The challenge that President Marcos faces

PRESIDENT Ferdinand Marcos Jr. returns from his trip to the United States an energetic man who has just pulled off not only a diplomatic coup but a press coup on a global scale. During the election campaign and even when he was already president, according to a January 10, 2022 statement by veteran journalist Marites Vitug and published by Rappler, critics have been holding banners declaring that he cannot go to the United States. Their argument was that with a standing warrant out for his arrest, he would be arrested the moment he set foot on US soil.

That’s the problem with people who constantly see the world through their partisan glasses. They are clouded by their prejudices for failing to take into account that President Marcos, as head of state, would be immune from arrest. And at the very least, and even if such immunity didn’t even exist, they didn’t take into account that the US government would not be reckless and foolish in fomenting a political war with a sovereign country, let alone one they consider as their ally Considered and friend, at a time when the US needs us on their side as they face the Chinese threat this side of the Pacific.

In our discipline we call it political reality or realpolitik.

So there was our President, standing tall on the United Nations podium and being swarmed by a flattering Filipino crowd in New Jersey, effectively negating those who wished he would not and could not travel to the United States, and those who who are petty about the sparse audience he got at the UN as if it were different than what some other leaders like Emmanuel Macron got in France.

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This, to the chagrin of some foreign observers and their like-minded peers here at home. They cannot reconcile the warmth shown by Filipinos in the US with their belief that Marcos won the election solely due to disinformation and falsification by trolls who fabricated his image. That’s what they get when they view Filipino politics from the comfort of their armchairs, newsrooms and academic monasteries, all fed only by the flow of one-sided views from their usual and comfortable sources, without the dark side of the beast called them, entirely to understand Filipino voters.

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If there is one event that can truly represent the far-reaching reach of the President’s legitimacy, it would be the show of power seen through the presence of almost every significant figure in Filipino business, including the country’s wealthiest and those who lead our largest Corporate Conglomerates, during his speech at the New York Economic Forum, held at the New York Stock Exchange. This is a rare achievement, to say the least. His meeting with US President Joe Biden was just the icing on the cake.

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To say that the President’s trip to the United States was a symbolic success would be an understatement. He would need that wind under his wings to address some serious issues he was facing at home.

First up is the controversy surrounding the resignation of his executive secretary, Victor Rodriguez, which is not necessarily a major disruption to his political framework for government, but could prove damaging in terms of its impact on his style of government or the way he operates his ship in Malacañang .

It’s a common perception that backs are being flexed to make room for Rodriguez. In fact, many wonder why he couldn’t just resign irrevocably to spare the president another headache. This is because people are seeing that his departure from the office of executive secretary and filling a yet-to-be-created office of chief of staff was not as graceful or as uneventful as it should have been.

Aside from that, he was accompanied by an unprecedented leak of confidential information from the palace, including the orders drafted by Rodriguez himself, which would originally have given him sweeping powers even in his new post, and the confidential memorandum that the president’s legal adviser, Juan Ponce Enrile, having broadcast against this one move, there were also policy-related issues that sunk deep into the President’s consequence. For one, while the President issued a directive to downsize the government by shedding its excess fat and eliminating redundant jobs, here we are witnessing the spectacle of an old office that was previously abolished and is now being revived.

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Even Enrile foresaw the problem of having at least three offices that might have similar or overlapping functions. We now have Rodriguez as chief of staff with Anton as special assistant and whoever is appointed as executive secretary to replace Rodriguez. There is also the Administrative Staff of the President of Zenaida Angping, although her office is known for conducting technical reviews of policies and programs and may therefore have a clearer boundary of jurisdiction.

Considering that anything that comes out of the arrangements would inevitably carry the impression of presidential imprimatur, it is foolish to even suggest that Rodriguez is going about his merry way without the president’s approval. And here the president finds himself in a difficult position as there is now a perception that he is not ready to let go of Rodriguez, even if it means putting him against a wall that could damage his image as a leader.

To be fair to the President, he is known for a leadership style that avoids direct controversy, preferring to let the dynamics of politics take their natural course. He did so during the election campaign, surviving even the most destructive criticism. He’s the kind of manager who digs through and even treats everything as a policy or decision-making experiment, encouraged by the fact that what wouldn’t bring him down only makes him stronger. My guess is that he’s probably testing the limits of tolerance for Rodriguez not just from his own team but from the wider public.

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