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[OPINION] Gathering (political) storm

By Gerry Lirio Published Jan 29, 2024 11:27 pm

It was all sound and fury, to borrow Shakespeare’s line from Macbeth, signifying nothing.

There is no better way to describe the two gatherings held last Sunday, one led by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. at the Luneta Grandstand in Manila, and the other by former President Rodrigo Duterte in Davao City.

The Marcos administration launched the “Bagong Pilipinas” movement which, according to government publicists, aimed “to ignite hope and inspire participation in building a better Philippines” through collective action.   

“We cannot always shift the blame on the people who have been repeatedly given promises,” said Marcos in his speech, “but were always left unfulfilled. We cannot lay the blame on the masses who have been let down so many times.”  

Watching Marcos last Sunday, we could not help agreeing with another paper when it said: It was a pep talk to government workers. Just pep talk. Did anybody take it seriously?

President Marcos

Haven’t we heard Marcos a hundred times say the same thing during the 90-day presidential campaign in 2022? The campaign is long over. He is now the country’s chief executive. Hasn’t he gone to work to make that a reality, far beyond sloganeering, far beyond pep talk? 

Nineteen months into the Marcos presidency, hearing the same thing means the administration was lacking in plan, in vision. Nineteen months later, he remains an easy-going rich kid, fascinated with concerts and car racing. Well, even the Queen of England liked going to charity shows, all right, but she was not running the government.

Marcos lacked the verve and the heat of a leader, the brilliance of his father, that commanding presence, that strongman who, when talking even extemporaneously, showed his unquestionable facility in the English language, his vast knowledge of foreign affairs, economy, and history among others, with ringing phrases, albeit lip service: “I speak for democracy”; “I did not become president to preside over the death of the Philippine republic.” 

The son was neither here nor there in inspiring the people. The speech was empty. He was vanilla, unexciting, boring, plain, ordinary. We just hope he will not perpetuate himself to power, like his father. 

If anything, the two rallies last Sunday validated what we have been suspecting all along. The UniTeam has long collapsed, the cold war is over, the cat is out of the bag, and what we are seeing is that there is now a word war between Marcos and his minions on the one hand, and the Dutertes on the other. No more pulling any punches. How else to explain that they decided to stage their respective gatherings at the same time?  

Bagong Pilipinas rally

Duterte’s rally titled “One Nation, One Opposition" sought to protest the administration’s plan to change the 1987 Constitution. 

During the presidential campaign, Duterte kept on talking about a weak leader, a drug addict. Everybody thought he was referring to candidate Marcos, but he never named him.

At the Davao gathering held in front of his remaining supporters, Duterte made himself crystal clear: The son of the President he once idolized is a drug addict. His speech had his usual son-of-a-bitch remarks.   

He showed no proof anyway, but that drug story about Marcos refuses to go away, indeed. All these many years, we heard someone tell that story, or know someone who knows that story. We wish something would happen enough to end that story. So distracting.

Whatever, the two Sunday rallies only show that there is a gathering storm. The political temperature is fast rising. Either one is now fair game to the other. 

On Monday, Marcos turned the tables on Duterte, stopping short of saying Duterte was hallucinating because of getting an overdose of a strong painkiller the past many years for him to say those things against him.

“I think it is fentanyl,” he said. “Fentanyl is the strongest painkiller that you can buy. It is highly addictive, and it has very serious side effects, and PRRD has been taking the drug for a very long time now.” 

Now, where does that leave all of us? Where lies public interest in all that? And why is Duterte becoming bolder to name Marcos just now? 

Rodrigo Duterte

The two Sunday gatherings are all about fear and greed. 

One fears for his life and freedom, the possibility of being arrested, frisked, fingerprinted, interrogated in a foreign country, and tried for the thousands of men and women murdered in his War on Drugs. Nothing could be so humiliating.  

Now, Duterte is again out in the open, talking, trying to test if he still had that Pied Piper power, that he could still call a crowd at his command, and to impress Marcos, who had issued conflicting statements about ICC investigators, that he should not in any way treat him like a spent force. The genie would not want to return to the bottle. 

To do otherwise is to face that humiliating experience. There is nothing as powerless when a strongman loses his grip on power.  

The Marcoses felt it when they all landed in Hawaii after a US plane picked them up in Malacanang at the height of the military-backed, four-day revolution in February 1986. 

They were dressed down, in what was probably the most humiliating experience for the old Marcos since he was tried and convicted of the September 1935 murder of Julio Nalundasan, his father’s political rival in their hometown in Ilocos Norte. 

One is about greed. About getting public support for the campaign to change the 1987 Constitution, and to suit it to their political comfort. Never mind if they keep saying that it is all about economic provisions that would lift us from poverty. 

Since the time of Cory Aquino, we have heard so many lawmakers talk about economic provisions. 

Baste Duterte

But we never heard anything, or anybody talk about any economic proposal that gave us some eureka moment, that magical epiphany when a solution to a problem, imagined or not, seems to appear out of nowhere. 

Where is it? Local and foreign investors never complain about the 1987 Constitution when they do business here. They talk about the constant changing of the rules when there is a change in the political game. They talk about corruption, about that highly whispered word in government, that word called SOP, or the commission an investor had to give to someone, charge to experience, for him to win a government contract. We have not heard any of the proponents of the Charter change say that they had plans to cut SOP down to the barest minimum, or to let it perish, never to show up again. Without it, we could build better roads and have better government service. That would be good for the economy. 

Where did the two Sunday gatherings leave us? If anything, they got us interested in character assassination in public. But where lies public interest in all that? 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions of PhilSTAR L!fe, its parent company and affiliates, or its staff.