By Marcial Bonifacio
My friends and countrymen, UP political science professor Clarita Carlos said voters have different criteria for choosing a presidentiable, based on what is important to each one (e.g., climate change, health, education). Hence, if your criteria are identical to mine, then it is only logical that you will not vote for Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. for president of the Republic of the Philippines. Unlike many of his critics who hold him accountable for the “sins of his father” (e.g., ill-gotten wealth, injustice to martial law victims) and evasion of taxes and tax penalties, my concerns are of a more fundamental nature. That means such concerns, as important as they may be, are only secondary to the three specific ones I’m about to present.
First and foremost, it is important to me that the commander-in-chief, the head of state, and the head of government (all embodied in the president) know and understand the Constitution and the context upon which it was framed. In that case, Marcos Jr. should have known before choosing President Rodrigo Duterte as his running mate for vice president, that it is unconstitutional. Some may contend that, upon realizing this, he settled for the President’s daughter, Sara Duterte, instead. Hence since Marcos Jr. averted a potential violation of the supreme law of the land, why should Filipinos be so concerned or even critical of him? My answer is that his initial ignorance of such a fundamental issue raises the question of his grasp of the Constitution, which makes a mockery of his tenure as a law maker in both the House and Senate.
Section 4, Article VII of the Constitution reads: “The President and the Vice-President shall be elected by direct vote of the people for a term of six years which shall begin at noon on the thirtieth day of June next following the day of the election and shall end at noon of the same date six years thereafter. The President shall not be eligible for any reelection.”
According to Far Eastern University Law Dean Mel Sta Maria, the word “any” in the last sentence refers to reelection as president as well as vice president, since both posts were cited in the preceding sentence. Hence, “the President shall not be eligible to run for reelection for ‘any’ of the positions,” concludes Sta Maria, “either the Office of the President or the Office of the Vice President.”
If that’s insufficiently comprehensible to Marcos Jr., how about the fact that the 1987 Constitution was the direct byproduct of the dictatorial presidency of his father? Indeed, its framers designed it precisely for the purpose of preventing such a tyrant from remaining in power for a prolonged period of time via a single term presidency and vice presidency. Thus, Duterte’s attempt to run for vice president, states Christian Monsod (one of the constitutional framers), “is an ingenious and insidious move to circumvent the constitutional provision on reelection.” If Marcos Jr. doesn’t understand such a fundamental concept, then he is utterly unfit to be president. Although he ultimately chose Sara Duterte, he should have at least been prudent so as to not publicly disclose his initial intention of selecting the President at the time when its constitutionality was questioned.
Second, if you’re in the market to hire a professional to complete a specific job for you, and he didn’t appear in the job interview, what would you make of that? Perhaps something beyond his control occurred. Would you give him another chance? What if you offered him a second chance for another interview, and he failed to appear again? What if you discovered that he intentionally missed both interviews? Would you persistently pursue him, or would you seek another professional, who’s eagerly ready to meet you?
In fact, Marcos Jr. deliberately missed several forums (the Jessica Soho and Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas interviews, CNN presidential debate, etc.) in which all presidentiables generally appeared to present their positions and plans to our voting countrymen. He and his camp cited several reasons for his absences and others yet to come: conflict of schedule, unfavorable format (interview preferable to debate), media bias, lack of desire to be combative to other presidentiables due to his unity platform.
As a concerned Filipino citizen, I present some points and simple suggestions to address those reasons:
Conflict of Schedule: Marcos Jr. should prioritize presidential forums. He should make time for the most important things, and schedule everything else accordingly.
Unfavorable Format: Marcos Jr. should mentally prepare for all potential formats, whether they be interviews or debates. He should take notes and memorize them. He should perform mock interviews and debates for practice.
Media Bias: Marcos Jr. should participate in allegedly biased forums and point out the bias whenever it is presented by the interviewer or interpolator. Additionally, he should use social media to clarify points or rebut the forum’s alleged bias.
Lack of Desire to Be Combative to Other Presidentiables Due to “Unity” Platform: Marcos Jr. need only present his plans, programs, and track record. He should stress his core competency without resorting to ad hominem remarks or personal attacks, while ignoring them from his competitors. The debate format need not be a forum for verbal combat but for statesmanship, which may foster unity—true unity because his ideas will stand out if they appeal to Filipinos.
Job Interview not for Debating Future Bosses or Other Fellow Applicants: That presupposes that all job interviews uniformly entail verbally asking and answering questions; they don’t. Some entail demonstrating one’s knowledge or skill set, which may also display subtleties in temperament or character. For example, an aspiring phone salesman may
As a concerned Filipino citizen, I present some points and simple suggestions to address those reasons:
- Conflict of Schedule: Marcos Jr. should prioritize presidential forums. He should make time for the most important things, and schedule everything else accordingly.
