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An Imelda 2.0, even more powerful

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FIRST lady Liza Araneta-Marcos’ reputedly expensive public relations project — an hour-long interview with broadcaster Anthony Taberna — intended to portray her as a wife passionately protective of her husband’s dignity and as a no-nonsense, down-to-earth, apolitical President’s wife, has seriously backfired.

What emerged from her statements itself is an Imelda 2.0, the son’s version of his father’s globally famous wife who was the most powerful figure in Marcos Sr.’s 21-year rule. Perhaps the present first lady is even more powerful than her mother-in-law, as she herself disclosed in so many words — that she was responsible for surrounding her husband with his inner circle of “trusted, good men” and kicking out of Malacañang Victor Rodriguez, the most powerful official in the bureaucracy and her husband’s most trusted confidante. Is it in the Marcos DNA?

Beaming at broadcaster Anthony Taberna while being interviewed. Screengrab

She got her husband to appoint more than a dozen of her people in key posts that included heads of lucrative government corporations such as the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, a major revenue agency, a government bank, three Bureau of Customs’ district collectors, and even general-level posts in the Philippine military.

She even has her man, or “woman” to be precise, right in the Office of the President through Anna Liza Logan, the deputy executive secretary for legal affairs, who reports directly to the President and who can bypass Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin and the chief presidential legal counsel, Juan Ponce Enrile. Logan has been Mrs. Marcos’ most trusted lawyer, her earliest recruit in her law firm, Marcos Ochoa Serapio and Tan. Logan’s power is such that she ordered in January last year the lifting of a cease-and-desist order issued by the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources against a shadowy firm that was suspected of shipping nickel ore out of the country without a permit.

(To be fair, though, some of those that the first lady got appointed include her classmates at the Ateneo Law School and other close friends who so far appear to be competent in their jobs.)

Executive secretary

That she could remove Rodriguez, the President’s own choice as executive secretary, the most powerful post in the Marcos government, demonstrates the first lady’s vast power over her husband. The President had demonstrated his total trust in and closeness to Rodriguez, who headed his political and electoral machinery when he was the first official; he announced he would be running his bureaucracy just six weeks before his assumption to office. The course of events shows that she can even order her husband to throw even his most trusted man under the bus when his wife demands it.

This is in contrast to his father, who blocked all of Imelda’s pressures to remove his No. 2 official, Finance Secretary, and later Prime Minister Cesar Virata.

In her interview with Taberna, Mrs. Marcos confirmed she was responsible for booting out Rodriguez just two months after his appointment.

Rather than denying the report, when asked by Taberna about this, Mrs. Marcos answered: “My friend Baby Pineda (Pampanga governor from 2010 to 2019, and then vice governor, with her son as governor) advised me to be sure those in my husband’s inner circle are good people and loyal to him. So, that’s what I did.”

At odds

From the time of Marcos’ assumption into office and Rodriguez’s appointment as executive secretary, Mrs. Marcos was at odds with him. She blew her top reportedly as Rodriguez blocked her choices for important and lucrative posts in government, which she had already promised her friends. Mrs. Marcos apparently assumed that Rodriguez would not object to her choices in deference to the fact that she was, after all, the President’s spouse and even headed his campaign’s legal needs. She apparently had a list of people that she thought her husband would appoint without hesitation.

Rodriguez, however, objected to many of Mrs. Marcos’ recommendations, to the extent of even telling the President: “They’re crooks, and sooner or later they’ll damage your presidency.” Marcos, of course, relayed Rodriguez’s accusations to his wife, angering her no end.

At the end of the day, Mrs. Marcos got tired of arguing with Rodriguez and her husband that she wanted him totally out.

A well-financed, ruthless campaign was launched against Rodriguez, mainly alleging that he stole “hundreds of millions of pesos” from Marcos’ election war chest. I myself was given bank documents purportedly showing that Rodriguez, his wife, and even his in-laws had huge bank accounts accumulated from Marcos’ campaign. These, however, were hilariously so fake; one alleged bank report had a watermark that read “only samples” of financial statements posted on the internet.

A high-ranking officer of the Intelligence Services of the Armed Forces (ISAFP) who gave a security briefing for Marcos in January 2023 provided the President with a matrix on the personalities behind the massive smear campaign against Rodriguez, whom everyone knew was close to Mrs. Marcos. The general purposely did not show who was directing the campaign, but the President reportedly got the message that it was his wife all along. The next week, the general was relieved of his post.

Sacking

The sacking of the much-respected army officer and the reasons for it troubled the military so much that Mrs. Marcos released on January 7 that year an obviously rushed video statement (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LAYn88ZZb68) filmed at the Presidential Security Group compound) denying that she had anything to do with appointments or whatever was happening at the ISAFP. She said: “I have nothing to do with ISAFP, I don’t have anything to do with appointments there which leave to my husband. And if I find out someone is using my name, I shall tell my husband not to appoint you.”

