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[OPINION] Obituary of Pillow Fights: First 365 days without Duterte

By Joel Pablo Salud Published Jun 30, 2023 6:31 pm

Political language is a goofy equation if there ever was one. George Orwell described it as giving solidity to pure wind. And it all depends on who is doing the talking. 

Judge me not by my ancestors, but by my actions.”

Despite Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s predisposition for Shakespearean syntax on the whole affair of being president, he is, in fact, quite the show-off in his first year in office.

First, to cushion the blows of the opposition, he immediately disavows any knowledge of his “ancestor’s” actions. That’s more than expected. Instead, his allies tinker with the narrative, saying the Chief Executive has garnered better-than-average passing marks for his first year in office.

The new administration’s claims are not exactly without merit. Marcos Jr. seems to have stood his ground against China’s continuing incursions, which is more than I can say for the previous regime’s unsavory reticence.

If you recall, Rodrigo Duterte playing footsie with Xi Jin Ping nearly cost him his presidency and waffled a Philippine military that is more American than, well, the average American.


Marcos Jr. likewise forged warmer relationships with the United States, with a modest growth in the gross domestic product—7.6% in 2022—following its heels. Tourism boomed, wearing face masks was scrapped, and the jobs market bounced back.

Marcos’ assessment of his performance, specifically in the agriculture sector, seems astoundingly level-headed—“incomplete”—after having agreed with an economist that this is truly so. It’s as if he’s saying, “Hold your horses, man. We haven’t begun to light the fireworks, not just yet.” 

And given the sorry state of agriculture, which he leads and controls, the new regime does have a long way to go. More compelling is the fact that Marcos Jr. admits it. Bravo! 

The opposition, however, sees headwinds dampening the parade. Inflation and a ballooning debt stock—an addiction left behind by the previous regime—would seem to be the likely culprits. Fiscal space could suffer massive setbacks as the bulk of taxes might be redirected to service the nation’s debts.

Marcos Jr.’s answer to a looming financial crunch—the Maharlika Wealth Fund—has faced intense criticism from the opposition due to its precarious sourcing of “surplus wealth,” which, in our case, is more fiction than science. Suffice it for this opinion piece that this remains a wait-and-see scenario. 

Likewise, a more contextual assessment of the jobs market says that 7 out of 10 Filipinos still find it difficult to get a job even in a post-facial mask dispensation.

Marcos Jr.’s first year in office can also be seen from the vantage point of the country’s first year without Duterte. Has there been any drastic change as per “death squads” and arbitrary killings? Is the drug war over? 

Sorry to burst the Marcos Jr. happy-go-lucky bubble, but I have to say a whopping “no.”

At the start of the year, Human Right Watch refused to mince words: “President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., since taking office in July 2022, has not ended the Philippine government’s ‘war on drugs,’ which has resulted in the deaths of thousands of people,” it said in its World Report 2023. “Marcos should publicly order the national police to end their deadly antidrug raids as part of his expressed commitment to shift focus to the rehabilitation of drug users.” 

HRW recently reinforced its call for the government to halt its violent politics, with Bryony Lau, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, saying “Without concrete action to break old patterns of abuses and secure accountability for past crimes, his words have little credibility.”

My two cents worth: This obsession with thuggery among our police officers should be immediately addressed by no less than the President himself. A violent regime will eventually consume its kind when the last of its “enemies” have fallen by the wayside. History teaches us as much. 

Never before had political pillow fights been this fluffy—at least to the average Juan and Juana. Does economic uplift, however modest, justify the arbitrary loss of lives? Is it even appropriate that we choose between the two?

While state violence has been globalized in ways that trigger the worst in humans, Duterte has practically privatized death and mayhem in our little patch of blood-spattered paradise. Should Marcos Jr. follow in his footsteps?

The tougher question is, “If yes, why?”

Enjoy the pillow fights, folks. Unless we roll up our sleeves real soon and work toward tangible change, our rendezvous with better days may just sprain its ankle yet again.