The Long View: Two jabs at the President


Two jabs at the President

The second Sona season was supposed to be heralded by a series of cheerful announcements: the rolling out of “Kadiwa ng Pangulo” stores in all 81 provinces; a new Central Luzon health facility; the Maharlika Investment Fund being signed into law. It was all supposed to fold in smoothly into the unveiling of a logo and slogan, “Bagong Pilipinas” ahead of the President’s second State of the Nation Address.

Then came two unexpected announcements from the President’s erstwhile allies.

The world has been wondering about the fate of China’s foreign minister who hasn’t been seen in three weeks (the Asia Sentinel summarizes the ongoing coverage as basically speculation on whether the foreign minister is actually an ex-minister due to a scandal involving a reporter who is alleged by some quarters to be a British agent) when the People’s Daily announced a meeting between former president Rodrigo Duterte and China’s President Xi Jinping. The former president looked neater, better-pressed, even slimmer, than any time he’d been in office, but sported an aluminum cane. During their meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, the Global Times used interesting phrases, which, as a state organ, must be imbued with precise meanings, from citing an unnamed “expert” stating the meeting sent “a relatively friendly signal” to paraphrasing Xi as saying that under Duterte, “China-Philippines relations were able to return to the right track and prosper.” For his part, Xi “expressed the hope that Duterte will continue to play an important role in the friendly cooperation between the two countries,” a pointed vote of no-confidence in the incumbent president.

Since foreign affairs is the sole prerogative (and responsibility) of the incumbent president, the response of the Department of Foreign Affairs, when asked to comment on the (surprise) Duterte-Xi photo op, was revealing: It did not, it said, have any official information about the meeting. In other words, it was surprised. The possibility he went as some sort of envoy for his successor seems slim:

One would expect this to be announced before any trip (recall the short-lived and, in the end, unfulfilled, designation of the late former president Fidel Ramos by Duterte back in 2016).There are two other possibilities. One is that as the Philippines snaps back to its old alliances (and, in fact, deepens them), the usefulness of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has ended and Beijing has to signal that its interests (and backing) are fully enjoyed by Duterte now. The other possibility is that, with neck braces now being out of fashion, the former president went under cover of being a medical tourist but what he’s actually after is a promise of asylum.

Then came the President’s eldest sister who is also a one-woman loyal opposition in the Senate, and said in an interview that politics is in store for her nephews, the President’s younger sons. One, apparently, is earmarked for Iloilo, the other, also according to her, is destined for Mindanao.

Left and right hooks, pointing to Beijing’s displeasure and inviting suspicions that the First Lady is dynasty-building in Negros. We forget that the 2022 campaign was a battle of the bands, so to speak, not just between candidates but between groups within each candidate’s coalition. The Marcos campaign, like the two restoration campaigns that preceded it, had its share of old and new people, of loyalists inherited and new believers. Overall was the brilliant use of “Umagang Kay Ganda” as the aspirational, uncontroversial, overall theme. But restoration required rehabilitation, and since old enemies were best neutralized by gaining new believers, one musical anchor of the Marcos campaign was something you can trace back on YouTube: throughout the land, school, municipal, and other marching bands were encouraged to learn, and perform, the anthem of the New Society, reintroducing it to the old and introducing it to the majority who are young.

Priming people over a period of years (2017 onwards, at least) to recognize the old marching music accomplished two things, when, in late 2021, a new rock-style remake of the anthem by Plethora was unveiled: For the old, who’d thought the song not just buried, but permanently disgraced, by history, to hear it again—and to see the young cheering—was soul-crushing shock and awe; and for the young, it was a political earworm because, subconsciously, they’d been primed to respond to the song when it was updated.

But it had two musical rivals: both were rap anthems, the first was Andrew E’s “Bagong Pilipinas, Bagong Mukha” with which he warmed up crowds, and the other was Werdan and Real J’s “Agila at Tigre” which spoke to the North and South alliance. That “Bagong Pilipinas” is what has survived, as the official theme of the push toward the mid-term campaign, tells us that a sprinkling of nostalgia (Kadiwa here, Maharlika there) can only take you so far. You can echo the New Society, but you still have to declare that what you have now is new.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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