Quo vadis, Bongbong? by Perry Diaz

Had Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. won the vice presidential contest, it could have been one of the greatest — if not the greatest — political comebacks in the annals of politics. And the 30 years that passed since his father, the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos, was ousted and the entire Marcos family booted out of the country, it would have been a saga that historians would consider as the pinnacle of political achievement. No political dynasty in modern times had done such a spectacular comeback. If history had to be repeated, the Marcoses would have been consigned to the dustbin of history, maligned and laughed at.

But like a snail that inched its way —slowly but surely — to the top, the Marcoses cunningly calculated each movement to achieve the desired result without alarming those who have vowed “Never again!” to their comeback. Had Bongbong run for president instead of vice president, the pushback would have been so great that it would have buried his presidential ambitions for good, never to resurface again. But he must have known that and instead took a path that was safer, a run for 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,  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.

“Based on these historical data, whoever is elected vice president in 2016 would most likely win the presidency in 2022, which begs the question: Does that mean that Poe, Roxas, and Duterte don’t have a ghost of a chance of beating Binay? Not necessarily. A case in point was Aquino who — like Poe — was an incumbent senator when he ran for president in 2010. Out of a field of nine presidential candidates, which included heavyweights former Senator Manny Villar, former President Joseph Estrada, and former Defence Secretary Gilbert Teodoro, Aquino beat them all with 42.08% of the vote!”

The fall of Binay

There were rare exceptions as in the case of Vice President Jejomar Binay, who ran and lost in the recently concluded 2016 presidential elections.  However, his loss may be attributed to a slew of corruption and plunder charges that eroded his popularity ratings during the campaign period. Within a few months, his ratings plummeted from number one position to the bottom among the five major presidential candidates.

Binay would have been unbeatable had he kept his nose clean. But the corruption activities that he was allegedly involved with when he was mayor of Makati City were hammered in by his rivals during the campaign.

The rise of Leni

On the vice presidential derby, Bongbong and Congresswoman Leni Robredo fought the battle neck and neck. In the end, Leni outvoted Bongbong by a razor-thin margin of a little over 260,000 votes. Although Leni was relatively unknown, she had no prior national election experience. Her late husband, Secretary of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Jesse Robredo, was very popular with the ordinary people. His habit of wearing rubber flip-flop slippers — or “tsinelas” — in public had earned him their respect and admiration.

While her husband’s legacy helped her win the support of the common people, Leni got a big boost from the “Kaya Natin!” — a good governance grassroots movement — that Jesse founded together with Pampanga Governor Fr. Ed Panlilio and Isabela Governor Grace Padaca. However, with the defeat of Panlilio by the powerful Arroyo-Pineda political alliance and the loss of Padaca in a recount engineered by the powerful Dy family dynasty, Kaya Natin! was decimated of its leadership. Naga City Mayor Jesse Robredo survived the political assault. In 2010, President Benigno Aquino III appointed him DILG Secretary. He served in that capacity until his untimely death in 2012.

Solid North

On the other hand, there was Bongbong who is identified with his late father, whose dictatorial regime had rubbed millions of people the wrong way, causing deep wounds in their psyche.

But since the three decades that had passed since the EDSA revolution, a new breed of Filipinos — the post-martial law babies and the millennial generation — has come of voting age. And they were the sources of Bongbong’s strengths, not to mention the vaunted “Solid North” that had brought sons of Ilocandia — Elpidio Quirino, Ramon Magsaysay, Carlos P. Garcia, Ferdinand E. Marcos, and Fidel V. Ramos — to the presidency in the past.

With the clannishness of Ilocanos, it is not unusual to hear them proclaim their loyalty to Bongbong Marcos, the heir to the Marcos dynasty. “Marcos pa rin kami” (We’re always be for Marcos) became their rallying cry during the campaign.

A waiting game

With Bongbong’s Senate term coming to an end on June 30, 2016, what’s in store for him? Is he going to retire from public service or is he going to seek an appointment from his good friend, president-elect Rodrigo Duterte, so he could remain in the political limelight while he mulls over his future?  At 58 years of age, he could still run a great deal of political mileage including another run for a Senate seat in 2019 and the presidency in 2022. By that time, he’d be 64 years old, which would be his last chance to reclaim the glory and power his family had enjoyed for so long.

But Bongbong going for the presidency in 2022 would be a lot more complicated and challenging than it was when he ran for vice president.  Needless to say, Leni Robredo would most likely run for president too; thus, making their face-off a rematch but at the higher heavyweight division. As vice president for the next six years, Leni would be “president-in-waiting” and just a heartbeat away from the presidency.  Indeed, the vice presidency is the best “on-the-job training” without doing much… just waiting.

The clash between Bongbong and Leni in 2022 would set the direction of where the country is going to be in the next quarter century. Surmise it to say, Bongbong represents the country’s elite while Leni identifies with the common tao — the “tsinelas” followers of her late husband. But while Leni’s pursuit of the presidency is a given, Bongbong’s mission in life appears to be to vindicate his father. If he loses, then it will give the people a glimpse of how history will treat Ferdinand E. Marcos. It has been said, “Time heals all wounds.” But the wounds are deep and it might be too soon for healing… if it ever will. Quo vadis, Bongbong? (PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

Updated: 07/02/2016 — 19:28:03