“Anti-Marcos” used to be the phrase that defined overseas Filipinos’ political involvement.
You were either for or against the legendary dictator. But then came Cory Aquino and “People Power” to wipe the slate clean. Only she really didn’t.
She only gave new, formerly shut out oligarchs the opportunity to take their turn playing Marcos, only less brazenly, less openly. They were “anti-Marcos” in their own way, sure. But for some it was just the style in which they sought their favors . They were “under-the-radar” corrupt. They figured out how to get all they wanted from the people of the Philippines without resorting to dictatorship. In essence, the era after Marcos has been a time for all the self-serving corruption, but none of the excesses.
The political style of choice is “Marcos Lite.”
I first used the phrase to describe President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, whom I affectionately call PGMA. Comparing current Philippine leaders to Marcos is a helpful good measure of political progress in the Philippines. But now PGMA is in a realm all her own. Having declared a “partial” martial law after the Maguindanao massacre (where political families gunned down opponents and journalists) and with a double digit negative approval rating, PGMA’s place in history is already assured. She will be known as the worst president ever in the short history of Filipino democracy. Worse than the dictator.
And she did it all with a smile. And the support of both Bush and Obama.
That’s how it is when your style is “Marcos Lite.” No one can tell just how bad you are because you are having such a good time at the public’s expense.
So with the May 10 presidential election in the Philippines around the corner, it’s time to declare who among the current presidential candidates is skillful and stylish enough to mask their corruption and wear the sash with the phrase “Marcos Lite.”
It’s tough because of the presence of one Joseph Estrada, the ex-Philippine president whose fondness for numbers running earned him a conviction in 2007 (that was followed by a pardon soon after; The oligarchs protect their own). Now in 2010, Estrada feels entitled to his old job and has poll numbers reportedly close to 20 percent. That’s a lot of people to pay off. The conviction remains a problem. Marcos would have found a way to avoid it all in the first place.
Then there’s Noynoy Aquino, a favorite of those sentimental for “People Power.” A lot of people like Aquino. But he doesn’t even belong on the list for “Marcos Lite.” Are you kidding? Sure, he’s an oligarch with ties and connections among the patricians. But compared to his fellow candidates, Aquino’s too nice, too ethical, too soft-spoken. No one says anything bad about him, except that he’s a soft-spoken bachelor who tries to do the right thing.
You wouldn’t really want someone like that to be the president of the Philippines, would you?
Maybe that wouldn’t be so bad. But then what you are hoping to see on May 10 is the absolute turnaround of the Philippine democracy. It could happen, but I think the country is too used to self-serving, money-hungry, egotistical, corrupt oligarchs.
Given the taste for that kind of leader, is there a better person to be declared Marcos Lite than Manny Villar?
Villar likes to play poor kid from Tondo. (My mom was from Tondo, I’ve been to the cockfights in Tondo). But Villar is as they say in America, “dumb like a fox.” He’s a shrewd businessman/politician who has used his influence to build a massive real estate empire. Some of his deals have been based on the illegal conversion of prime rice lands, and the use of those lands to raise billions of pesos in government loans. Vilar’s questionable deals are well documented among the journalists who refused to be cowed or paid-off by Villar. But there are not many of them.
Villar is spending billions of pesos on his campaign. He is the Meg Whitman in terms of campaign spending. Given that much of his money came from the public trough in the first place, he’s recycling.
Early this year, when I suggested the Philippines needed someone like a Manny Pacquiao, the famous champion boxer who is running for Congress, to unite the Philippines, I did so half-tongue-in-cheek. I do think the country needs someone out of norm for a Filipino politician, an honest, non-politician may have been what the Philippines needed as an inspirational choice, as a real man of the people. Alas, Pacquiao,who has successfully beaten off world champions, has succumbed to the charm of Villar.
Unfortunately, the record shows that by normal standards of democracy, Villar appears to be the wrong Manny for the job.
Villar does, however, seem perfect for the sobriquet, “Marcos Lite.”
And that’s too bad for the Philippines.