Democrazy! The biggest political shockers of 2015

Ayee Macaraig

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Democrazy! The biggest political shockers of 2015
Even before the clock strikes 2016, this presidential election is turning out to be the most unpredictable, divisive and chaotic on record. Ready for more #Duterteserye and #PrayforAlma?

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – Jedi Bongbong, Iron Mar, Ang Huli Ninyong Merry Christmas? You heard them right. ‘Tis the season to be silly.

The political circus pulls one surprise after another not just through funny Facebook videos but with a mythical duel, a front runner nearly disqualified, and a dislodged survey favorite back on top of his game. Even before the clock strikes 2016, this presidential election is turning out to be the most unpredictable, divisive, and chaotic on record.

In an election of many firsts, a candidate who shunned substitution swaggers into the race in his own sweet time, a foundling could be president, and the son of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos pulls a national throwback. “Anything is possible in politics,” goes the cliché. But in freewheeling Philippines, politicos stretch the word “anything” beyond imagination.

Who cares about political parties and critical discourse when candidates can form not just tandems but triangles and “loose coalitions” while quibbling over the meaning of graduate versus undergraduate? There, too, are their rabid supporters calling each other “Noytards,” “Dutertards” and bobotante, demeaning people with disability and voters. 

Before 2016 causes more riots, we go back to this year’s major political shockers to try to make sense of the people and events that might shape the next 6 years. The difficulty in picking candidates is a reflection not just on these personalities but also on the system and standards by which Filipinos choose and hold leaders to account.

This is Philippine democrazy. With such a fickle political landscape, the only 2016 prediction we can give echoes the immortal words of Alma Moreno. Filipinos will go to the polls…with reservations.

(Graphics by Mara Elize Mercado) 

1. Rody Duterte: Killer instincts

The man who wants a nationwide ban on fireworks is this year’s loudest political firecracker. Mayor Rodrigo Duterte aka The Punisher fired up a bland presidential race with his radical ideas for reform, gunslinger persona, and taunts against the “stressed” Mar Roxas.

Davao’s iron fist waffled about running for president, drawing flak for his no-maybe-yes #DuterteSerye. Rivals branded it a gameplan but in his words: “If I am there, wala nang indecisive, indecisive, putang-ina sumunod kayong lahat. (I won’t be indecisive. Son of a whore, you must all obey.) When I say you have to stop fucking the people’s money, stop it!

Often compared to Marcos, Lee Kuan Yew, and Donald Trump, Duterte is an original enigma. He stands out for proposing federalism, vowing to stop the drug menace, advocating the death penalty, and having the political will to do all that. The ex-prosecutor takes out killers but has a soft spot for rebels as the self-effacing son of a poor lawyer and teacher.

Digong offended Catholic leaders for cursing Pope Francis. To critics, the outrage should be directed at his human rights record. His caveat on a Duterte presidency: “It’s gonna be bloody.” From leading Davao’s legendary transformation, does this hot-headed mayor have the patience to run a national bureaucracy?

The Duterte appeal, pundits say, is a desperation for law, order, and efficient services. The man is known for swift results through extreme shortcuts. In 2016, the question then is not whether Rody Duterte is ready for the presidency, but is the Philippines ready for Rody Duterte?

2. Grace Poe: Wooed then sued

If you can’t join them, beat them was how Senator Grace Poe changed the presidential race. One of the most sought after politicians, the media and survey darling broke away from the administration, aimed for the presidency, and landed in legal trouble.

Poe’s decision to run for president is one of the year’s most anticipated developments. In 3 meetings and an awkward political dance, no less than President Benigno Aquino III courted Poe, at one point believed to be his chosen successor. It turns out he wanted her as Roxas’ running mate. She said thanks, but no thanks.

She turned the tables on them with her promise of a gobyernong may puso (government with a heart) to fix the inhumane MRT and traffic jams. Poe presented herself as a reformist alternative but choosing Senator Francis Escudero as running mate drew zings of “traPOE.” The tandem seeks the support of traditional parties while proudly proclaiming independence.

