September 1, 2017

Bye-bye LP? Political implications of the Duterte-Marcos negotiations


Rodrigo Duterte never fails to surprise me.

In a 29 August 2017 speech in Malacañang, President Rodrigo Duterte said [Video]:
“The Marcoses – I will not name the spokesman – they said they’ll open everything and probably return those [assets] that were already found. They said, ‘You have a large [budget] deficit… maybe this year the projected deficit will be big,’ they said, ’ but [the amount to be returned] won’t be much. ‘But we are ready to open and bring back [the assets],’ they said, ‘including a few gold bars.’”
Yes, the Marcoses has finally decided to reach out to the government to talk about their wealth. The announcement is so simple and straightforward, even I had to take a couple of days to digest what happened. Why? Because what may happen, the way the issue was announced, and the political and economic implications of this gesture are discombobulating, to the say the least.


The Announcement

Duterte carefully chose his words when he spoke about the issue.

First, Duterte clearly said that negotiations are ongoing, and probably without asking the Marcoses if he can make such announcement. Even if the talks are very preliminary, this puts major pressure on the Marcoses. After the surprise announcement will make backing out very politically costly because the public generally hates “#paasa” or flakers.

Second, Duterte, aware of the pressure on the Marcoses, apparently tried to decrease it by saying that the amount “won’t be much”. But “not much” is a very relative term, and I think he’s trying to flip the odds to the government’s favor. The Marcoses supposedly raised the idea to help Duterte respond to a looming massive budget deficit so it will be embarrassing for the Marcoses if the talks result to a very small amount.

Third, Duterte said he will get impartial people to handle the negotiations: a former chief justice (probably the retired Chief Justice Renato Puno), a Certified Public Accountant, and a universally-recognized representative. This way, he can minimize suspicions by providing a considerable level of transparency.

Fourth, Duterte never used the word “stolen”. Duterte used the word “found”, “return”, “help”, and the like, but he never used neither “ill-gotten” nor “stolen”, and here’s where his political realism clearly shows. By not using those two words, he is paving the way for the return of the wealth while at the same time providing the Marcoses some leeway for messaging. After all, they are already trying to return some money, so why do we need to humiliate them right now?

Fifth, Duterte also said that he wants to do “something worthwhile for the Filipino”, and I think he’s on his way to doing that. The Philippine Commission on Good Government (PCGG) has been running after Marcos’ wealth for over 30 years with limited success, and here are the Marcoses intending to return money by their own initiative. Even if we’re just talking about a few tens or hundreds of billions, the amount will still go a long way in helping poor Filipinos.

Political implications: The Marcos Family

The latest initiative of the Marcos’ family is really surprising, in that it totally came out from left field. Who among any of the family’s critics thought something like this can ever happen? Regardless of the amount that will be agreed upon, the mere fact that family is now willing to even talk about it is shocking, to say the least.
Many camps argue that whatever the Marcoses will return will just be a very small fraction of whatever they got. However, we need to keep two things in mind: [1] the fact that they will willingly return it and [2] the fact that they are confident that the amount will significantly help in reducing the budget deficit, which is expected to have reached P147 billion at the end of July 2017 [MT].

Yeah, that’s a LOT of money.

But then, if there’s one thing that everybody – regardless of political color – will agree on, it’s that the Marcoses are not stupid, so they expect something in return.

What do they expect?

The Marcoses, I believe, expect political capital which translates to:

1: A possibly softer anti-Marcos stance among the anti-Marcos public
The Marcos Family may be expecting many anti-Marcos voters, many of whom were born after Martial Law, to soften their anti-Marcos stance even by a bit. While the staunchest Marcos critics probably will never forgive the Marcoses even when hell freezes over, the fact of the matter is that many voters today did not personally experience life under the dictatorship and thus do not hold much of a grudge against the former first family…. or have a favorable view of the Marcoses to begin with. Proof? Bongbong Marcos’ performance in the 2016 Presidential Elections.

2: Greater bargaining power under the Duterte Administration
I interviewed Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos a couple of weeks ago and I asked her why Duterte doesn’t influence the House of Representatives regarding the Tobacco Excise Tax Hearing plaguing the Ilocos Norte Government, including the governor herself. She said she doesn’t want to impose on the president because “nahihiya”. I am not sure if she is not telling me something, but this may imply that the Marcoses, while influential in Duterte’s inner circle, is not as influential as we think. So how do the Marcoses enhance their influence? By doing the Duterte’s Government a favor.

3: A possible “recalibration” of history
In his speech, Duterte said the Marcos family’s liaison, whoever he or she is, claims that the Ferdinand Marcos took the money to protect the economy in the eventuality that he’s removed from power, in the hopes of regaining Malacañang.

I am disinclined to buy this story but truth be told, such a narrative is not a hard sell among a Filipino public that are first hand witnesses to the incompetence and corruption of Marcos’ Archnemesis, the Aquinos, along with their Liberal Party cohorts.

The Marcoses, for example, may ask the public, “What if we gave this much earlier and Mar Roxas got it?”.
Note, however, that I used the term “recalibration” instead of “rewrite” because  I doubt that anybody can drastically change what's already in history books with just one act.

