Sui Generis

Democracy is on the ballot

Marites Dañguilan Vitug
Democracy is on the ballot

The Commission on Elections conducts a mock election at the at the San Juan Elementary School on October 23, 2021. The poll body chose the San Juan because of its high vaccination rate. Comelec commissioners, directors, observers from the House of Representatives, Senate and other agencies were present to observe the process for the 2022 national and local elections. Angie de Silva/Rappler

Opposition needs to unite

“This is the final epic battle of our generation,” Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, an opposition senator who is running for vice president, said in a recent online forum. Pangilinan, 58, was a student activist at the University of the Philippines in the 1980s and has since been standing up against the erosion of democracy both in the streets and the halls of the Senate.

He couldn’t have described our country’s critical moment better. At stake in the 2022 presidential election is nothing less than the future of our democracy. After almost six years of autocratic rule under President Rodrigo Duterte, the prospect of a continuing decline of democracy looms. The only alternative is to get out of this nightmare.

The late dictator’s son, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., leads in the early polls among the candidates for president. He has teamed up with Sara Duterte, daughter of the President, as his vice-presidential candidate. (READ: Bongbong, Sara seal alliance in show of force in Cagayan de Oro, Tagum)

These two personalities represent the dark side of Philippine politics: the perpetuation of dynasties, democratic decline, and a huge sense of entitlement. The Marcoses’ decades-grip on power was interrupted by a popular revolt in 1986 and their subsequent exile. They have since returned to local and national politics and have rebranded themselves.

The Dutertes have controlled Davao for almost 30 years, from Rodrigo to his children Sara, mayor for two terms; Sebastian, currently vice mayor and running for mayor; and Paolo, former vice mayor who is running for reelection as congressman. The patriarch, who has promised to retire from politics, has joined the senatorial race.

Since both of these candidates belong to political families, they have this enormous sense of entitlement, that public office is a family enterprise, theirs for the taking. They capitalize on their surnames – name recall works here in the Philippines – even if they don’t qualify for the posts they aspire for.

Bongbong faces a case in the Commission on Elections to cancel his candidacy because he misrepresented himself. Or to put it sharply, he lied. He said in his certificate of candidacy (COC) that he was eligible to run when he should not be because of his conviction for failure to pay income tax.

Bongbong ticked the box “no” in the COC section that asked “if he has ever been found liable for any offense which carries the accessory penalty of perpetual disqualification from office.” He was convicted by the courts for failing to pay his income tax from 1982 to 1984 while he was vice governor and governor of Ilocos Norte.

Sara, for her part, has no governance experience in a post higher than mayor, just like her father. The demands of national office are far greater than that of a local post. We’ve seen the quality of leadership of her father – and the country has suffered for it.

She has also famously put down the value of honesty in public office when she said in 2019: “…there is no single candidate who does not lie so honesty should not be an [election] issue…”

As we can see, transparency and accountability are not strong suits of both Bongbong and Sara. Already, Bongbong has said that he will shield President Duterte from the International Criminal Court (ICC) probe on the drug war.

It is expected that Sara will protect her father from both the ICC and potential corruption and human rights cases in the domestic courts.

Lesson from Czech Republic

This tandem is backed by money and machinery. To defeat them, the opposition needs to unite. This is no time for self-interest to prevail.

The lesson from the Czech Republic is loud and clear. In October, the opposition parties got together and defeated the populist prime minister, Andrej Babis. “Opposition parties put ideological differences aside and joined together to drive out a leader they fear has eroded the country’s democracy,” the New York Times reported.

They realized that “the first step in beating a populist leader is to suppress individual egos and to compromise in the interest of bringing a change.” These opposition parties agreed not to talk about their differences during the campaign.

In neighboring Hungary, its authoritarian leader, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, will face a “united front of normally squabbling opposition parties for the first time since he came to power” in 2010. “The alliance of socialists, social democrats, greens, liberals and former far right parties will field a single joint candidate in [April] 2022 in all 106 of Hungary’s constituencies, targeting what they argue is the regime’s corruption, hypocrisy and advancing authoritarianism,” the Guardian reported. This is expected to be Orban’s tightest race.

Actually, we need not go far. In our own country, the opposition should take heart from what happened in the 2016 presidential election. Candidates Mar Roxas and Grace Poe split the vote, leading to the victory of Duterte.

Marites Dañguilan Vitug

Marites is one of the Philippines’ most accomplished journalists and authors. For close to a decade, Vitug – a Nieman fellow – edited 'Newsbreak' magazine, a trailblazer in Philippine investigative journalism. Her recent book, 'Rock Solid: How the Philippines Won Its Maritime Case Against China,' has become a bestseller.