Poe’s meteoric rise as a viable challenger to Vice President Jejomar Binay lost momentum when disqualification cases on citizenship and residency piled up. Her mantra? This is about foundlings and overseas Filipino workers. Her opponents retort that renouncing her Filipino citizenship to become an “American girl” was all too convenient.

Her saving grace will have to come from the Supreme Court. It’s a battle she always compares to that of the late action star Fernando Poe Jr. The challenge to this political rookie is to prove that she is prepared to govern outside her father and running mate’s shadow.

3. Miriam Santiago: Serious candidate?

Is she bored, joking, or out of her mind? Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago set social media on fire when she declared her presidential bid just a year after announcing she has stage 4 lung cancer. Her official bio explains: “Even cancer cells are afraid of Miriam!”

The Senate’s dragon lady capped off a stellar legal career, authored two best-selling jokebooks, and has “nothing left to do.” She seeks to relive the magic of her 1992 campaign, this time with Facebook, Twitter, and adoring millennials. Once a school beauty queen, she now calls herself “the president of choice of Philippine campuses.”

Analysts are not taking Madame Punchline seriously. Her health remains a big question despite angry denials that she’s too ill to lead a country. Trailing in surveys, the woman who infamously said, “I lied!” wants voters to take her word for it.

To Santiago’s credit, she rose from her sickbed to oppose a Philippine-US military deal, trembling voice and all. She managed to file her candidacy but used up her energy trying to explain why an anti-corruption crusader is partnering with the son of a kleptocrat. Exhausted, the former trial court judge said she didn’t sign up to be Marcos Jr’s lawyer.

While other candidates pour millions into ads and sorties, Santiago believes brains and social media will conquer money politics. Can she finish her non-traditional campaign? With this colorful woman, the answer is never simple. “Life does not have to be a constant straight line from one end to another.”

4. Vice presidency: The safe option

Want to be president but don’t have enough cash and popularity to go with your ambition? Try the vice presidency, instead. This seems to be the mindset of some candidates in one of the most contested races for the number two post.

The vice presidency is viewed as a spare tire no more as 6 candidates jostle for the position, even more contenders than for the presidency. Once a title that attracted a few, being vice president is now seen as a coveted target and a stepping stone to power. Presidential bets’ disqualification cases and health problems make this vote all the more urgent.

The candidates themselves heat up the elections. Escudero and Senator Alan Peter Cayetano act as spokespersons and attack dogs of their presidential aspirants. Camarines Sur Representative Leni Robredo softens Roxas’ technocratic image with her tsinelas leadership (servant leadership) and grassroots touch.

This contest is also the most twisted. Senator Antonio Trillanes IV is in a “political triangle” with Poe and Escudero. Three Nacionalista Party members are competing against each other, destroying any pretensions left of a party system. Former enemies unite in the team-up of Binay and Senator Gregorio Honasan II.

Whoever wins, the political system is crying out for reform. The Binay experience exposed the pitfalls of voting presidents and vice presidents separately. Allowing mid-term senators to run for higher office, and to return to the Senate if they don’t make it is another dubious arrangement. In a profession supposedly about service, what do they have to lose?

5. Bongbong Marcos: National amnesia?

From the “sands of Paoay and the moons of Batac,” Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr was egging for a Malacañang comeback for his world-famous dynasty. His decision to slide down to vice president disappointed his mother, the shoe-loving Imelda Marcos, but made martial law victims aghast.

Hindi ako ang nakaraan (I am not my past),” goes his glossy ad. Marcos loyalists said the son shouldn’t be blamed for the father’s sins, even if dad happens to be the world’s second most corrupt politician, according to Transparency International. Marcos Jr still couldn’t help but rub salt into old wounds for declaring: “What am I to say sorry about?”

Marcos wants the post-EDSA, Facebook-era generation to judge him on his own record. That, too, is controversial. It’s not his corrected resumé nor his Ilocos Norte innovations but the Bangsamoro Basic Law that put him on this year’s limelight. After the Mamasapano debacle, he argued that his substitute bill spared the law from the legal dustbin. Advocates accused him of gutting the original draft, and missing a rare chance at peace.

