[OPINION] Return of the clans
The 2019 elections are two short months away. Reports appear to be confusing. It’s not clear who the Dutertes are supporting. The “ruling party,” PDP-Laban, Sarah Duterte’s Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HP), and Duterte himself have separate Senate slates. Worst, Duterte and daughter Sara support competing candidates in several places.
In San Juan City, Sarah endorsed the mayoral bid of Janella Ejercito on February 27. Days before, on February 23, Duterte endorsed Ejercito’s rival, Francis Zamora. They did the same thing in Zamboanga City. In Isabela province, Sara and her Hugpong candidates appeared at opposing parties’ rallies. The President’s daughter said she and her slate were doing that because they need to "make friends with a lot of people."
Underlying this seeming confusion is the logic of local politics. Even the national contests for party list and Senate elections are dominated by local clan dynamics. The reason why the slates do not have candidates for all 12 available positions is to enable local clans to negotiate the remaining slots with other candidates.
Sara Duterte’s 2019 election strategy is anchored on mobilizing political clans. Except for pushing Bong Go, Bato dela Rosa, and Francis Tolentino, and half-heartedly supporting a shifting number of other candidates, including singer Freddie Aguilar, Duterte has left organizing for the election to Sara.
The campaign of Duterte people harks back to old style campaigning: song and dance, jokes, often risqué. They avoid issues and have refused to debate opposition Senate candidates.
It’s not all caritela politics, however. The expenditures for TV ads have been phenomenal. Senatorial candidates alone have already spent a combined P2.4 billion even before the start of the formal campaign period. This, for a position that pays only around P260,000 a month.
According to the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, Bong Go is the top spender, with P422.5 million. He declared a net worth of only P12.9 million in his SALN. Imee Marcos came in second, having spent P413.1 million. Roxas placed third with a pre-campaign expense of P401 million.
May the surveys be with you
A lot of attention is focused on periodic surveys of the senatorial race. The Senate is the only one with potential impact on national politics in the second half of Duterte’s term. The party list elections have for all intents and purposes become local contests with the exception of a few parties such as Akbayan.
While missteps and other unpredicted events can affect the performance of individual candidates, the overall trends at this time are likely to carry through to election day. The leaders, sure winners, are Grace Poe and Cynthia Villar. Former senators Pia Cayetano and Lito Lapid, reelectionists Sonny Angara and Nancy Binay consistently occupy the top half of the senatorial surveys.
The second half has former senators Mar Roxas, Jinggoy Estrada, Serge Osmeña, reelectionists Koko Pimentel, Bam Aquino, and “newbie” Bong Go, jostling for the 6 remaining slots, changing places from one survey to another. Presidential Assistant Bong Go (otherwise known as the national "photo bomber") has jumped from out of nowhere to Number 6 in one survey.
In one recent survey, billed as an SWS survey, his PR people claimed he had pole vaulted to Number 3. But this boomeranged when SWS publicly said they did no such survey. The two other Duterte “favorites” – Dela Rosa and Tolentino – have remained outside the “magic 12.”
Some analysts say the Senate race is a referendum on the Duterte administration. Opposition “Otso Diretso” candidates are not sure if they want this to happen, given the still high Duterte numbers. If current trends continue, only two of the Otso Diretso candidates are likely to win, Roxas and Aquino.
Duterte would “lose” if only one of his 3 favorite candidates win. Sara will for sure claim victory since she has opportunistically endorsed the stronger candidates. But as one analyst put it, the political stances of reelectionists and returness are “ambiguous” – they may or may not support Duterte initiatives such as a shift to federalism.
There are two developments with possible major, if uncertain, impact on the Senate race. One, martial law in Mindanao, could see the return of major cheating especially in Muslim areas as in past elections. With greater Duterte control over Mindanao, he could manipulate who wins the 10th to 12th slots.
The prolonged, disgusting fight over pork barrel between Malacañang, the Arroyo-led House, and the Senate could mean a reenacted budget until Congress reconvenes after the May elections, giving Duterte greater control over resources. But this might be a prize he does not want, because it will mean a lot of angry local politicians who will be deprived of financial resources. They may get angry with him as much as Speaker Arroyo.
Duterte campaign tactics have detracted from the national character of the Senate race, one might say even debased it. After Imee Marcos was called out for lying about graduating from the University of the Philippines College of Law and from Princeton University, Sara had the effrontery to say honesty does not count, and all politicians lie.
The Otso Diretso challenge to Duterte candidates to debate national issues has retained media attention for weeks, Sara first calling the challenge, then when none of her candidates turned up at one scheduled event, said it is unimportant, then with typical Duterte “macho,” said she would debate all 8 Otso Diretso candidates by herself.
Political clans have not disappeared. Duterte has made them stronger. Duterte’s shoot-from-the-hip style of governance and more pervasive incompetence has weakened the central government. Combined with this election campaign, the balance between local and central government has markedly shifted.
Duterte may have failed to impose federalism through constitutional change, but inadvertently he has strengthened local governments by strengthening political clans. Proposals for federalism through Cha-Cha, most importantly that of PDP-Laban and the ConCom, seek a balance between giving more power to local governments and strengthening the central government at the same time.
Duterte has given us the worst possible outcome, weakening central government institutions and strengthening political dynasties who control local governments. – Rappler.com
Joel Rocamora is a political analyst and a seasoned civil society leader. An activist-scholar, he finished his PhD in Politics, Asian Studies, and International Relations in Cornell University, and had been the head of the Institute for Popular Democracy, the Transnational Institute, the Akbayan Citizens’ Action Party, and member to a number of non-governmental organizations. From the parliament of the streets, he crossed over to the government and joined Aquino's Cabinet as the Lead Convenor of the National Anti-Poverty Commission.