The Long View: Restoration vs. nostalgia


Restoration vs. nostalgia

 / 04:30 AM October 26, 2022

There is, apparently, a phenomenon already being called Duterte nostalgia. A kind of acknowledgment of this was the offhand comment of President Marcos Jr.’s new P1-a-year communications consultant, Paul Soriano, that the President, sadly, isn’t seen enough. Now, the President is being seen a lot, together with comments that he’s perhaps going overboard since he looks tired and even bloated. When, in the same first 100-day period, the President’s own vice president expresses exhaustion on social media, you know that the back you have to watch is well and truly your own. If the veep can subtly throw shade on the prexy, then a former prexy can do the same thing just as well: and so from the corner of former prexy Gloria Macapagal Arroyo came the revelation that the President, in his concurrent capacity as aggie secretary, has only been to his department’s office twice.

PNP chief turned Bureau of Corrections big boss turned Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa has also taken to accentuating the (past) positive (for the faithful) by responding to the woes of Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla by suggesting the revival of “tokhang.” The lone senator of Arroyo’s party, Lakas-CMD, Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., helpfully filed a resolution calling for Dela Rosa’s committee to investigate the utterly shocking because utterly confused and uncoordinated goings-on in the national penitentiary, what with the liquidation of Percival “Percy Lapid” Mabasa allegedly having been a hit ordered from within New Bilibid Prison: a case that began to turn cold the moment the supposed middleman, Crisanto Villamor, dropped dead just after being exposed.

Back in the good old days not so long ago, so the framing seems to be going, people were afraid of the government instead of running circles around it. While the President has already twice refused to engage in the battle over history in the Department of Education (there are many online, after all, who have been fighting and winning that war for him for years), this was belied by news of the review of curricula proposing to substitute the gentler (and formerly official) term of New Society where textbooks now say martial law. The veep was moved enough to issue a statement saying no historical whitewashing would take place since she is, after all, the granddaughter of someone who’d launched and led yellow confetti protests in Davao.

In the meantime, the President has continued helpfully providing employment to retirees from the Duterte era: most recently, a former PNP chief turned health undersecretary. Not just as an expression of PNP solidarity but just as possibly as part of his Protect the Faithful duties, Dela Rosa weighed in on criticisms of the appointment by saying his fellow ex-PNP chief is some sort of management whiz and can therefore best backstop the doctors. In the meantime, the President is left justifying the continuing absence of a permanent secretary of health by saying the time to name one will be when the pandemic ends. This was five days ago: lo and behold, yesterday, the secretary of tourism announced a forthcoming executive order making mask-wearing optional in enclosed places. For the economy. For the country. And, one might suggest, for the possibility of finally convincing someone, anyone, to take on what remains one of the most thankless jobs in the country.

Not least because besides the pandemic, there remains the unfolding impact of part of the Duterte legacy, which is the increasing likelihood he has bequeathed his successor and all incumbent local leaders with a poisoned pill of his making to accompany the Mandanas ruling. The President has alluded to this in terms of schools: while the Supreme Court’s Mandanas ruling historically decided LGUs will get a share of all national taxes, Duterte then issued an executive order stating the devolution of formerly national services to LGUs: meaning even before they got their expected windfall, they (the LGUs) were mandated expenditures for programs and projects the national government used to provide. It’s a rather clever switcheroo, not least because it’s likely to leave local governments even more dependent on the national government for funds.

In the not-so-long-ago days already being discussed with nostalgia, local governments and members of the House of Representatives alike were kept happy by means of emergency pandemic-related spending, and what some critics suggest was the most promiscuous public works spending in living memory. The Restoration Era’s equivalent seems to be a combination of large allocations for intelligence funds and contingency funds to backstop the expected shortfalls in LGU budgets since the share for LGUs will apparently still be calculated on the basis of the leanest of the lean years, 2020, as far as national income is concerned. But however tallied, there’s nothing to disburse until collections can actually better meet demand: which is where the fiscal meets the political, in the vacuum that is the empty administrative and policy spaces where a secretary of health is usually found. At least the pandemic can be essentially declared ended with a stroke of a pen, without the discomfort of having to seek medical advice, and the economy can rev up in time for next year’s expected harsher doses of reality to come.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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