Sass Rogando Sasot - THE BIG BANG OF BBM

20 November 2020

By Sass Rogando Sasot

The result of the 2016 elections demonstrated that BBM is a formidable force in Philippine politics. Let's assume that Leni would win the electoral protest filed by BBM. Leni's margin of victory is the lowest we ever had in the vice presidential race post-EDSA II. The brilliant GMA still holds the most stellar margin of victory record of a vice president candidate.

300,000 Leni vs BBM
800,000 Binay vs Roxas
over 800,000 De Castro vs Legarda
7 million - GMA vs Angara
2 million - Estrada vs Fernan

Decades of demonization of the Marcoses didn't stop BBM from rising. When Marcos Sr was buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani in 2016 without any sustained upheaval, this effectively weakened the force of the power of the narrative of absolute villainization of the Marcoses inculcated on us in our history textbooks since our elementary years. In 2019 senatorial elections, the Marcos burial didn’t even become a significant rallying point of the opposition against President Duterte. It's, by all means, a fait accompli. And the overwhelming failure of the opposition to win even a single seat in the senate put a nail on the coffin of the politics of trauma. The thing about absolutes is they lose their power over time. People's curiosity would eventually kill that cat and venture more in the area between absolute villainization and absolute admiration. And that area is exactly where BBM’s big bang would burst forth.

Name. The power associated with name factored in the 2016 rivalry between Leni and BBM. Leni's rise is mainly due to her husband's almost spotless name. And what's obstructing BBM’s further rise is his father’s chequered name. But the bane and boon of name have an expiration date. Leni already fully exhausted it in 2016 and there’s nothing much else she can do to bank on invoking the name of her dead husband. And there’s nothing much anti-Marcoses can do to further villainise the Marcoses. After our name is our own achievements as an individual independent from the name we appended from our partner and inherited from our family. So in a way, Leni and BBM face the same political coming of age moment — a transition from being simply an extension of somebody else.

So far, Leni is trying to achieve that by trying to create a narrative that she has always been there to fill the absence of the president, not in the table of decision making but on the ground where the president is only expected to appear to satisfy people’s media-created desire for a star. It’s going to be an uphill battle for Leni to demonstrate if she can actually govern because she hasn’t governed at any level of government. It was her husband who did. And being a symbol of “hope,” which her PR team tirelessly creates as her role in this administration, is not governance. It isn’t even close to the real essence of governance, and that is making hard decisions that simultaneously bring light and cast a shadow on other people’s lives.

And this is BBM’s edge against Leni. BBM’s stint as governor of Ilocos Norte would speak for itself. The most notable thing he did was in the field of sustainable energy. Ilocos Norte is home to the Bangui and Burgos wind farms, admired both for their aesthetics and pioneering stature, not just in our country but in Southeast Asia. One of my friends working in the field of sustainable energy, who is also staunchly anti-Marcos, was actually the one who informed me about this. Thus, though they hate to admit it, the people who hate BBM can still admire him for what he accomplished for his province. BBM’s governance record is not built on “filling a void” but on the decisions he made with the power he was given by his constituents. He delivered results that would have a lasting impact on his constituents, while the lady of Naga delivered relief goods, which is admirable in its own right but its allure is as perishable as the cans of sardines and bags of rice they contain.

Thus, if the 2022 election debates would revolve around policy issues and practicalities of governance, Leni’s PR team would have a nightmare. I’ve watched several interviews with BBM and he has a good grasp of the practical dimensions of different issues of statecraft. No motherhood statements — just a matter-of-fact discussion of the problem and their possible solutions - pragmatic, level-headed, and sharp.

The very loyal following of BBM will carry him through. If you revisit the result of the 2016 elections, he simply dominated a lot of provinces in Luzon, where he won by an overwhelming majority. This is also the case in the National Capital Region, despite it being the control center of groups armed with the politics of trauma of the Marcos years.

So is the presidency his destiny? That depends on how he will play the cards he was dealt with by life. If he falls into the trap of his adversary to make him simply a defender of his father, then he would get stuck in an endless loop of sweetening its bitter ashes. He cannot change that he is his father’s son, but that doesn’t mean he cannot become his own man. His adversary will always use the shadow of his father against him. He can choose to remain in the confines of that shadow or, to use Walt Whitman’s words, “face always toward the sunshine” to make “the shadows fall behind you.” His vision for the Philippines expressed in the most concrete way, for what it could become in the most achievable way if he could be at its helm can be that sunshine. Destiny may be written in the stars, but it’s what we do with the stardusts that turns destiny into reality. Sometimes we turn stardusts into books, cars, roads. Sometimes into wind farms turning air into electricity that invigorates everyday life way more than mere platitudes ever could.