By Getsy Tiglao
While former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos is still tied to his election protest before the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, one of his rivals from the vice-presidential race of 2016, Alan Peter Cayetano, is quickly burnishing his image as a public official and significantly, as a key ally of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
Cayetano has filled a lacuna in the executive department, that of a supportive and competent second-in-command, a post that was abandoned by Vice President Leni Robredo when she decided to openly oppose the policies of President Duterte. It was a political death blow for Robredo when she was kicked out of the Cabinet; her falling public ratings confirm her status as a political has-been.
In contrast, Cayetano has been able to transform himself from the senator everyone loved to hate into one who is almost likable, certainly more popular now that he has become one of Duterte’s loyal lieutenants. Cayetano undoubtedly was fearless in taking on almost everyone that he sees as not conforming to a moral universe, from Arroyo to Enrile to Binay to De Lima to Trillanes. His dogged persistence was irritating if he wasn’t on your side. But if he was battling your perceived enemies, sit back and see how he drives them nuts.
Earlier it looked as if it was Marcos who would stand-in as Duterte’s political surrogate. The President has admitted to being friends with the Marcos family, with his father Vicente having served in the pre-martial law cabinet of former President Ferdinand Marcos as secretary for general services. Duterte has also acknowledged the help of Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos in his 2016 campaign.
A Cabinet position for Marcos Jr. was widely expected after the one-year ban on candidates had elapsed. The position of Interior and Local Government Secretary was seen as perfect for Marcos, but Duterte appointed instead Armed Forces chief of staff Gen. Eduardo Año. The Labor portfolio was also reportedly being eyed by Marcos. However, it is unlikely that Duterte would remove its current head Silvestre Bello III, who has strong ties with the labor and left-wing groups.
Marcos’ chances of getting appointed to the Cabinet get slimmer by the day. Meanwhile, he is losing valuable time in building himself up as a national leader, and especially now that he is out of the Senate, he has lost a public platform to project his ideas and allow the public to get to know him beyond his famous last name.
Marcos seems to be concentrating his efforts on his electoral protest against Robredo, but it will take years before a decision is issued by the PET. It is perhaps time for Marcos to let go of his reticence and ask Duterte for the post in government where he sincerely believes he can be of most use.
Both Solicitor General Jose Calida and Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II have opined, citing previous court rulings, that Marcos need not abandon his protest against Robredo even if he is appointed to the Cabinet. The most recent precedent to support this argument was Mar Roxas’ appointment to the helm of Transportation despite his then ongoing poll protest against former Vice President Jojo Binay.
Great leaders are great communicators. This is something that Marcos with his reserve and Robredo with her incoherence should learn how to do if they wish to lead the country one day.
Cayetano has no such problems asserting himself. While still in the Senate, the overachiever was already joining the foreign sorties of President Duterte. He also successfully defended the Philippines before the United Nations Human Rights Council, which had been very critical of the government’s strong but effective campaign against crime and illegal drugs.
It was no mean feat to face all those Agnes Callamard-types at the UNHRC who are predisposed to believing the fake and erroneous data being peddled by opposition groups out to destabilize the country. Cayetano pointedly told the UN Council: “One, there is no state-sponsored killing in the Philippines. Two, there is no sudden wave of killings.” Blunt and true. If there is anyone who can infuriate the obnoxious human rights officials, it is Cayetano.
Only 47 but already an old hand in Philippine politics (three-term congressman, two-term senator), Cayetano placed third in the 2016 elections after teaming up with the Mindanaoan juggernaut, Rodrigo Duterte. He received only 5.9 million votes last year, small compared with Marcos’ 14 million, but it was enough to lift him into the political stratosphere. After a year of practicising to be head diplomat, Cayetano got the Cabinet position promised to him, that of Foreign Affairs Secretary.
Just a day into his job, Cayetano had visited the passport office and made a good impression on the Filipino overseas workers who were lining up, he noted, for five hours just to get a passport. Later he was seen kneeling down in prayer at his department’s flag-raising ceremony, an act of excessive righteousness that did not belong in a secular government. Already, people are impressed and annoyed at the same time.
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