Bongbong Marcos’ gambit by Perry Diaz

Everyone knows that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. That is also true in politics; however, some—if not most—of the times, a straight line is fraught with danger that prevents someone from reaching the destination. And to some people, taking a circuitous—and longer distance— might avoid a lot of distractions, and have a better chance of reaching the goal.

At 58 years of age, Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. could be one of those who feel the urge to take the fast track, that is, a straight line to the presidency.  Indeed, he could have taken that route if he heeded his mom’s, Congresswoman Imelda Marcos, fervent desire for him to run for president as early as 2010. Instead, he ran for a six-year Senate term and won.

His experience in the Senate gave him national recognition and provided him a stepping-stone to higher office—the presidency—thus fulfilling his mom’s dream that her only son would follow the footsteps of her late husband, the strongman President Ferdinand E. Marcos. Halfway through his Senate term, when Bongbong was asked what his future plans were, he said that he was considering running for a higher office in 2016. And “higher office” could only mean the presidency or vice presidency. And since Imelda really wanted him to run for president, one would be convinced that he would definitely do so. All indications pointed to a presidential run; however, he continued to sidestep the question while his ardent—mostly young— followers unceasingly promoted in the social media his “presidential” qualities and those of his father whom they credited for the improvements to the country’s economy and infrastructure.

Bongbong’s dilemma

Indeed, the “Bongbong for President” campaign in the social media heightened a great deal of anticipation from his supporters who revived the old cliché, “Marcos pa rin kami!” However, it also awakened his father’s old enemies and detractors, who dread the return of the “Dictator” in the person of his son. While Bongbong’s supporters are growing in numbers, the revival of the anti-Marcos movement, which had been dormant in the past three decades, is gaining momentum, albeit disorganized. Or could it be that they are just waiting for the son to enter the presidential race and then organize to stop him? This is a question that can’t be answered today only because nobody knows how strong he is. Surveys could give some inkling of Bongbong’s real electoral strength. However, that would only be manifested when he enters the race, which begs the question: Is Bongbong taking a longer but surer path to the presidency, by way of the vice presidency?

In my article, “Who doesn’t want to be vice president?” (August 28, 2015), I wrote: “Whoever wins the vice presidency would be in a good position to run for president in 2022. Statistics show that out of the 10 presidential elections since 1946 (excluding the presidential elections during the martial law), five incumbent vice presidents ran for president in the next presidential election and won. They were: Elpidio Quirino in 1948, Carlos P. Garcia in 1953, Diosdado Macapagal in 1961, Joseph Estrada in 1998, and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in 2004. But three other incumbent vice presidents had opted not to run for president, to wit: Emmanuel Pelaez in 1965, Salvador Laurel in 1992, and Noli de Castro in 2010.”

Given these historical data, the elected president in 2022 would come from the 2016 crop of vice presidential candidates: Rep. Leni Robredo, Sen. Chiz Escudero, Sen. Gregorio Honasan, Sen. Antonio Trillanes , Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, and Sen. Bongbong Marcos.  The question is: Who among them would be elected vice president in 2016? With the 2016 campaign season already in full swing, each of them have a good chance of winning the race; however, the candidate with a large bloc of voters identified with the candidate either by region or language would have an edge over the others.

Two blocs with the largest number of voters are the Solid North and Ilocano Vote. Then there are the Bicolano Vote, Cebuano Vote, Mindanao Vote, Visayan Vote, Tagalog Vote, Central Luzon Vote, and Metro Manila Vote.  Surmise it to say, an Ilocano candidate could capture the combined Solid North and Ilocano Vote, while a Cebuano candidate could capture the combined Visayan Vote, Cebuano Vote, and a good chunk of the Mindanao Vote.

If the regional bloc and language bloc are taken into consideration on who’d win the vice presidency, the following shows where their electoral bases are:

1.  Marcos – Solid North and Ilocano Vote.

2.  Escudero – Bicolano Vote.

3.  Robredo – Bicolano Vote.

4.  Honasan – Bicolano Vote and Central Luzon Vote.

5.  Trillanes – Bicolano Vote and Visayan Vote.

6.  Cayetano – Tagalog Vote and Metro Manila Vote.

While voters weigh the qualifications—character, honesty, experience, achievement—of the candidates, the candidates’ regional and language provenance would play an important aspect in their final decision of whom they’ll vote for. And this is why they’d do their utmost to protect their electoral bases.

Ilocano Vote

It is apparent that Bongbong—from a regional/language standpoint—has a built-in advantage over his rivals. His chances are further enhanced because four of the candidates—Robredo, Escudero, Honasan, and Trillanes—have roots in the Bicol region, which could divide the Bicolano Vote among them. Cayetano is in a position to capture the Tagalog Vote and the huge Metro Manila Vote. However, Metro Manila is not as clannish as the Ilocano Vote and Bicolano Vote.

Bongbong enjoys the clannishness of the Ilocanos and by extension the Solid North, which was the bailiwick of his father. The question is: Would Bongbong be able to get the support his father got from Ilocanos? And would Bongbong be able to communicate with Ilocanos in their native tongue just like how Marcos Sr. did with his mastery and eloquence of the Ilocano dialect?

Bongbong must have spent a great deal of time in deciding whether to run for president or not. He must have decided against it because he was not sure if his electoral base was large enough to clinch the presidency. He must have been convinced that the anti-Marcos forces would trounce him in the polls.

Sins of the father

Ultimately, Bongbong demurred and decided against running for president in 2016. He sacrificed his life-long ambition of following the footsteps of his father. He must have told himself, “The presidency can wait.” In six years, he’d be 64 years old. And it would have been 36 years after the People Power Revolution that deposed his father.

If he seeks the presidency in 2022, he would have to win the vice presidency in 2016.  Then he has to do a great job of serving the people to atone for the sins of his father, which would be a challenge by itself.

During an interview with the media two days after he announced his candidacy for vice president, Bongbong said, “I am looking towards the future. The past is the past.” But the question is: Would time heal (the wounds inflicted by his father to the people)? Bongbong took a gambit hoping that it will.  (PerryDiaz@gmail.com)