The Long View: History in the making


History in the making

Nature abhors a vacuum. Politics is both excited by, and dreads, uncertainty. The story so far of a historic coalition achieving a mandate so large, one has to look at the 1935 and 1953 elections to find anything that exceeds it, has been accompanied by an eerie silence: The size of the mandate hasn’t been matched by speed in the unveiling of a team. Instead, names are floated with few actual announcements when it comes to who is surely in the Cabinet of the president-to-be. Worse, this coalition is proving liable to disruption by the over-excitement of its junior half.  

It began on May 11 when Sara Duterte announced she wanted to be made Secretary of National Defense. You could almost imagine the Marcoses, now cast in the role of Old Society traditionalists, arching their eyebrows over this exhibition of uncouthness. No one makes demands to a president-to-be, especially in public.

With the smooth tones of a well-practiced courtier, the Marcos spokesperson blandly said they hadn’t gotten around to the subject of the division of spoils. But by that evening, When Duterte got her answer and it was one political watchers heard loud and clear: The presumptuous Inday Sara was dismissed with a direct order. She was to take her seat –as the next Secretary of Education, the last portfolio anyone expected to be her reward. She issued a too-long-for-comfort statement which failed to disguise her bowing to reality with ill-grace.

The next day future congressman Sandro Marcos very publicly paid a call on his uncle, the current House Majority Leader, Martin Romualdez, kicking off speculation that this signified who the next Speaker would be –and it wasn’t going to be former (and widely expected, future) Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Waiting just long enough to ensure it was leaked that she felt betrayed about it, Mrs. Arroyo pragmatically issued a statement that she was throwing her support behind a Romualdez: she is too central to the game to make rookie mistakes like Inday Sara.

The unintended consequences of this are easy enough to spot. On Monday Sara Duterte announced she wishes to take her vice-presidential oath on June 19 (Rizal’s birth anniversary) in Davao so that she can, she said, attend the future president’s inaugural on June 30. It made no sense symbolically or legally and seemed to underscore her amateur debut in the big league.

What the public didn’t know at the time, because it wouldn’t hit the news until yesterday morning, was that Ted Te and others had filed a petition with the Supreme Court asking it to stop Congress from canvassing election returns. It raises the possibility Congress would be unable to proclaim Mr. Marcos president-elect. Suddenly the nonsensical wish of the VP-to-be makes sense. Lawyers opined that the Constitution provides for the Vice-President to be Acting President so long and until the qualification of a president-elect is resolved: in such a scenario, Inday Sara would become Acting President from June 30 onwards (but: should the Supreme Court decide that Mr. Marcos was never a valid candidate to begin with, then the candidate who came in second would become president.)

Intramurals aside, in one respect the Marcoses are moving swiftly: news of Duterte in DepEd has disturbed historians and other academics who know history is going to be (re)made. In a republic in which every president is an elected king, each regime is marked by monuments. The Marcoses who portrayed themselves as the culmination of history, take a pharaonic approach. The accession of a new Pharaoh was marked not just with new monuments, but the systematic erasure of the names of previous pharaohs from older monuments.

Last Monday I pointed out the Presidential Museum and Library (PML) website had vanished. Others noticed there wasn’t even an “under construction” or similar advisory put up. Reporters were assured through a formal statement that the site is merely down to improve its security features and update its contents –without compromising them. Let me categorically state that I don’t think the bureaucracy, starting with the PML’s director, Edgar Ryan Faustino, who has served three administrations to date and will surely serve the next one, is inclined to play politics. Neither he nor the institution he manages would have survived three very different administrations unless each one was convinced of the professionalism and integrity of the staff and the exhibits they manage.

But I do not for a moment, think that either the future of that site, or what it will contain, will be decided anywhere else but above their pay grades. This being a historic election includes it having been framed, and widely understood, to be as a referendum on history. The incoming president and vice-president have received the third-highest first term mandates in our entire electoral history. Their historical agenda now enjoys state patronage. In the past, what they practiced was denialism; this will now shift, through their access to, and control of, institutions, to active revisionism.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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