The Long View: Picture perfect


Picture perfect

He is the 11th senator (most recent was Benigno Aquino III), 10th congressman (most recent was President Duterte), sixth soldier (most recent was FVR; Ferdinand Marcos Jr. was a commissioned officer, after all), and governor (most recent was Carlos P. Garcia), fourth Ilocano (most recent was his father), and third child of a former president to become chief executive. The numerologically minded have already made much of his becoming the seventh president of the fifth republic. In a nation where both candidates and the electorate believe that election can provide absolution, he can claim the most incontestable family vindication of all, by means of a direct mandate from the people.

But now, as they say, comes the hard part. He and his followers can point to the past being settled, but this leaves the problem of the future, which is now squarely on his shoulders.

And so it came to be, that the president-elect was photographed the other day, meeting his incoming economic team. In a room with fake grass on one wall and colorful charts outlining our four branches of government (yes, Virginia, our constitutional commissions in a sense are an independent branch as they aren’t under any of the traditional three branches), and the identity and core functions of government departments, on another, he sat at the head of a conference table and jabbed at the air with his index finger as photos were taken.

No smiles here, folks, just a picture-perfect image of a future chief executive already taking charge. It was a picture of unity since it included the next governor of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, even though he is supposed to be independent. Everyone looked suitably serious, because the situation, as the outgoing secretary of finance inconveniently pointed out recently, will require hard choices.

As the release accompanying the photo of Marcos Jr. said, he “outlined his priorities and issued his marching orders for economic recovery.” This was followed through by Benjamin Diokno announcing “a new Road to A credit rating program” or medium-term fiscal plan would be forthcoming, soon.

At a recent symposium, a respected academic tried to break down into politicos and technocrats the names announced thus far, as constituting the forthcoming Marcos Jr. Cabinet. Two, however, seemed hard to pin down: the incoming social welfare and press secretaries. I suggested they constituted the third side of the governance triangle: if there are politicians and bureaucrats (technocrats), then there are the informers: the ones tasked with cultivating, shall we say, “enlightenment.”

As generations of yearbooks quoting the last line from “The Great Gatsby” put it, “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” This is where enlightenment is required. Marcos Jr. was elected, unlike his father, as a senior citizen-president: yet, he is in some ways, condemned by his own history as crown prince, to be frozen in time, whether the heyday of his father or in the calamitous final days leading to their fall, take your pick. Last week, I pointed out the president-elect’s perspective concerning the job he is poised to take up is a regal and not a republican one. So, imagine if Prince Charles wasn’t fully a white-haired, red-faced, bloated-fingered senior in the British imagination but still a polo-playing sensitive playboy.

There was a time when he wanted a more regal rebranding for himself. Back in the early 1990s, I remember a hand-drawn poster in UP announcing the attendance of “Ferdinand Marcos II” at some sort of event. Thirty years later, new strategies of communicating would compel him to be branded and run as something he hadn’t really been called before: “BBM” and not the Marcos Junior. Worse, he is being branded now as “PBBM,” which seems like a misspelling of peanut butter jelly sandwich. Presidents, once upon a time, used to be known simply by their initials; but modern insecurities are such that a “P” has to be tacked on: tacky, and actually, impertinent (what, people actually don’t know the president?).

Still, there is a history gap which is why you can differentiate those who only know him posthumously from those who remember him as president. The difference between “FEM” and “FM” is as much a sign of a lack of facility with language as it is of ignorance of the times: “FEM” was not used for the same reason Manuel Roxas didn’t use his middle initial as he found “MAR” an unfortunate result of three initials; for the same reason the hypermasculine Ferdinand Sr. wouldn’t take well to being “FEM.”

It is not that we have elected a President Peter Pan; but rather, now is the time to be reminded, the king is dead, long live the king (and that means, stop considering him a princeling).

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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