First of Two Parts
KUDOS to two colleagues of mine in this paper – columnists Charlie Manalo and Al Vitangcol — for revealing for the first time what heretofore had been only rumors: the huge, even decisive, role of First Lady Marie Louise (“Liza”) Araneta-Marcos in President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr.’s presidency.
Charlie in his column all but confirmed that it was the First Lady who was responsible for the removal, disguised as “resignations,” of former Executive Secretary Victor Rodriguez and Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles.
Because of the fact that I could not get anybody to be quoted on it, I had never mentioned her name nor even hinted at her identity, referring to her only as “the one who cannot be named,” and the issue of her role in this presidency, as the elephant in the room nobody wanted to discuss. To be frank though it was also because of some timidity that I didn’t. Charlie and Al are bolder than me. A scoop they courageously wrote.
Coincidentally or not, the two writers’ columns were published on the same day, Oct. 15, 2022, which amplified their single message, that the First Lady is good, there is just a demolition job against her. Some would maliciously interpret the simultaneous publication as indication that that it was a PR or defensive job.
It was Charlie, who joined this newspaper only last month, who in effect first referred to, inadvertently, the current First Lady as “Imelda 2.0,” i.e, the new upgrade of the strongman’s wife Imelda Marcos.
Indeed, Charlie compares Imelda to Mrs. Marcos, Jr. right in his column’s title: “A demolition job [against present first lady] Araneta-Marcos inspired by the Imelda hatchet job.” Charlie’s thesis is that just as “Imelda Marcos was blamed for everything bad during martial law,” that she was even mainly responsible for the strongman’s fall, there has been an “Imelda Hatchet Job 2.0” against Araneta-Marcos. Apparently, Charlie hadn’t thought of what readers would immediately think: “If there is an “Imelda Hatchet Job 2.0”, there must be an “Imelda 2.0,” right?”
Charlie wrote in his column that the “hatchet job” involved the claim that it was the (current) First Lady “who effected the removal of two of the most controversial members of BBM’s official family.” You’d be living in another universe if you can’t identify that these two officials are former Executive Secretary Victor Rodriguez and Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles.
Charlie gives me a big headache though. If that was merely a demolition job against the First Lady, that she wasn’t responsible at all, then who could have convinced Marcos to take out his most trusted official? Rodriguez and Angeles simply fell by the wayside?
In his column Charlie also has another revelation, made indirectly of course, which I myself didn’t know. It was the First Lady who got construction tycoon Jose Acuzar of San Jose Builders, to be appointed secretary of the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development, aka “the housing czar.” That raised a lot of eyebrows in the industry, since Acuzar’s “low-cost” housing project along the railroad lines in Manila during the Fidel Ramos regime to this day is a total eyesore, with nearly all of the units sold by the original poor recipients.
Charlie gives an explanation (from the First Lady’s critics, he qualifies) for Acuzar’s appointment: “He was an in-law of her former partner in her law firm.” The partner is Paquito Ochoa (yes, Benigno Aquino 3rd’s executive secretary) in their MOST (Marcos, Ochoa, Serapio and Tan) law office, one of the most powerful law firms during the Aquino 3rd regime. I think that certainly explains Acuzar’s appointment.
Other than Acuzar, Charlie wrote that “LAM [the First Lady’s initials, which those close to her use to refer to her] is also being accused of exerting pressure in the appointment of several officials said to be close to her. While Charlie did not name which posts these were, my sources claim these include top posts in two major government-owned and -controlled corporations, whose chairman, general manager and board members have high salaries or honoraria.
Al Vitangcol’s column (“First lady in the cross-hairs of vloggers’ intrigues”) has a similar thrust, this time claiming that those undertaking the hatchet job against the First Lady are vloggers, or those who create videos and post them on digital platforms, such as YouTube. (These vloggers owe Al a lot as he inadvertently introduced them to the general public — “Maharlika,” “Pebbles,” and “Sass Sasot.” I had never heard of the first two, but Al made me check out their vlogs, which I will follow from now on.)
