Multiple challenges facing Bongbong’s presidency
WHY DOES BONGBONG MARCOS want to be president of the Philippines? There are several answers to this question. First and foremost, Bongbong wants to vindicate the name of his father and namesake, the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr. His bloody reign during the martial law has left thousands of tortured Filipinos who languished in jail for years. Second, he wants to rewrite the history of the “conjugal dictatorship” of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. Third, he wants to clear the graft and corruption cases against the Marcoses that are still pending in the Philippine courts. Fourth, he wants to eliminate the P203-billion estate tax due. Fifth, he wants to jumpstart the economy, which is on the brink of collapse. Sixth, he wants to restructure the national debt, which now stands at $13 trillion or more than 60% of 2021 GDP.
First let’s talk about his father’s bloody reign during the martial law era. Sen. Imee Marcos, daughter of the late dictator, said last October that the public should focus their attention on helping the country recover from the COVID-19 pandemic instead of reviving the issues on her father’s dictatorship, which she said was “one million years ago.”
While it’s true that the post-martial law generations of young Filipinos cannot relate to the brutalities that older Filipinos suffered during the martial law, there is still a large—albeit diminishing—number of older Filipinos who lived and experienced the dark era of Marcos dictatorship. They may not forget but they can forgive because it’s in our national character to forgive but not necessarily forget.
But Bongbong could overcome memories of martial law if he proves to be a capable president. Having yet to assume the presidency, we have to set this aside for now. The question is: Does he believe that he’s destined to be a great leader? At this point in time, destiny has been kind to Bongbong. It allowed him to overcome his family’s bad reputation during the presidency of Marcos Sr. That alone speaks volume of “destiny.” After reaching the apex of leadership with such ease, one can surmise that destiny played a major role in his victorious campaign that garnered him 31 million votes—about 60%. Evidently, his youthful looks—albeit his 64 years of age—must have played effectively in pushing him to the top.
But recent analyses by political pundits have attributed the use of social media trolls who put down his opponent Leni Robredo while extolling Bongbong as a key factor in the campaign. Leni never had a chance to overcome the edge Bongbong had with his trolls. Indeed, Bongbong may have used the playbook of Hitler’s Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels who once said, “A lie told once remains a lie but a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth.” And this played a key part in his attempt to rewrite the history of the “conjugal dictatorship” of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos.
It was noted that the disinformation propaganda, which used positive and negative messaging or telling lies about a candidate to boost an opponent’s image intensified in the lead-up to the May 2022 elections. It added that many of the related posts benefitted Bongbong Marcos.
Rewriting history books
Back in January 2020—long before he won the presidential election—Bongbong renewed call to rewrite history textbooks, which is tantamount to historical revisionism.
“This is a clear move at historical revisionism and another desperate attempt by the Marcoses to erase the memory of the horrors of Martial Law and absolve the sins of their father,” said human rights lawyer and Liberal Party (LP) official Erin Tañada, the opposition party’s vice president for external affairs. “The Marcoses wish to fade into oblivion the abuses committed during the dictatorial regime where thousands of Filipinos were killed and tortured, and billions of pesos from the national treasury were stolen,” he added.
Third, he wants to clear the graft and corruption cases against the Marcoses that are still pending in the Philippine courts.
In 1986, the Philippine Commission on Good Government (PCGG) was created by then President Corazon Aquino to recover the ill-gotten wealth accumulated by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, his family, relatives, subordinates, and close associates. In 2019, PCGG said it recovered P172 billion in ill-gotten wealth from the Marcos family.
Recently, the Anti-graft court Sandiganbayan said it would proceed with the trial of a wealth forfeiture case involving shares of stocks worth billions of pesos in Eastern Telecommunications Philippines Inc. (ETPI), which is said to be held in trust by alleged cronies of the late dictator and former First Lady Imelda Marcos.
P203 billion estate tax
In regard to the P203 billion estate tax due on the Marcos estate, in which Bongbong is the administrator, Senator Imee Marcos has conceded in an interview that her family should pay any taxes that they owe. However, she also questioned the timing of the recent controversy surrounding the Marcoses’ unpaid estate tax and blamed it on “rotten politics.”
Rotten politics or not, taxes are owed, which should have been paid already.
“We are a bit dizzy with that tax issue, but all I can say is, if we owe the government, we should pay [our debt]. Our family faced all the cases against us. We are still facing these because there are a lot and this issue on estate tax has been here for a while, Imee said.
Bongbong’s bullheadedness about not paying his taxes is bound to haunt him later during his presidency. Already, rallies are being held in various cities in the country protesting Bongbong’s refusal to pay his taxes.
The Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) said last month that it had sent a written demand to the Marcos family in December 2021 to pay their estate taxes liability.
The Marcos family, however, said that they had not settled their taxes owed because they were contesting the full amount and the matter was still under litigation.
The Presidential Commission on Good Government refuted that the taxes owed were in doubt, saying that the BIR had made its final assessment on the involved properties and that the judgment on the tax case had become final and executory as early as 1997.
For one thing, the tax assessment will never go away, unless Marcos will do something stupid when he assumes the presidency. If that happens expect the people to rise in protest, which could lead to civil disturbances. For the sake of national interest, Bongbong needs to clear what he owes the government. As it was said in the Bible, “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.”
On engineering a broad-based economic recovery, the usual public policy response worldwide is for governments to spend extra on infrastructures and various societal needs in order to stimulate their economy and breathe life to stagnant economic sectors.
But where would he get the extra funding for infrastructure? By borrowing more money? But who would lend him the funds for massive infrastructure projects without showing how he would recoup the funds to pay back the loans? It’s a nasty catch-22 isn’t it? Bongbong may have to do some fiscal hocus pocus to come up with the right calculus to achieve all these.
Financial institutions—such as JP Morgan—are wary about Marcos’ ability to jumpstart the economy. Until now, Marcos hasn’t formed his economic team yet with barely three weeks to go before his presidency begins.
With the country’s debt-to-GDP ratio—which is slightly above 60%—the country needs to grow between 6% and 7% on a sustainable basis. For the country to outgrow its debt, Duterte’s finance chief, Carlos Dominguez III, proposed that Bongbong and his economic team implement new taxes, defer scheduled tax reductions, and repeal certain tax exemptions.
Let’s look at the dire economic situation. To service the national debt, the national government paid nearly P430 billion in interest and almost P330 billion in principal obligation. Interest alone stands at 2.2% of GDP. The fiscal deficit ballooned from P660 billion or 3.4% of GDP before the pandemic to P1.7 trillion, more than 2.5 times, or 8.6% of GDP.
Bongbong has six years to achieve these goals. But many believe that he faces insurmountable obstacles in overcoming them.
With Bongbong soon to take his presidential oath of office on June 30, 2022, his effort to revise history to be kinder to the Marcoses would accelerate. And once in office, he could succeed merely by using his presidential influence. Heck, the late dictator might even be declared a “national hero.” (PerryDiaz@gmail.com)