How will 'unity' play out in Marcos administration?

Raffy Cabristante, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 29 2022 11:54 PM | Updated as of Jun 30 2022 12:30 AM

MANILA — President-elect Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. centered his campaign on a message of unity and making the country "rise again" from the COVID-19 pandemic, a message that eventually earned him more than 31 million votes and a landslide victory.

"Kung pag-aaralan po natin ang kasaysayan ng Pilipinas, lahat po ng nangyari sa atin, lahat ng kahirapan na dumating, lahat ng sakuna na inabutan ng ating mahal na bansang Pilipinas, tayo po ay nakaraos lamang dahil tayo ay nagkaisa," Marcos said during his February campaign kick-off.

As the country prepares itself for another Marcos presidency, how will that message of "unity" play out?

"It's still too early to say," political analyst Edmund Tayao told ABS-CBN News.

"Ang nakikita pa lang natin ngayon ay preparasyon pa lamang sa pagpasok ng [kanyang] gobyerno. Hindi pa siya nakaupo eh."

But he noted that "there are indications" that signify Marcos' "serious effort" to realize the promise of unity, particularly through his Cabinet picks. 

Cabinet

The fact that some of his Cabinet-designates also served in previous administrations is one indication, Tayao said.

"It seems that the prevailing yardstick... is not so much political affiliation, but so much more on background and qualifications," he added.

Arsenio Balisacan, for one, is returning to head the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), after previously taking its helm under the administration of former President Benigno 'Noynoy' Aquino III.

"[Balisacan] is also very much a respected academic as far as the field of development is concerned... His background has always been in regional development, particularly with respect to poverty," Tayao said.

Naming academic Clarita Carlos as National Security Adviser, he noted, is also an indication of Marcos' qualification-based choices in the Cabinet, as she was the first female and civilian to serve as president of the National Defense College of the Philippines. 

"That agency has always been identified with the military, particularly retired officers... She must probably have the right background," Tayao said.

Stratbase ADR Institute president Dindo Manhit earlier said that for Marcos to convey the unity message, he must have the "best, most able, most confident people to play a role in key Cabinet positions."

Whether or not Marcos will reach out to political rivals to join his government as a sign of unity is yet to be seen, especially within his administration's first 100 days, Tayao said.

"Paano ka magre-reach out [sa mga hindi mo kaalyado] eh di ka naman nakaupo... di pa buo ang gobyerno mo? Kaya nga may tinatawag tayong honeymoon period doon sa first 100 days, doon mas kongkreto na ang makikita natin kasi makakagalaw na talaga ang nakaupong pangulo," he said.

FATE OF FEDERALISM

'Federalism' became a buzzword in 2016 when then-Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte highlighted it as a campaign promise, but the outgoing president eventually gave up on the idea years later.

But with a new administration coming in, Tayao said the talks for a proposed federal government are now "back to square one," even as Marcos ran for the presidency under a pro-federalism party.

"Back to square one kasi I'm not sure if they're going to create a body similar to the Consultative Committee, or that Congress will be asked by the President to consider sitting down as a constituent assembly... or [have] a constitutional convention," he told ABS-CBN News.

Tayao was among the members of the Consultative Committee to Review the 1987 Constitution, a body Duterte formed in 2016 to start the move towards a federal government.

"I'm not sure just yet what will be the steps to be taken if there will be concrete steps that will be taken by the administration toward this end. But groups that have been advocating for system change have already started meeting again and reorganizing... that's the stage we are in right now," he added.

For her part, Dr. Maria Ela Atienza of the University of the Philippines Diliman Political Science Department said there is still no clear indication whether or not Marcos will push for a federal government under his administration.

Unlike Duterte who was "very clear" about pushing federalism forward during his 2016 presidential campaign, Atienza said Marcos did not "vocally or very strongly" push for the same, despite running under a pro-federalism party.

The only incoming official who is vocal about the prospect of federalism, she said, is Senator-elect Robin Padilla, who ran under Marcos' senatorial slate in the May 9 polls.

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"Wala tayong naririnig talaga kay [Marcos] about federalism. So in that sense, unclear if he will really push for charter change and federalism," Atienza told ABS-CBN News.

She also noted that the only testing ground on the feasibility of federalism on a national level is the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), which is currently under transition until 2025.

But while Marcos has strong political capital due to his majority win, the push for political reforms and federalism may also take a back seat due to the national government's "belt-tightening."

Another factor, Atienza said, is the Supreme Court's Mandanas ruling, which increases the share of national government tax revenue to local government units.

"Kailangan ng pera ang national government. Malaki na iyong mawawala dahil sa Mandanas ruling," she added.

Federalism may also be unclear in a Marcos administration, the UP professor said, as his economic team is "basically" made up of the same team that told outgoing President Duterte that charter change was "too expensive," prompting him to abandon the prospect.

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