"We'd be welcoming on stage former senator Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., but he has declined our invitation, but we will leave his podium here on stage”, so said Pinky Webb as the camera slowly zoomed in on the empty podium that bore the name of the malingering candidate.
There is news on the matter of Marcos appearing in debates every single day, and that is no exaggeration. They have managed to ensconce the subject topmost in the mind of the voter. The news vary little: that he will not attend, that the format has to be agreed upon, that the COMELEC is waiting with 'bated breath' for a response, that the entire slate will not attend, and that the sister is prodding him to join 'a few', that the campaign manager would like to discuss formats first, and, late breaking before publication, that he is not attending because 'they keep asking the same questions'.
If keeping it in the public mind vividly is a strategy, then they have been successful.
“So ganito, ako ‘yung inutusan ni Bongbong Marcos to write a letter sa lahat ng presidentiable at sa Comelec na pagusapan ano ang format ng debate,” Abalos said when asked about Marcos Jr.’s attendance to the Comelec-sponsored debate.
But why the dread of debates? Or why is it crucial to remain tightlipped and taciturn, equivocating when prevailed upon?
Firstly, the candidate has a short shelf life.
Unlike the current president whose popularity has soared despite debacles, foot-in-mouth incidents, after challenges to human rights that have caught the attention of the world, and despite his administration being buffeted by man-made and natural disasters, the Marcos scion is no Teflon Candidate. His protection is cellophane-thin as a wisp.
It does feel that the people who shape his campaign messaging have his words carefully chosen to skew to the agreed and safe.
The apparent worry is that he will be found out, and sooner than later, should he talk too much.
Secondly, he has difficulty in communicating.
On many occasions, he has appeared bumbling, inelegant and superficial, making the inadequacy of stock knowledge apparent.
This is no Ferdinand E. Marcos, this is not a man with the gift of gab, who can stand stentorian on stage. Though he does try, with obviously studied poses.
Communications-wise, it was a good decision for Marcos not to join the GMA interview. Jessica Soho asks the unasked. In a previous interview with her, he was uncomfortable, unable to put words together to shape credible answers. Here he blamed Martial Law abuses, deaths and disappearances on drunken soldiers.
Everybody else needs debates and the exposure and chances to gain ground. The dictator’s son does not. You'd recommend against debates if your candidate were ahead by this much. He can well afford to lose points for not attending. The campaign would suffer more if he stumbled in the last stretch.
One distinct difference between a supermarket product and a political candidate is that a candidate can open his mouth, say the wrong thing and shoot himself in the foot.
Thirdly, he is scared of the format that allows the surprise.
We all have secrets. All the other candidates have transgressions known to the world, their quirks are seen and whispered about, their problems with significant others; we have all heard about the soiled sheets of transgressions, real or manufactured. Right now, they all do not matter.
What matters is that they are old, evidence and the lack thereof is in the vomit the day after.
Nobody labors at washing off "damned spots". While Lacson's attempt at explaining why he stayed out of the reach of the long arm of the law seems like a stretch, it does not matter; Pacquiao's tax woes are a bore; and Sotto's Pepsi Paloma is an albatross that has lost weight having been discussed through decades.
Skeletons in closets.
The world has investigated Marcos extensively and intensively, the foibles and billions and buildings of this fascinatingly evil family are, in Enteng Romano's words, "well documented". We have seen what the courts have examined, the documents and aliases and testimonies of cronies. We have seen the bones already white as powder, littered about, the issues he and admirers now brush aside as decades old ('matagal na yun', 'look to the future'), and, with typical howaboutism, ('eh, bakit ang Mamasapano?', 'Ang Yolanda funds?')
That he did not graduate from Oxford? His people now say 'neither did Bill Gates and the tech leaders of the world'.
Marcos though stands tense, guarding closets. And if President Rodrigo Roa Duterte is to be believed, those closets need heavy locks.
Duterte pulled one such skeleton out, and it is little disguised:
Bakit ang Pilipino parang lokong-loko na supporting? Magtanong lang ako sa inyo, ano ang ginawa niyan? Nagdrodroga ‘yan ng cocaine. Ang tirada niyan, lahat dito sa Maynila, pati sa Davao, isang grupo ‘yan.
("Why are Filipinos crazy in their support? Let me ask you, what has he done? He does cocaine. That’s what they take, in Manila and in Davao, they’re just one group.")
One rehearses how to answer difficult questions, how to explain away rumors and transgressions. The fear is if someone pulls a skeleton or twenty out of closets.
Inspired by a movie where an ex-convict gets a second chance to make something of his life, he springs it on his wife: "And then he looked at me and he goes, 'Okay, we're gonna do this.' I said, 'Do what?' 'Run for the presidency'," narrated Lisa Marcos on television.
When a decision is made at the spur of the moment, things will be forgotten. Like the secrets of his closets. So now he is hoping nobody will attempt to know what else President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and the intelligence agencies of the country already know.
Watch Cayetano spring a skeleton, with names and details and context, watch Marcos's pain and discomfort.
When he was asked about the gold that has always been associated with the family, he replied that he hasn't seen any, that he has never seen any gold in all his life, an unusually exaggerated response, so, as expected, someone produced a video juxtaposing his answer and that of his mother's.
Here lies the rub: A position on any matter will contradict past positions, past pronouncements, of his or those of his blathering mother and sister; hence they see avoidance as best. Even after winning, the past is fair game and will be used by the opposition, and this is a family that is well-documented, their words and actions recorded by local and world courts, local and world media.
His most important task during the campaign period: not to injure the legend that he is leaning on.
Let's face it, the voter – the customer – is not 'buying' Marcos based on hardsell, for his plans for the country. It is all heartsell, all about the myth, the name, the yearning for what they hear and believe was a better time for the country.
Ang tabang. He did allow one interview which even a Marcos advocate would have found tepid. Unsalted.
The questions were safe and sleepy, the answers were “hindi ko alam”, “hindi ko pa naisip", “bahala na ang taumbayan”, nasagot ko na lahat iyan", "huwag na nating pag-usapan ang nakaraan", and other similarly insipid responses. And he was allowed to get away with avoidance.
My mother once told me that a hankering of parents is that children and grandchildren be "improvements on the original". That is how she put it -- "improvements". We should be better than they were.
This explains why parents worry so, why they would rather that children "marry well", for genes that make for brighter offspring, and that they "marry rich", so they can afford better schools.
It is a given that Marcos Junior is no "improvement on the original", in fact, he is nowhere near the calibre of the forbear.
It must be such a burden to soar on the strength of a legend and know that you are heading for a fall.
Already the veneer has chinks and cracks, and they are more than just visible. The lack of substance is apparent, his clarion call or message for national unity is worn and torn and tiresome, and will wither under questioning.
OVERHEARD from a Marcos advocate
The fear is not what he might do, the faults and fumbles and faux pas during the campaign. The fear is for the past, for a skeleton suddenly sprung in a debate. Barring those, barring surprises large enough to trip him up, the supposed junior will be president of a people high on hope of gold and regaining a mythical glorious time. The supposed junior, the man bearing the name sanctified up north will disappoint, inevitably; he will fail and fade, and people will say what I have heard uttered in a sneer by someone who loves the old man, "tama lang na tawagin siyang BBM, dahil hindi Marcos iyan, wala siyang Marcos na galing."
Maybe then the skeletons will stop rapping behind the closet doors, but I doubt a past so dark, so large, so well-known can be shushed by a victory at the polls. /vrp
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