Mrs. Liza Araneta-Marcos in a video clip in January 2023 denying she was responsible for changes in the leadership of ISAFP. (PSG chief at right.)

However, Marcos didn’t want to kick out Rodriguez that they thought of a way to keep him in Malacañang, while relieving Mrs. Marcos’ ire. Rodriguez would vacate his post of executive secretary, with this being given to someone else — who turned out a week later to be the former chief justice Lucas Bersamin. Rodriguez would be given the new post of chief of staff, which in the Philippine government structure has little official clout — he signs no document nor issues orders on behalf of the President — except for his day-to-day access to the President.

Marcos signed Rodriguez’s appointment papers as chief of staff just before he left on a visit on September 22 last year to the US, with a copy of the appointment even submitted to Malacañang’s Records Office. However, late in the evening the next day, Marcos called Rodriguez and ordered him to hold on to the appointment documents and retrieve them from the Records Office.

When the President returned on September 24, he called Rodriguez to a meeting and told him that he was recalling his appointment as chief of staff and told him to cool off until he could be put in some cushy job. Rodriguez was stunned. “I thought Marcos had totally decided for me to be chief of staff. For some compelling reason, the first lady obviously made him change his mind when they were together alone in the US,” Rodriguez said.

Friendly

On the same day, Mrs. Marcos called Taberna, who would interview her in an extremely friendly manner six months later, according to an audio tape played to the public by vlogger Maharlika the day after the broadcaster’s interview.

In a triumphalist tone, Mrs. Marcos revealed to Taberna what was still unknown to the public at the time: “No more chief of staff. No nothing. He’s packed his stuff. Out na siya. Don’t tell anyone I told you.” (Mrs. Marcos ended her conversation with Taberna with the words “love you,” which Maharlika claimed belied her and Taberna’s charade that the broadcaster and she were not friends and that he was doing an unbiased interview with her and not a scripted one to boost the first lady’s image.)

Mrs. Marcos may have herself given us a clue on how she could change the President’s mind so easily. In her Taberna interview, she made a pun of her “first lady” title, which, however, is only an unofficial title used mostly by media. She declared, “I am the Fierce Lady.”

Mrs. Liza Araneta-Marcos would be the first wife of a Philippine president to practically announce to the country and the world that she plays a huge role in government, especially in the appointment of key officials — for just being a spouse.

For being the President’s wife, and I think for being able to get him to appoint more than a dozen of his officials, Mrs. Marcos seems to feel entitled that she can insult the vice president, elected by 32 million Filipinos and the former president Duterte, both of whom were inarguably responsible for her husband’s election as president. The vice president hit the nail on the head when she said in a video statement that “as a human being, she (Mrs. Marcos) has the right to be angry at [me] … But this has nothing to do with my mandate as an official of this government.”

Who?

Political scientist and Manila Times columnist Malou Tiquia had a firm grasp of the political world when she asked Mrs. Marcos: “Who are you anyway? You’re not elected.” Tiquia showed with much research that she was the first among the spouses of 14 past presidents to be unbecoming in her actions and words. “No first lady has had a public meltdown so bad that it puts the institution of the presidency into question,” she wrote.

The only person to have had a roughly similar role was her mother-in-law, Imelda Marcos. However, legalistic as he was, Marcos Sr. gave her official governance posts, appointing her as the first governor of Metro Manila (from 1975 to the regime’s end in 1986) and Minister of Human Settlements (in 1978 until the regime’s toppling in 1986). She was elected member of parliament for Metropolitan Manila in 1978. However, with the temperament Mrs. Liza Araneta-Marcos demonstrated in her interview with Taberna, I don’t think she has the grace and elegance — much less Imelda’s famous charm and friendliness — to head any government post.

The almost-always clueless Sen. Bato de la Rosa dumbed down the controversy as “away ng mga babae,” denigrating it as a conflict between over-emotional women.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Nearly 40 years after the fall of the Marcos dictatorship, democracy has given us another conjugal regime. It worsens this President’s deep flaws in basic leadership at a time of an emerging economic crisis as a result of his misinformed, belligerent stance toward the superpower in our neighborhood.

I don’t think our fragile nation can afford a two-headed leadership at this time.


Facebook: Rigoberto Tiglao

X: @bobitiglao

My website: www.rigobertotiglao.com

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Cecille Chan

    I wonder if the Filipinos realize that it doesn’t matter who is in any of the government positions since they are all corrupt. None of them care about you, the little people. It’s infighting among the ruling elite. All they care about are power, profit, and control. Most of the population are unable to get the basic necessities of life, while our politicians live in luxury. Their daily quibbles is not about how to better your life, but how to maintain their power, profit, and control.

  2. Venette

    Good afternoon, a very well said. Thank you.

  3. Dorina S. Rojas

    I used to admire Imelda because of her beauty and elegance for many years they were in power. This time, though, I cannot find anything nice about this Liza Marcos. She is the only one who thinks she is cute. It makes me puke.

  4. andrejing

    The President is one that we call here in the Visayas as, “Sulundong Bana.”

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