In the political derby, he was confusing. He entertained and then rejected Binay, and tried to tandem with the vacillating Duterte. After forming a “loose coalition” with Santiago, he hinted that he might run with Digong when the mayor finally made a go for the presidency. With the Duterte-Cayetano tandem sealed, his categorical answer: Santiago. Yet if former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada runs for president, Marcos would be “deeply honored and very grateful” to be his running mate.

With Erap, Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, and his mom raising his hand, the iconic photo from the Marcos proclamation says it all. If Filipinos refuse to learn from the past, they’ll be history.

6. Alma Moreno: Kailangan pa ba sagutin?

Before the awkward Miss Universe de-coronation night, there was the cringe-worthy Alma Moreno interview. Karen Davila’s “Hot Copy” segment on ANC’s Headstart turned into a hot seat for the Eva Fonda star-turned-senatorial bet who admitted the questions made her sweat.

It’s not being a former actress or saying she has “experience as a legislation” that made Alma the Internet’s laughingstock. The professed women’s advocate could not answer basic questions on her cause. #PrayForAlma trended with memes on her preferred mode of population control. “Kailangan laging bukas ang ilaw (The lights must always be turned on.)”

The chair of the councilors’ league laughed to hide her discomfort but it only got worse. She said she is in favor of the Reproductive Health law “with reservations” but can’t say what those are. After prodding, her answer showed she’s no supporter after all. She wants to implement provisions of the Magna Carta of Women. Which ones? Teka muna (Hold on a bit).

Fans and family called her the victim of a harsh interviewer. “Hindi man ako ganoon kagaling magsalita, may puso naman ako sa tao (I may not speak that well but my heart is for the people),” a hurting Alma said. Too bad many candidates still think all it takes to be elected senator is a famous name and good intentions. Oh, wait…

The joke is on netizens as Alma landed on the top 20 of surveys. If she ends up on the Senate floor, the honorable lady from Parañaque can no longer pull her classic answer to Davila’s questions: “Kailangan pa ba sagutin? (Do I have to answer that?)”

7. Mar Roxas vs Jojo Binay: Down to two?

The VP blackened with a corruption scandal or the ex-secretary marred with alleged incompetence? The battle for the presidency might be down to just Binay and Roxas, with their rivals potentially taken out by illness or “Operation Last Man Standing.”

It’s been a rollercoaster year for the old-timers. The former Makati mayor lost his lead in the race after a record 24 Senate hearings, got his bank accounts frozen, and saw his junior dismissed from public office forever. Now, “only Binay” is again number one, and his daughter and son-in-law are in a tag team to retake control of the city his dynasty led for nearly 30 years.

Roxas shouldn’t be caught flat-footed. This is the Binay 2010 playbook, after all. Focusing on core supporters, the veep embraced the insults “nognog at pandak” (dark and short), and waged a class war. From corruption, he steered the debate to poverty as “the moral issue of our time.” As a Binay aide put it 6 years ago, “Mag-ingay kayo sa taas, gagapangin namin kayo sa baba (Make noise in the airwaves, and we will get ahead of you in the ground war).”

Make noise Roxas did. The former interior chief was left in the dark on Mamasapano but bounced back by securing the President’s endorsement, raising his numbers to double digits, and getting a fresh face in Robredo for VP. But even with years of preparation and the administration war chest behind him, he still is, as Duterte derides him, a survey “tail-ender.”

Roxas can’t decide whether he’s Mr Palengke, father of the BPO industry, an Aquino clone, the dude who chest-bumps James Yap, or the peeved Wharton boy taking on Davao’s street thug. More than his image problem, he’ll have to figure out how to get more votes after antagonizing Poe and Duterte supporters for supposedly plotting “victory by default.” 

In a Binay versus Roxas scenario, the yellow candidate has to remember who his original enemy is, instead of getting distracted by a Thrilla in Cubao that was all, to borrow his words, “talk, talk, talk.”

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