Dissecting President Marcos’ governance philosophy




The Manila Times



ONE of the comments heard about the 24-minute inauguration speech of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., or PBBM as he is now referred to, is that many ordinary people found many of the words he used hard to comprehend. Many in the audience — who watched him deliver his speech outside the fence reserved for dignitaries and VIPs, mainly his ordinary supporters, in fact — wished that he had used Filipino instead of English. Actually, it is not just the language that made the President’s speech somewhat alienating. It is also the prose and the construction of his speech that may have amplified the sense of awe of how well it was written and delivered, but it may have not resonated well with many people used to the simplicity of ordinary modes of communication. But then again, this is not just a simple occasion. It was his inaugural address and he was speaking not only to the Filipinos but to the world. He promised to spell out the details of the nitty-gritty of his strategy to govern the country in his upcoming state of the nation address (SONA) when Congress opens later this month. What has caught my attention, however, and some of us who dwell in the theoretical domain of political theory and philosophy is the manner in which he painted his governance philosophy, or what he thinks is the principle that will frame the way his government will relate to us, its citizens. He spelled this out twice, first briefly earlier in his speech when he said: “I will need your help. I want to rely on it. But rest assured that I do not predicate success on the wide cooperation that is needed. I will get it done.” Later, he discoursed on it more lengthily when he said: “There is also what you people did to cope. But this time, empowered by new techniques and more resources. You got by, getting some of what you needed with a massive government help. And for this, l thank my predecessor for the courage of his hard decisions. But there is a way to put more means and choices in your hands. l trust the Filipino. Imagine how much more you’d achieve if the government backstops instead of dictating your decisions, always there to pick you up when you fall, giving what you need to get past a problem. Imagine if it invested in your self-empowerment to bring it closer to taking on whatever challenges come. Imagine a country that in almost every sense is you. Now, imagine what you and the government can achieve together. We did it in the pandemic. We will do it again. But again, I will not predicate my promise to you on your cooperation. You have your own lives to live, your work to do, and there too, I will help. Government will get as much done alone without requiring more from you.” These statements lay bare a philosophy of governance that defies textbook taxonomic classification. It could neither be liberal progressive nor conservative, or could be both. It is talking about people empowerment, and the absence of government imposing and dictating on people, which is the very core of the small, less intrusive government that the classical liberalism of Adam Smith imagined and which now forms the core of the political conservatism of the Tories in the United Kingdom and the pre-Trump Republicans in the US. At the same time, it also talks about government delivering without requiring the cooperation of the people, and would not exact any more burden on citizens. This gives the impression of a welfare state that many progressives imagine. It exceeds what modern-day political liberals do, such as the US Democrats who are framed as engaging in taxing and spending, if imposing taxes is what President Marcos would consider as an additional burden which he wants the citizens to be spared from. Already, there are voices of discomfort from good governance advocates who value citizen participation, and count on it as an important element, in addition to transparency and accountability. They fear that the tone of the President might be misconstrued as a harbinger of a state that will no longer value consultation. These are people who continue to paint President Marcos as simply the reincarnation of his father who they incessantly refer to as a dictator, and certainly the vow made by the son for government to do it alone without citizen cooperation can easily be spun to evoke a path to strongman rule once again. It is easy for them to conjure such a thing, this time using the food crisis, the pandemic and the rising prices of commodities to justify such strongman rule. These misgivings, and the relatively confusing signals which the President’s speech evoked in relation to his governance philosophy emerge because of the fact that such is simply out of the box, and frankly require further elaboration. But one cannot blame the President if he innovates and goes beyond the confines of textbook theories and concepts. The complexity of the problems that he will face may require a healthy dose of breaking free from academic political economy and theories of governance. But certainly, the President owes us further explanation on his political innovation of a government that will empower its citizens but would not demand their cooperation and participation. He has to spell out clearly how his government can get as much done alone while leaving its citizens alone and will not ask more from them. He has to specify what he really meant by a government that will operate without cooperation from citizens, and what would be the implications of this on his drive to achieve unity. Because simply put, achieving unity demands cooperation at the very least. The SONA should undoubtedly provide us with the answers to these questions. Its content, particularly the specifics, should give us a blueprint of the President’s interesting innovation in governance.