When I said “recalibration”, I mean a slightly less diabolical portrayal not necessarily of the Marcos Regime, but that of the living Marcoses who have been, for decades, at the receiving end of criticisms against the late president.

With these said, I believe that the Marcos Family’s plans to return the wealth, if realized, will go a long way in making a prospective 2022 BBM presidency palatable for more people, and this will serve as a challenge to other presidential hopefuls to step up their game.

Why? Because the Marcoses have already stepped up their game… BIG TIME.

Political implications: The Liberal Party

If there’s one camp that will be most adversely affected by this development, it’d be the Aquino-aligned Liberal Party of the Philippines, the main political party that cultivated anti-Marcos sentiment and benefitted the most from it.

Let’s get a few quotes from senior Liberal Party politicians as they reacted to this news.

From Senator and Liberal Party president Francis Pangilinan[Malaya]:
"There is no reason for us to believe in the sincerity of the Marcos family. They should return ill-gotten wealth and apologize for the sins of the dictatorship. Only then we would believe in their sincerity."
From Senator and Ninoy cosplayer Bam Aquino [Abante]:
Dapat lang ibalik talaga `yan. Now ang tanong magkano po ang porsyentong ibabalik baka naman yung ibabalik po dyan kakarampot lang dun sa totoong ninakaw sa atin.
TRANSLATION: It should really be returned. Now, the question is how much will be returned because they just be returning a very small fraction of what they really stole from us.
From Vice-president and Liberal Party Chairman Leni Robredo [Malaya]:
"If they are returning the wealth... they should return everything because this belongs to the Filipinos."

What’s clear in these LP quotes is the party’s insistence on the Marcoses returning ALL of the money, despite them having no idea on how to go about that, while former President Corazon Aquino’s PCGG has been here since the mid-80s, yet it managed to recover nothing but scraps.

I think LP’s fear is rooted on their very reason for existing in the first place. In the May 2016 ThinkingPinoy article “Quantifying Discontent: An Analysis of the Bongbong Marcos Phenomenon”, I explained that for the past 30 years, the Aquinos and the Liberal Party painted themselves as the antithesis – the polar opposites – of the Marcoses. The Aquinos and the Liberal Party painted themselves as the ultimate hero as they painted the Marcos Family as the ultimate villain... and therein lies the problem.

Batman once said, “A hero is only as good as his villain,” so what if, in the eyes of the public, the “ultimate” villain turns out to not be as evil as the people thought he was?

I am not saying that Ferdie should be a saint... but he sure is not the devil incarnate.

Yes, the Aquinos and LP will lose the justification for their existence. Yeah, their most ardent supporters will continue to support them, but I doubt if their numbers would even be enough to elect a provincial governor.

The Liberal Party, which is already struggling for survival, will probably struggle even more.

Political implications: The Duterte Presidency

Individuals and states, while both basing actions on morality, use a different hierarchy of moral principles. For example, the individual may subscribe to the saying “Fiat justitia, pereat mundus (Let justice be done, even if the world perish),” but the state can’t possibly do the same if it threatens the state’s very survival [Morgenthau 1978].

That is how a Political Realist thinks. That is how Duterte thinks. Duterte the President, more than anything, is a Political Realist.

In the October 2016 ThinkingPinoy article “Genius! The Method to Duterte’s Foreign Policy Madness”, I explained how Duterte’s seemingly irrational, morally reprehensible action of cursing at then-US President Barack Obama, actually has a method to it. That is, “calling” Obama a “son of a bitch” made the Chinese public more receptive to Duterte and the Philippines, paving the way for a more independent Philippine foreign policy.

Duterte’s Political Realism has again become evident when, in response to Marcos’ offer to return some wealth, he said:
“I will accept that explanation (Marcos Family’s alibi), whether or not it is true, we can’t do much about it anyway and they’re ready to return the [the assets].”
That is, while many camps would demand the Marcoses to return an arm and a leg, Duterte took into account the PCGG’s general inability to recover assets and the government’s immediate financial needs. 

Duterte was basically made to choose between:
  1. Accepting the alibi then accepting a massive injection into government coffers, and, 
  2. Rejecting that alibi, which would make the Marcoses retract, as the PCGG spends another 30 years looking for crumbs, with no assurance of success.
To Duterte, the choice was obvious: he picked the option that will translate to real improvements to Filipino lives.
  • How many post-Yolanda houses will that build? 
  • How many hospitals will it fund? 
  • How many roads will that create? 
All these questions would be useless to ask if Duterte insisted that the Marcoses return everything, whatever “everything” means.

If the negotiations translate to a final deal and the money changes hands, this will cement Duterte’s reputation for being a doer, starkly in contrast to Mar Roxas’ “analysis paralysis”. This will enhance Duterte’s political capital and by extension, whoever he will endorse in the 2019 and 2022 elections.

Yes, there may still be many issues that the Filipino People must settle with the Marcoses. However, this development, if fully realized, will be a victory for all... except for the Liberal Party.


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