Why is a potentially massive public event in support of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.’s brand of governance seemingly shrouded in secrecy and deception?
On Sunday, Jan. 28, a kick-off rally for the Bagong Pilipinas campaign will be held at the Quirino Grandstand in Rizal Park, Manila. A Jan. 22 news release by the Presidential Communications Office (PCO), announced that “government officials, celebrities and other personalities,” as well as the president himself, are expected to attend the rally, which “the Filipino public” can attend.
Bagong Pilipinas, based on a memorandum circular issued by the Office of the President in June 2023, is the “[Bongbong Marcos] Administration’s brand of governance and leadership,” which is “characterized by a principled, accountable and dependable government reinforced by unified institutions of society, whose common objective is to realize the goals and aspirations of every Filipino.” The memorandum circular also mandated the use of the Bagong Pilipinas logo by all national government agencies.
Not only is it carried by government websites and stamped on official letterheads, it’s also on trains and in train stations.
Also well-publicized are the Bagong Pilipinas creative competitions for college students. The deadline for these contests—in songwriting, essay writing, mural painting, and spoken word poetry—as well as a short film competition with the theme “Ano ang Bagong Pilipinas (What is a new Philippines)?” was on November 20, 2023, 5 p.m. The work of the winners, yet to be announced, are expected to show “the Filipino youth’s aspirations for a Bagong Pilipinas or the inspirational Filipino excellence and unbreakable spirit that will enable this call-to-action realization.” The total value of the prizes for the competitions is substantial; the national level prizes alone total almost P2.2 million.
Interestingly, a curious alteration was made by the PCO to their October 7, 2023 Facebook posts about the contests. The guidelines for each of the contests can be viewed in pictures attached to the posts. Without any accessible explanation online, however, the picture-guidelines now state that the deadline for the competitions was on January 12, 2024, 5 p.m. The guidelines on PCO’s Instagram account remain unaltered. What is even more curious is the date when the pictures were replaced, which one can confirm by looking at the edit history of the posts: January 16, 2024. How then would prospective entrants have known that the deadline for entries was extended by twenty-four days, when the surreptitious “announcement” of the extension was made four days after the new deadline?
“Late submissions will not be accepted,” state both the old and the new guidelines. Was the alteration made to better link the competitions with the seemingly sudden kick-off rally?
In any case, given the ubiquity of Bagong Pilipinas, as well as the various Bagong Pilipinas Serbisyo Fair caravans held throughout the country last year, it is a puzzle why a kick-off rally is still necessary. Among those who have wondered aloud about the rally is the president’s elder sister, Senator Imee Marcos.
In a Jan. 20 radio interview, Imee talked about obtaining a copy of a letter, issued by an undersecretary of a government agency, which purportedly ordered government employees to attend the kick-off. Sen. Marcos called the event a “BBM [Bongbong Marcos] loyalty rally.” Allegedly, state employees in attendance would do so on official time, and be provided with food and transportation. “Kaninong pera nanaman ito? Bakit maghahakot?” she asked; “Hindi ba mas dinidiin na insecure sila o tagilid, may destab? Hindi ko maiintindihan ang pakay nito,” she added, alluding to rumored destabilization plots against her brother’s administration. A day before her interview, Politiko also published a “Politiskoop” about a communication very similar to the one Sen. Marcos described, stating that it ordered “regional directors to identify 250 employees who will attend [the rally].” T-shirts and entitlement to compensatory time off were also supposedly among the “perks” of attending the event.
It is notable that the primary Facebook pages of several national government agencies all posted about the event sometime between 6 and 7 p.m. on Jan. 22, several hours after the only news about the event, besides those on the “hakot” memoranda, focused on road closures and traffic rerouting because of the rally.
The text of their posts were standardized (“Halina at maging parte ng pagbabago para sa ating sarili, komunidad, at bayan!” they all state), with an accompanying poster, featuring what appears to be a composite of photographs of the well-attended “Uniteam” rallies during the 2022 election campaign (without highlighting the other half of the Uniteam, Vice President Sara Duterte), that each department/office modified with their logo.
Along with Philippine National Police posts about a Jan. 19 initial coordination meeting for the rally, and a Jan. 18 ocular visit to Quirino Grandstand by the National Secretariat of the Bagong Pilipinas Serbisyo Fair, it seems that the planning and coordination for what is projected to be an event attended by thousands is only being done less than two weeks before it is scheduled.
