize this article with AI

How does this make you feel?

Download the Rappler App!