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Opinion

Beyond the elections

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

So, is the boxing match all but over? Tapos na ba ang boksing?

If the surveys prove accurate, it is. But it looks like certain groups are gearing for sustained battles beyond the elections, for accountability, an end to lies and disinformation, good governance and a better Philippines.

The camp of Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, for one, is reportedly set to file a petition in court for a writ of mandamus, to compel the Bureau of Internal Revenue to collect from frontrunner Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. the P23 billion owed by his family in estate tax (now reportedly ballooned to an estimated P203 billion, with interests and fees over two decades).

Ernest Ramel, chairman of presidential aspirant Yorme Isko’s Aksyon Demokratiko party, says such a case won’t be covered by presidential immunity from suit, in case the surveys prove correct and Ferdinand Marcos 2.0 becomes reality.

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A sitting president, of course, has many weapons in his arsenal to prevent the loss of such a family fortune, whether ill-gotten or discovered in a treasure hunt. Just the promise of promotion or appointment to a cushy post-retirement job (or perhaps an attractive share in P23 billion) can easily blind a magistrate (or a Comelec official) to tax laws and our cash-strapped nation’s dire need for those billions in estate tax.

Still, we will await the outcome of Yorme Isko’s efforts to give the taxman his due – if the petition is filed while he is in his final push for the presidency.

Moreno bested Joseph Estrada and Alfredo Lim for the mayor’s post in 2019, despite surveys by one of the pop-up polling firms (they pop up during election season) showing him consistently lagging Erap. So Moreno has not lost hope that he has the support of a “silent majority” sick of the decades-old battle between the Marcoses and their traditional enemies.

There is an undercurrent of a similar message in Sen. Panfilo Lacson’s campaign, although he has avoided any direct reference to the yellows and kakampinks.

Moreno, being relatively still a spring chicken, and deeply offended by calls from the kakampinks to give way to their standard bearer (followed by attacks when he refused), could sustain the message all the way to the midterm elections in 2025.

Bongbong Marcos surely has provided inspiration to politicians on the virtue of patient determination: if at first you don’t succeed, just try, try again.

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The Marcoses undoubtedly have been working for their family’s full vindication as soon as they set foot in Hawaii instead of the dictator’s hometown of Paoay, Ilocos Norte on that fateful day in February 1986. (By some accounts, they resented being misled and kidnapped by those nasty Americans.)

BBM’s campaign is being closely watched by those who are seeing the impact of information manipulation using social media. The concern about fake news and disinformation is global, as we are seeing in recent official statements released by the United Nations, the World Health Organization and even Pope Francis.

The Europeans have been after social media giants for a long time for freeloading (and making tons of money) on content generated by mainstream media. Unregulated, open digital platforms that allow anonymity were also quickly mastered and used by lowlifes for all sorts of criminal activities, from terrorism to financial fraud, e-commerce scams, human and drug trafficking, and online sexual exploitation of children. Global watchdogs have pointed to the Philippines as one of the hot spots for OSEC.

Information control has always been used to perpetuate authoritarian regimes and suppress dissent. But digital technology has made this exponentially easier.

Americans have intensified their scrutiny of the use (or misuse) of social media for political purposes since Donald Trump’s ascent to power.

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In our case, the Marcos camp fully appreciated the influence of social media in Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign for the presidency in 2016. When Bongbong Marcos lost the battle for the vice presidency to Leni Robredo by the skin of his teeth, he licked his wounds and worked tirelessly for the bigger battle ahead.

It wasn’t as if the nation wasn’t warned; long before the pandemic, his mom Imeldific openly hoped on several occasions that her only son and dearly departed husband’s namesake would one day become president.

For the past six years, we’ve seen the sustained work of trolls, paid influencers and mass media hacks in spreading lies, hate messages, fake news and disinformation while extolling their clients to the heavens. This type of sustained operation needs vast resources.

We’re now seeing a spirited pushback, although much belated, powered it seems by socmed-savvy youths worried about their future.

The energy behind the pushback is likely to be sustained beyond election day. A presidency built on lies, disinformation, opaqueness, tax dodging and money laundering will face perpetual turbulence.

One campaign promise of the UniTeam that is guaranteed to be unattainable is national unity. The nation is so deeply polarized that even children are openly denouncing their parents’ politics. The children’s lamentations about their elders remind us of the “banality of evil” that a Jew who fled Nazi Germany referred to in reporting on the trial of Holocaust war criminal Adolf Eichmann.

Those who are presenting themselves as the middle forces, between the two major warring camps, are also likely to continue pursuing their message of being the alternative, all the way to the next elections.

Alongside the continuing political battles will be the movements to stop the tsunami of lies and disinformation.

When all the votes are counted, the fat lady can sing her heart out, but this battle won’t be over.

BUREAU OF INTERNAL REVENUE

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