This Week in Media (May 16 to 20, 2022)

All eyes on the incoming Marcos Jr. administration

THE RETURN of a Marcos to Malacañang may not be official as yet, but media have been alert to developments as the presumptive President-elect Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. prepares for his term of office. Two days after election day, he appointed his running mate and presumptive Vice President-elect Sara Duterte as Education secretary. Reports were quick to gather sources from the sector questioning the decision, raising concerns not just about Duterte’s qualifications but on the possible institutionalization of historical revisionism.

News accounts promptly reported the red-tagging of publication company, Adarna House, by the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency and the NTF-ELCAC, after it announced the availability for sale of children’s books on the Martial law regime. Media also reported on May 16 that the Palace website was inaccessible, as flagged by Manolo Quezon III, a former undersecretary for Presidential Communications under the Aquino administration. The Presidential Museum and Library clarified in a statement that the site’s contents remain intact and it was only undergoing updates. The website remains inaccessible as of press time.

The preservation of literature and information on the Marcos years is just one of the public concerns reflected in the news. Some online print and online reports have pointed to investors’ lack of certainty or confidence since the incoming administration has not yet provided a concrete economic roadmap. pointed out that around this time in 2016, then President-elect Rodrigo Duterte has already named members of his economic team and has provided his eight-point economic agenda. Citing Atty. Michael Henry Yusingco, a fellow at the Ateneo Policy Center, reported that Duterte had it easy since “many technocrats and political figures” were willing to trust and work for him, but the same cannot be said for Marcos Jr. Aside from Sara Duterte, only Benhur Abalos, former chair of the Metro Manila Development Authority, has been confirmed to join Marcos Jr.’s Cabinet as Interior Secretary.

The three-day trip of the Marcos family to Australia this week did little to inspire confidence in a swift and smooth transition. Philippine media seemed to have been oblivious about the departure of President-to-be for a foreign country, until Australian media reported that Filipinos in Melbourne protested outside a heavily-guarded apartment complex where the family was staying. 

Only on May 17 did Marcos’ spokesperson Vic Rodriguez confirm to the media that his principal was out of the country for “much-needed rest and vacation” and to enjoy his remaining days as a private citizen. Rodriguez also called out those who protested, calling the behavior shameful. Rappler emphasized that the timing of the trip mattered because of pending government business that Marcos still needed to attend to.

Meanwhile, two groups have elevated to the Supreme Court (SC) their petitions, one to void the candidacy and another to disqualify Marcos Jr. Citing the petitions filed by representatives of Task Force Detainees of the Philippines and of the Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses and Martial Law, reports noted that if granted by the SC, the candidate with the second highest number of votes would be declared the winner of the presidential elections.

A new Congress

Media which scarcely reported on the candidates for Congress are now closely following those who won seats in the House and Senate. Reports noted that Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez, cousin of Marcos Jr., is poised to be the next House Speaker. In a Manila Bulletin report, Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte claimed that 278 or almost 95 percent of reelectionists and new representatives have expressed support for Romualdez. Reports have been noting which political parties and party-list representatives are backing him.

News organizations covered the proclamation of the top twelve senators on May 18. Reports noted which among them were first-time senators, re-electionists (serving second consecutive term) or returning senators (served in the Senate before 2019/18th Congress). News accounts identified family connections among the winners with some pointing out that this is first time that three sets of family members will serve together in the Senate: Cynthia Villar and son Mark, siblings Alan Peter and Pia Cayetano, and half-brothers Jinggoy Estrada and JV Ejercito.

Journalists also noted leadership positions as well as committee chairmanships and memberships being eyed by the senators. The Senate President has to get least 13 out of 24 votes. Reports named Miguel Zubiri and Cynthia Villar as strong contenders. Rappler noted that since both Zubiri and Villar endorsed Marcos Jr., Marcos could expect support from either one.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer said among the 24 senators, only two — Risa Hontiveros and Koko Pimentel — can be considered to represent the opposition or minority. Citing Senate sources, ABS-CBN had sources who said the Cayetano siblings are likely to join the minority bloc given their animosity with the Marcoses.

The Inquirer added, “No one has signified interest in heading the powerful Senate committee on good government and accountability, or the Senate blue ribbon committee, which is generally handled by a lawyer.”

Media must keep track of the new political landscape and be alert to inform the public about early policy decisions. As Marcos Jr. still makes himself scarce to journalists, newsrooms must find ways of keeping close watch of the second Marcos President, holding up all relevant matters in the public light so people can be engaged in the evaluation of his leadership. Good journalism has a way of generating an abundance of reports coming from different media organizations. Vigorous reporting expands the scope of knowledge and information so as to empower citizens to participate in public affairs, promoting the kind of government service they deserve. 

The early days of an incoming administration provides several indicators of future performance. The media cannot afford to sit back, not with the country still under severe multiple crises of health, economy and human rights.