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Delivering on campaign promises

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In all of the four-month campaign period, people witnessed Vice-President Leni Robredo inspiring an amazing resurgence of people power, 36 years after EDSA. Of all the colors, people embraced pink as the symbol of radical love for the Filipino people and the Philippines, quintessential music and poetry composed around it, while T-shirts and tarpaulins could not be mistaken for those of other candidates. A new sense of people power seemed to have been birthed. Post-election, some wise guys would say the movement failed to convert the groundswell into votes because the rest of humanity was turned off. The movement was not Pharisaic, but there was rather unmistakable realization that this country is worth fighting for. That was the spirit of EDSA.

EDSA has not failed. It remains a work in progress. Remember incrementalism, that Rome was not built in a day? Good reforms have accumulated from where we were before 1986.

It is in fact impertinent to blame whatever shortcoming we have incurred along the way to any one family or any political color because it is precisely a people’s movement that is subject to the country’s election laws, appointments and decisions of Commission on Elections (Comelec) officials, the composition of the Supreme Court that resolves election cases, corporate money that funds political campaigns, and most important today, social media.

It is by no means easy to pursue the vision for a progressive and more inclusive Philippines, one where rule of law is supreme, with a globally competitive economy, where the marginalized could hope to break through intergenerational cycle of illiteracy and poverty. It is not all about politics and economics. It is also about values, moral compass if you will. It’s a leading indicator of how leaders would manage the risks and travails of governance, how they would handle stress in Malacañang and the temptations while on the throne. In like manner, character and capability are good metrics of how an electorate could discern the best candidates and provide support to public policy.

Some of us would have to give it to Marcos Jr. for adhering closely to his handlers’ script that to one commentator (with the following hashtags #TheFilipinoRightWing, #Eleksyon2022, and #MarcosDuterte) said was nothing but brilliantly executed according to Sun Tzu’s Art of War. We summarize his analysis:

The script called for pretension: “feign disorder and crush him.” President Duterte pretended to be anti-Marcos Jr. by accusing him of being a cocaine addict. Marcos Jr. tested negative and solidified his base; their candidate was clean. The non-administration candidates wasted time attacking on that front.

The script called for confusion: “The whole secret lies in confusing the enemy, so that he cannot fathom our real intent.” President Duterte announced he would run for vice-president with Senators De la Rosa and Go declaring their presidential candidacies. The non-administration’s ammunition would have to be focused but with multiple targets, confusion ensued.

The script called for non-confrontation: “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” Marcos Jr. soldiered on his campaigns by skipping public debates. The non-administration candidates attacked him because he refused to give the electorate a glimpse of his platform. Such assaults on Marcos Jr.’s character further strengthened his base for being the underdog, turning off some pink supporters. Many thought the pink movement was hostile and cultic.

The script called for some irritation: “If your opponent is temperamental, seek to irritate him.” Marcos Jr. irritated all the other candidates by not showing up in most of the public debates. This must have led the other candidates to some “stupid stuff that will inevitably hurt their candidate of choice.” The pink camp imploded.

This commentator, however, failed to explain the role of troll farms and influencers in blogs and Twitter and TikTok in mind conditioning. Remember, Sun Tzu also stressed that “all warfare is based on deception.” Cambridge Analytica’s contribution to rebrand the Marcos name for political mainstreaming cannot be ignored. A whole generation of youngsters, and even the seniors among us, could not have known better because the true narrative is sorely missing from history.

If following the Art of War was all that mattered, there was no need for excessive liquidity to fund crowd transport and attendance, take-homes, and actual support. While anecdotes and sporadic texts and videos may not build into a strong case, we have a lot of these that could probably show a pattern of election irregularities. Is this also part of Sun Tzu’s principle that “according as circumstances are favorable, one should modify one’s plans?”

What then do we expect from a Marcos Jr. presidency?

Barring any electoral protest or adverse Supreme Court decision arising from his disqualification cases, Marcos Jr. will be sworn in as the 17th president of the Philippines on 30 June 2022. Based on the 1987 Constitution, he will take the following oath:

“I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully and conscientiously fulfill my duties as President of the Philippines, preserve and defend its Constitution, execute its laws, do justice to every man, and consecrate myself to the service of the Nation. So help me God.”

First things first. Preserving and defending our Constitution require Marcos Jr., as future chief architect of foreign policy, to ensure our sovereignty in West Philippine Sea is respected, that the peace process should be resumed provided the other parties will renounce the use of arms. Executing the laws of the land requires the presumptive president to implement the law recognizing what really happened during martial law in terms of plunder and violation of human rights, prescribing the tax-free indemnification of the victims, and establishing a martial law museum to perpetuate the memory of that dark moment in Philippine history. Another law is the tax code on which basis the Marcos estate was assessed to be liable for payment of P203 billion including interest and penalty.

Doing justice to every man means those in detention without charges, or those whose prosecution witnesses have already withdrawn, should be released in accordance with due process. It also means imprisoning those charged with crimes against public welfare including corruption and plunder. Consecrating himself to the service of the nation means, among other things, he will work to honor his campaign promises to establish unity, reduce the price of rice to P20 per kilo, making more jobs available to our people, and expanding investment in agriculture and infrastructure.

If the presumptive president could deliver on these expectations, he would disprove his critics and inspire market confidence.

However, as Pantheon Macroeconomics recently declared: “It’s almost impossible to say at this stage what a Marcos presidency would do for the Philippine economy, partly because his campaign is devoid of concrete proposals.”

Now that he seems destined for Malacañang, Marcos Jr. will have to buckle down to work to deliver on things he avoided during the campaign. He will now be in command of state efforts to manage the pandemic and the roadmap to economic recovery. As such, he is expected to be more careful in public finance because the national debt level as it is relative to national output is already elevated. A better version of public-private partnership will have to be explored to minimize the use of state finances without sacrificing the delivery of social services and infrastructure. The presumptive president will have to rethink his vintage view on regulatory agencies like the National Food Authority and public subsidy like the oil price stabilization fund which was abolished ages ago. He will be responsible for what happens to school children’s academic performance unless appropriate intervention is done. We need to go digital.

But Marcos Jr. looks serious in disproving all these reservations against his victory. In his post-election interviews with media, he disclosed that he intended “to hit the ground running.” It is good he stressed that one of his priorities is to form his economic team as soon as possible because that would help ease market jitters given his paternal provenance. “As you can imagine, the economic managers are going to be critical for the next several years because of the pandemic and economic crisis, something that we are looking at very carefully.”

While the US and China heads of state have already reached out to Marcos Jr. to congratulate him and pledged to work with him closely, it is likely only now that the heavy burden of leading more than 110 million people is beginning to sink in.

After the election, we really need to shift from the script to vision casting and serious business of governance. The nation awaits the list of deliverables.

Diwa C. Guinigundo is the former deputy governor for the Monetary and Economics Sector, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP). He served the BSP for 41 years. In 2001-2003, he was alternate executive director at the International Monetary Fund in Washington, DC. He is the senior pastor of the Fullness of Christ International Ministries in Mandaluyong.

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