Which is highly unlikely. Indeed, when one searches for more information about the kick-off rally online, one will find various documents and posts from 2023 referring to a Bagong Pilipinas Kick-Off rally at the Quirino Grandstand scheduled on December 10, 2023. Among these are Department of Interior and Local Government memorandum circular, dated November 28, 2023, asking Local Government Units to “Support the launch and kick-off ceremony of the Bagong Pilipinas campaign through the attendance of the Local Chief Executive, other local officials, and representatives from various sectors in the LGU, on December 10, 2023, at the Quirino Grandstand, Rizal Park, City of Manila”; a Request for Quotation, dated November 14, 2023 from the Bids and Awards Committee of the PCO for “Printed Collaterals for Bagong Pilipinas Kick-off Rally Luzon” with an approved budget for the contract (ABC) amounting to P275,000.00 and specifying the delivery date to be December 8, 2023 at the Quirino Grandstand; a Facebook post, dated November 5, 2023 from the Angono [Rizal] Public Information Office supporting the December 10 kick-off ceremony; and information about one of the rally’s performers posted on Instagram on December 1, 2023.
There are also documents without a date, but are clearly concerned with the Dec. 10 rally. There is a PCO Invitation to Bid, dated October 31,2023, for the procurement of tokens and collaterals for the “Bagong Pilipinas Launch.” These tokens/collaterals are aprons, ballers, caps, car stickers, hoodie jackets, tote bags, t-shirts, and tumblers, all with an ABC of nearly P1 million each, totaling over P7.5 million.
Such documents give Sen. Marcos the answer to her question, “Kaninong pera nanaman ito?”
There is a Department of Public Works and Highways department memorandum, dated November 23, 2023, concerning Memorandum Circular no. 39, signed by Executive Secretary Lucas P. Bersamin, “Directing all national government agencies and instrumentalities, including government-owned or controlled corporations, government financial institutions, and state universities and colleges, and encouraging all local government units, to attend, participate and provide full support to the [undated] Bagong Pilipinas Official Campaign Kick-off Rally.” The MC, dated November 9, 2023, directs the PCO “to lead and organize the conduct of the Bagong Pilipinas Official Campaign Kick-Off Rally.”
Interestingly, there is no copy of Memorandum Circular no. 39, s. 2023 downloadable from the online Official Gazette, or anywhere else—including the PCO website and Facebook page—besides the DPWH website as of this writing. After MC no. 38, issued on October 27, 2023, is MC no. 40, released on November 14. Even trying to open a possibly hidden page on the MC based on the format of the URLs or addresses for the other circulars (i.e., https://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/2023/11/09/memorandum-circular-no-39-s-2023/) leads to a “page not found” page.
Of course, there was no Bagong Pilipinas kick-off rally at Rizal Park in December last year. One explanation for the event’s cancellation is the Facebook announcement by the PCO on December 5, 2023, at exactly 12 midnight, that the president contracted COVID-19 for the third time, and that he was advised to isolate for five days, or until December 10. The lack of an official notice of cancellation, however, led to odd posts from unofficial sources that simultaneously stated that the December 10 rally was cancelled but the event was also “fake news.” Online remnants, however, clearly indicate otherwise.
Extended bidding may have also been a factor in the cancellation. An Invitation to Bid (second round) for the “Rental of Technical Equipment for the Bagong Pilipinas Kick-off Rally in Luzon for the Presidential Communications Office” was issued on December 7, 2023. The ABC for each lot totaled P16.4 million. The first Invitation to Bid was issued on Nov. 6. As per the bid documents, the equipment to be rented include various speakers, confetti machines, a thousand steel barricades, thirty-nine mist fans, and seventy portalets. It is unclear when the PCO made the decision to procure one lot each of customized lanyards (ABC, P200,000.00) and customized t-shirts (P300,000.00) “for Bagong Pilipinas Launch” and arm sleeves (P300,000.00) “for Bagong Pilipinas Communication Kit,” but the Request for Quotation for these lots that can be downloaded from PCO website was issued on December 15, 2023.
There is clearly a lack of transparency from Bongbong’s communications team regarding these projects. To reiterate what has been detailed elsewhere, those charged with presidential communications claim to be against disinformation, but they have, several times since Bongbong’s term started, reproduced lies about the president, stated by the president himself or his allies. Are they now also lying or keeping secrets about themselves, ironically regarding projects worth well over P20 million for promoting “a principled, accountable and dependable government”?
Incidentally, the upcoming rally will not be the first event at the Quirino Grandstand featuring “Bagong Pilipinas” in connection with a Philippine president in recent memory. “Bagong Pilipinas” was the title of the “inaugural song” of President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, whose inauguration was held at the Grandstand on June 30, 2010. Written by Ogie Alcasid and Noel Cabangon, the lyrics of the song repeatedly invoke unity (the first lines are “Anuman ang iyong kulay/Ang Pilipinas ay nagtagumpay”).
The newer Bagong Pilipinas campaign can easily adopt the song for itself, happy though Bongbong seems to be with recycling the Bagong Lipunan/New Society anthems of his father’s dictatorship.
Miguel Paolo P. Reyes is a university research associate of the Third World Studies Center, College of Social Sciences and Philosophy, University of the Philippines Diliman. He is a member of the Center’s Marcos Regime Research group.