- Unfavorable Format: Marcos Jr. should mentally prepare for all potential formats, whether they be interviews or debates. He should take notes and memorize them. He should perform mock interviews and debates for practice.
- Media Bias: Marcos Jr. should participate in allegedly biased forums and point out the bias whenever it is presented by the interviewer or interpolator. Additionally, he should use social media to clarify points or rebut the forum’s alleged bias.
- Lack of Desire to Be Combative to Other Presidentiables Due to “Unity” Platform: Marcos Jr. need only present his plans, programs, and track record. He should stress his core competency without resorting to ad hominem remarks or personal attacks, while ignoring them from his competitors. The debate format need not be a forum for verbal combat but for statesmanship, which may foster unity—true unity because his ideas will stand out if they appeal to Filipinos.
- Job Interview not for Debating Future Bosses or Other Fellow Applicants: That presupposes that all job interviews uniformly entail verbally asking and answering questions; they don’t. Some entail demonstrating one’s knowledge or skill set, which may also display subtleties in temperament or character. For example, an aspiring phone salesman may display his social interaction skills and mastery of the art of persuasion, which may take patience, grace, and empathy. The same holds true for a politician, since he or she is basically a salesman, pitching ideas and promises for votes. One of the presidentiables has stressed the importance of debates as a leveler of the playing field, since there’s “no tutor, no script, no phones, so we cannot search on Google.” That means “not only your wisdom but also the grasp on issues — current issues, past issues — would be tested and unearthed here. Not only wisdom and knowledge, but also the character is being revealed in these debates.”
display his social interaction skills and mastery of the art of persuasion, which may take patience, grace, and empathy. The same holds true for a politician, since he or she is basically a salesman, pitching ideas and promises for votes. One of the presidentiables has stressed the importance of debates as a leveler of the playing field, since there’s “no tutor, no script, no phones, so we cannot search on Google.” That means “not only your wisdom but also the grasp on issues — current issues, past issues — would be tested and unearthed here. Not only wisdom and knowledge, but also the character is being revealed in these debates.”
I would add that in a debate forum, politicians are under pressure from their competitors, as well as their interpolators, which gives voters a glimpse of their agility and decisiveness or lack thereof when dealing with government officials, foreign diplomats, or heads of state—in a word—statecraft. After all, if Marcos Jr. finds the debate forums with his colleagues and our voting countrymen overly challenging or burdensome, then how will he be able to face Chinese President Xi Jinpin or Russian President Vladimir Putin?
Surely a seasoned politician like Marcos Jr. would already know everything I’ve pointed out and suggested. Anyway, the presence and participation of all presidentiables make it convenient for us to compare, contrast, and evaluate their presentations in order to make an informed vote. More than Marcos Jr. not showing the best face of his campaign, candidacy, and character, stated political analyst Tony La Vina, “he did a very big disservice to the country.” For me, that would be a display of his misplaced priorities and lack of concern for the Filipino electorate, not to mention the farce of his “unity” platform. After all, shouldn’t Marcos Jr. maximize his exposure in order to court the voters of the other presidentiables? Indeed, that would display his initiative to be a team player and a president for all Filipinos, not just for his political base, hence unifying the country.
Third, just as the man of the house must defend his family and property from intruders and thieves, so too, must the president defend the Filipino people and their country from foreign invaders and land grabbers. Unfortunately, Marcos Jr. plans to simply resume Duterte’s policy of appeasement to China with regard to the West Philippine Sea, since China neither consents to the arbitral award, nor was it a signatory to the proceedings. In an interview with Boy Abunda, Marcos Jr. stated, “Ang problema diyan saChinaay sinabi na nila: ‘Hindi kami signatory diyan, hindi kami makikinig kung anuman ang maging findings ng court.‘” (The problem with China, they said: We’re not a signatory, we won’t listen to whatever the court’s findings are.) Hence, “it’s no longer an arbitration if there’s only one party. It is no longer available to us.” That is factually incorrect, since China ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in 1994, hence legally binding it to international law according to maritime expert Jay Batongbacal. UP Political Science Head Herman Kraft said Marcos Jr. needs a “deeper understanding” of the proceedings leading to the 2016 arbitral ruling.
Marcos Jr. even reiterates the same straw man of President Duterte that “if we get in a fight [with China], . . . we will lose” within one week. For the record, I know of no single government official or foreign policy expert who thinks that the Philippines should wage war against China, much less be victorious. Perhaps this false premise gives justification to Marcos Jr. to pursue “diplomacy” and “bilateral agreement” with China. “His true position, I think, is really pro-China,” states Batongbacal. “It’s like Duterte’s old position that he needs China, and the Philippines can’t do anything about it…. It’s all very shallow, outdated, and simply uninformed.” Indeed there are practicable and non-combative options for defending WPS suggested by Batongbacal, legal luminary behind the arbitral award and former Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio, and maritime expert and former national security advisor Roilo Golez, which I’ve listed in How the Philippines Can Enforce Its Arbitral Award without Going to War with China.