Al is undoubtedly a fan of the First Lady: his column’s first sentence quotes a noted English writer, that “every great man has a woman behind her.”
However, if the First Lady has a fan like Al, hatchet men against her will no longer have jobs to do. For more than half of his column, Al quotes three vloggers bashing her. He even quotes one blogger, his translation from Filipino: “Vlogger Maharlika assumed that a certain “lady snake” is using Taning (Thinking Pinoy, TP) and Tunying (Anthony Taberna) to destroy those who are close to the President. The said lady snake gives access to and feeds TP with the applications received in Malacañang, which Maharlika questioned.” I bet Taning and Tunying blew their top with this LAM defender’s putting into public awareness their alleged ‘usage’.
It is amazing that Al, a lawyer, didn’t realize how utterly foolish it is to transcribe rantings in a vlog or blog, and give these the legitimacy of being published in a newspaper column and in its internet.
It is Charlie though who outrightly identifies who the ‘Lady Snake” is that the vlogger was referring to: “To come up with the harshest description they could concoct against the first lady, her critics called her “Ang babaeng ahas sa Palasyo.” Charlie strives to show his admiration for the First Lady, writing: “According to everyone’s friend Google, snakes symbolize fertility, rebirth, healing medicine and even power.”
To be honest, as I read the two columns, I wondered if the columnists were just being sarcastic, seemingly praising LAM but really criticizing her role in Marcos’ government, by exposing it.
Nope. They were in utter adulation of her. I nearly fell off my seat with Al’s justification of LAM’s interference in Marcos’ government as mandated by God himself: “Sarah demanded that her husband Abraham oust a member of their personal staff and God instructed Abraham: ‘Whatever Sarah tells you, heed her voice… ‘Genesis 21:12.”
Charlie writes: “Maybe she is just protective of her president-husband from being taken advantage of by anyone. And that is expected from any family member. Well, if she really is influencing BBM’s actions, maybe she is doing a good job then.”
Al, a lawyer, looks for a justification for LAM’s role in his law library: “An old article in the Vanderbilt Law Review reads: ‘Undoubtedly, the President’s wife exerts, at the very least, a behind-the-scenes influence over her husband outside the practical operation of law. History is replete with examples of powerful wives who have wielded an influence that only one spouse can have over another.” Why would Al argue first ladies’ powerful influence over presidents, if not to justify the reports that she [Araneta-Marcos] was responsible for Rodriguez and Angeles’ firing?
However, Al should read more Philippine history than law. In the entire history of our Republic only one president (and none in US history) had his spouse play a major role in running government, and this is Ferdinand Marcos. In the early years of martial law, Imelda — especially with her statuesque, beauteous looks – helped tremendously in building up the benign image of Marcos’ martial law. She even built institutions that Filipinos (including me) benefit from to this day, such as the Heart, Kidney, and Lung Centers and the huge Bagong Lipunan General Hospital, which Cory Aquino ordered to be renamed East Avenue General Hospital.
After she assumed major roles in Marcos’ government though – governor of Metro Manila, Minister of Human Settlements, and then representative to the Interim Batasang Pambansa (National Congress) representing Metro Manila – she gradually became a huge liability that he couldn’t solve. Memes like “conjugal dictatorship” became viral. Marcos’ core of leadership splintered into two factions, those loving Imelda and those hating her, each blocking the other’s programs to develop the country.
Imelda though couldn’t remove in nine years of trying, Finance and then Prime Minister Cesar Virata, Marcos most trusted official but whom she hated like hell.
In comparison, LAM got to remove Rodriguez, Marcos Jr.’s most trusted and highest official, in just 76 days of his appointment as Executive Secretary. I really and sincerely hope for my grandson and his generation’s sake that that aphorism of history repeating itself is just baloney.