By Marian Pastor Roces
A few months ago, two pictures showed up side by side in a Beijing publication. They were recent color portraits of the spawn of the two dictators, Marcos and Duterte. Signal enough to the watchful that the Emperor of the East had picked the successor vassals well ahead of the Philippine election season.
No surprises here. Marcos junior and the Duterte unica hija are China’s best bets. The old man Digong has outlived his usefulness to the Middle Kingdom. But, to be sure, he has enough political capital and capital capital for the daughter to be presidential timber (as they used to say when democracy was young), but with no guarantee of winning.
Similarly, the junior with the unfortunate name BongBong is machined and moneyed enough to claim—from his Ilocano princeling perspective—the father’s, ehem, throne. From the perspective of the gods in power in China, junior has a more than a good shot at winning, but cannot exclude other scenarios. Like, conceivably, a Leni win.
Twinning junior and junior multiplies the guarantees of Philippine submission to China. The Marcos-Duterte pairing would already have been in play when Duterte fully self-exposed as unable to govern. That was about the turn of his presidency into its concluding months, as the murderous campaigns and the cartelization of plunder can no longer be sealed off by threats and socmed offensives from public scrunity and derision.
A government as adroit as Xi’s would by then have been looking to drop so appalling a proxy, whose crassness cannot uphold Chinese interests with any smidgen of sophistication. What’s all out in the open now—to begin with, the Pharmally theft of pandemic funds—may be understood as Duterte unclothed, no longer protected by his real overlords.
Everything is leaking—in local brogue, sobrang sumisingaw—the cracks in the seal can no longer be glued up. The Chinese disinterested in his fate, the president no longer cares; seems to only get worked up with succession.
Greater Malevolence, Actually
GM,A—Gloria Macapagal, Arroyo is the mite with Napoleonic ambition—is the original spawn-of-president who thinks a republic’s leadership is hereditary. This is not the only inglorious thing about her.
Her greater malevolence is, of course, the big sell to China. Recall: the NBN-ZTE deal was nearly consummated during her presidency. Recall: the deal ended with the Supreme Court questioning the constitutionality of a National Broadcast Network to be created with a US$329.5 million contract with the Chinese communications firm ZTE, as public outrage peaked over allegations of kickbacks to the Arroyo family and close allies.
The unexpected win of Benigno Simeon Aquino III scuttled the exotic deals between Philippine and Chinese entities that would have incrementally surrendered dimensions of sovereignty to the superpower. The subsequent win of the Philippines’ case against China over its aggressive intrusions into the West Philippine Sea (named thus during the Aquino Administration), at the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, triggered Chinese participation in the 2016 Philippine elections.
GMA did serve hospital incarceration for 4 years for charges of plunder and electoral sabotage. She was cleared by the Duterte period Supreme Court and released only a month after the Davao Mayor became Mayor of the whole country. And while it can only be speculated that she spent the long hours of detention plotting a vengeful comeback, it remains that the GMA period economic pivot to China set the stage for the Dutertean political pivot to the country that successfully tipped the global balance of power to its benefit in the last decade.
GMA, who managed to populate the entire Duterte Administration bureaucracy with functionaries loyal to her (and some observers estimate as much as 80% of all available positions under Duterte filled by GMA loyalists, who are apparently much more savvy than Marcos loyalists), remains busy cobbling deals. Like the BongBong-Sara twinning that can only possibly benefit her and a Chinese government that had already telegraphed its preference for the two-headed proxy for its interests.
China will remain for the Macapagal-Arroyos and for the Dutertes the well-paved way out of accountability for wealth stolen; lives wagered and snuffed; and independence used as a bargaining chip in monster transactions. For the Marcos family, China is the only prayer for getting back to the money and the power, during a time when the old Marcos extractive thieving ways have already left little forest to cut down and farmers to cheat of their security.
Mining from gold to sand to rare minerals, telecommunications, infrastructure, IT, tourism a la Vegas, energy, fisheries: these seduce their 1970’s minds.
The woman GMA likely imagines she is brilliant enough to hold her own in the geopolitical long game she is playing, for no more exciting reason than further plunder. She is the presidential spawn whose talent for political calculation makes her entirely different from the Marcos spawn, an empty boy packaged to be statesman-like by expensive image makers; and from the Duterte spawn, a mayor of indifferent talents except for the gift of self-delusion about entitlement to Something.
One extremely sharp political operative (who prefers to work behind the scenes) recognizes the presidential elections of 2022 as a unique and fateful moment. GMA brokered the BongBong-Sara merger and showed her hand as she again performed her favorite role as power monger, always until now too quick for most to catch onto her. This time, however, GMA checkmated herself.
Filipinos have been miraculously gifted with the chance to defeat Marcos-Duterte-Macapagal in a singular political moment.
There are no grey areas in the contest. It is either a Philippines becoming Tibet or Xinjiang or Somalia, sacrificed to the avarice of these children of presidents and their courts—or a chance to realize true sovereignty in a democratic order.
Marian Pastor Roces works internationally as an independent curator, critic of institutions, and analyst of culture and politics. Through her corporation, TAOINC, she curates the establishment of museums. She is also a founding Partner of the think tank, Brain Trust, Inc.
She has long argued that governance, civil society action, and policy making in the Philippines are weakened by the absence of cultural analysis. Such analysis, in turn, needs to work with updated data. Hence Pulitikultura, Roces' platform for probing the intersection of culture and politics.