We’ve had Leila De Lima and Leni Robredo and now we have Loida Nicolas-Lewis – the three leading ‘Ls” of the Liberal Party’s League of Loathsome Ladies. Their main mission in life, it would seem to us, is to trample the will of the Filipino people underfoot, overthrow the government they chose and install themselves or their surrogates to rule the nation. We know, it sounds like the plot of a cheap paperback – and it should be – but unfortunately it’s at the heart of a far more sinister real-life plot that threatens to upend democracy in the Philippines by means of a petticoat palace coup.
Most will be familiar with Senator De Lima, the former Liberal Party administration’s Justice Secretary who’s currently under investigation for being an alleged beneficiary of illegal-drugs profits emanating from the country’s largest jail, and Vice President Robredo, who’s election victory remains under a cloud of alleged electoral fraud and who last week was barred from attending Cabinet meetings over the alleged leaking of confidential information.
But not everyone will be acquainted with Loida Lewis (née Nicolas), a wealthy, 74-year-old Philippines-born citizen of the United States who is demanding the resignation of Philippine President, Rodrigo Duterte. A staunch backer and campaigner for Liberal Party standard bearer, Mar Roxas, in the May presidential election, she is appealing to Duterte’s supporters to join her in calling on the president to step down. Her reason is that she’s given Duterte six months to fix the country’s problems with illegal narcotics and he’s failed to do so. He’s gone over her deadline.
Her plea to the people who elected Duterte, however, is as empty as a beggar’s pocket. This is a woman who in 2012 had a net worth of US$600 million – that’s PHP29.89 billion and change. She lives in a large, luxurious apartment overlooking Central Park on one of the world’s most-expensive shopping thoroughfares, Fifth Avenue in New York City. In attendance there is her personal chef who prepares her favourite dishes – among them lobster which he’s required to garnish with a half lemon sculpted into a flower. And in the Philippines she owns a spacious condominium in a quiet quarter of Makati. Where else?
The daughter of a wealthy Sorsogon wood and furniture merchant, she attended private exclusive all-girls’ schools – the Benedictine-run St Agnes Academy in Legazpi City, followed by the equally elitist St Theresa’s College at Santa Mesa Heights in Quezon City. Aged seven, he father built and named a theatre after her – to give her name-recognition just in case she ever wanted to enter politics.
And this is the woman who’s telling 16 million Filipinos that they elected the wrong person. That instead they should have enthroned another Philippine aristocrat, Mar Roxas? That he, like her, really understands their plight? That he, like her, can empathise with the slum dwellers, the marginalised, the prostituted – the wretched rabble that swells the inner cities and garbaged ghettos in a twilight world where even hope of hope has faded to the dry dregs of an empty dream.
Really? Are we hallucinating? Mar Roxas was a disaster as Interior Secretary what hope would he have of running the presidency? The country? And while we’re on that subject, why was his finger so far off the pulse of what was going on concerning the nationwide spread of crystal-meth when he was heading the Department of the Interior? The Philippine National Police came directly under his office. In the two years he spent there, didn’t anyone mention there was a problem?
But then none of this is about actual ability; this is about entitlement – and the Loidas and the Mars (and the Lenis and the Leilas) of that rarified world of the social elites believe in entitlement. And right here and now they certainly believe they’re entitled to preside over this nation. No matter that no one’s asked them to; no matter that no one outside their own precious circle ever will.
What we’re actually witnessing, though, is the death throws of an arcane order that cannot bear the thought that their time – and not before time – has finally passed. But when a beast is thrashing against the inevitable, that’s often when they’re at their most dangerous. And have no doubts, Loila and her cohort are well capable of wreaking damage on Duterte and his government.
They’re wealthy and they’re connected; and they will use all those assets to create as much chaos as they can. Don’t doubt it. This is a hornets’ nest and Duterte’s landslide victory last May knocked it over and they’ve been plotting ever since. They’ve mobilised international media to their cause; they’ve galvanised practically every last shred of the Progressive-Lefts brotherhoods and sisterhoods – the NGOs, the civil-liberties brigade – to attack, to undermine, to belittle, to ridicule the one man who can save this country from a tradition of pillage that has left the vast majority of the population as members of a Third World class.
This mellow-yellow elite might not like Duterte’s methods; the people don’t care. And let’s face it, for the masses things didn’t get a whole lot better when they were in charge any way. They may have got better for the Liberal Party and their favoured ones, and that’s largely why they want to snatch back power.
But the hard facts are these – the problems of the Philippines, its economy and its society, are of a scale that practically defy exaggeration. This quasi-narco state – which has been allowed to flourish – is not just going to go away, any more than the Abu Sayyaf and the Maute Group are going to join the church choir at Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Nor is the broken, under-resourced agricultural sector going to suddenly kick-in 50% of GDP, any more than foreign investment dollars are going to migrate from everywhere else in Southeast Asia to find a perch in the Philippines.
And Mar Roxas is the answer? Or Leni Robredo who couldn’t even handle the housing portfolio? These, along with Mz De Lima and Mz Nicolas-Lewis own the past. Duterte and his people own the here and now and the future – the future that eluded the people, or rather was kept from them by those who have now had their day.
If Loida Nicolas-Lewis really wants to help this country she could do so. She could, for example, donate a few of her considerable millions to building a drug-rehab facility and like that theatre which her father built for her, it could bear her name. But though that might help a good few addicts who are desperate to stop their blood from screaming, it won’t give her any power. And it won’t tie a yellow ribbon around Malacañang. And so, between bites of lobster, she will continue to plot and find ways to use her money – far more wisely in her opinion – to bring down a government which the people have been waiting for all their empty lives.