Speaking of being uninformed, Marcos Jr. stated in the SMNI forum, “Marami talaga tayong issue, hindi lamang sa conflicting claims sa gitna ng Pilipinas at saka China kaya’t ngayon lang ang nakita kong national election na naging issue ang West Philippine Sea or ang foreign policy.” (We really have lots of issues, not only the conflicting claims between the Philippines and China, that’s why I see only in this national election that the West Philippine Sea or foreign policy has become an issue.) Such a statement could be misconstrued as sarcasm if one just tuned in and heard it on television. Unfortunately, Marcos Jr. seems oblivious to the 2016 presidential debates in which then presidentiable Rodrigo Duterte promised to jet ski to Panatag Shoal and plant the Philippine flag in defiance to China’s incursion. Indeed, it was one of the most memorable highlights.
How could Marcos Jr. have been unaware of it? Could he have known and simply forgotten about it? Could this be the first sign of dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease taking effect? Perhaps he simply turned a deaf ear or a blind eye to the WPS issue because it’s just not a priority for him. If the last possibility is the case, then it would account for his position, or rather uninformed position on different aspects of the matter, on which I will now expound.
In the SMNI forum, Marcos Jr. constantly expressed his concern over the disputed “territorial waters.” He said, “It is about territorial waters, and when we have these 200 Chinese boats coming and blocking our fishermen, it is to assert their claim that this is part of their territorial water.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Anyone who has studied this matter would know that the vicinity of the territorial waters of the Philippines is within 12 nautical miles along the coast of Palawan and Mindoro, in Luzon (which is the area that China does not claim). However, the area within 200 nautical miles is known as the “exclusive economic zone (EEZ) waters.” Contrary to what Marcos Jr. said, Carpio retorted, “Our dispute with China in the WPS, outside of the territorial dispute in the Spratly Islands, is a dispute over EEZ waters, not territorial waters. A dispute over EEZ waters is a dispute over the resources in that EEZ – the fish, oil, gas and other mineral resources.”
Aside from Marcos Jr.’s apparent lack of understanding of the Philippines’ territorial waters and EEZ waters, his grasp of the arbitration court seems equally deficient. On one occasion, he stated, “Ang pagsolusyon sa mga territorial conflict… naaayos lang ‘yan sa ICC (International Criminal Court). Pero kailangan sumang-ayon ang parehong bansa, magsasabi, ‘Okay sa akin sa Pilipinas, susundan ko ‘yong decision ng ICC.” (The resolution of territorial conflicts, these are only fixed at the ICC. But both countries have to agree, say for instance, ‘It is okay with me in the Philippines, I will obey the ICC.) Marcos Jr. further said, “Pero ‘yong China, hindi naman signatory sa pagtaguyod ng ICC. Pangalawa, sinabi na nila mula umpisa pa sa hindi namin susundan, hindi namin kinikilala ‘yang mga decision sa ICC. (But China is not a signatory in the establishment of the ICC. Second, from the start, they said we will not follow, we do not recognize those decisions of the ICC.) Again, anyone who has studied the Philippine arbitration case against China would know that the Permanent Court of Arbitration was the tribunal in which the case was filed and the Philippines awarded. The ICC is the tribunal in which crimes against humanity are filed.
Hence, Marcos Jr. was factually incorrect about China being legally bound to comply with international law, about the Philippine waters of which China claims, and about the tribunal which awarded the arbitral ruling to the Philippines. How can such a misinformed presidentiable be trusted to assert the Philippines’ arbitral award when he displayed his sheer ignorance on three fundamental maritime issues?
Furthermore, my friends and countrymen, I have only three questions to ask with regard to whether or not you should vote for Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. First, do you want a president who fully grasps the fundamental principles of the Constitution, on which he or she will solemnly swear an oath to protect and defend? Second, do you want a president who will be a president for all Filipinos and not just for his own voters and supporters? Third, do you want a president who fully knows and understands the maritime fundamentals in order to defend the whole Philippines, including its EEZ waters in which fish, minerals, and oil are present in the West Philippine Sea?
If you answered “yes” to all of the above questions, then perhaps we share the same criteria or standard for our president after all. That would logically mean that, like me, you will not cast your vote for Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. However, if you answered “no” to the above questions, then our criteria or standard differs. Perhaps such mass neglect for fundamentals is why the Philippines has remained stagnant for so long. Therefore, my friends and countrymen, let’s focus on fundamentals first, raise our standards, and choose our leaders accordingly. Only then can we be competitive in the marketplace of governance, and always remember this: There’s no shame in changing your vote. There’s only shame in voting blindly, so vote wisely.
Aim High Pilipinas!