[EDITORIAL] #AnimatED: When a mayor-president messes with local polls

[EDITORIAL] #AnimatED: When a mayor-president messes with local polls
We have not seen anything like this since the fall of the Marcos dictatorship in 1986: a strongman inserting himself in the local elections by carpet-bombing his enemies

The campaign for local elections officially kicks off on Friday, March 29, but shots have already been fired against many of the candidates.

In the name of the war on drugs, President Rodrigo Duterte read on live television a narco-list of politicians allegedly linked to the illegal drugs trade.

In the name of counter-insurgency, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) has issued a stern warning against candidates who pay revolutionary taxes to communist guerrillas. “We know you,” barked the DILG chief, veteran intelligence officer Eduardo Año.

As of last last week, at least 45 mayors were facing administrative complaints for their alleged failure to establish anti-drug abuse councils in their areas. The government said more than 800 others will be facing the same complaints in the coming weeks.

The DILG previously announced that 349 local officials were under a watchlist for paying permits to communist guerrillas so they could campaign in rebel areas. The list includes 11 governors, 10 provincial board members, 55 mayors, 21 vice mayors, and 41 councilors.

Bear in mind that last year, a total of 186 local executives had already been stripped of police powers for various administrative issues raised against them by the DILG. 

And last November, President Duterte gave the DILG the power to name a replacement for any local official found to be “temporarily incapacitated.”

The number of bets under scrutiny seems small vis-a-vis the total number of local candidates these elections, which is estimated at 44,000. But that’s beside the point. Let’s not forget the already politically-charged climate in the localities as Duterte entered his 3rd year in office with an unprecedented number of mayors and vice mayors killed: at least 12 and 7, respectively.

So here’s where we are 4 days before local candidates begin their campaigns: the anti-drug and anti-communist net is now cast so wide that it threatens to catch anyone who quacks, moves, and smells like a druggie or a commie – and especially so if he or she does not adhere to the Duterte ideology of acquiescence. 

We have a president who, having served as mayor practically his entire adult life, is now employing all levers of state power on a national scale to lay an election trap for those he dislikes. This is on top of using his omnipresent pulpit to strike fear and rip reputations apart.

Not to say that local politicians are strangers to this game, or that they are unfamiliar with gangland tactics. In fact, if there’s anything about local elections in the Philippines, it’s that they represent everything that rots in our politics.

How then did previous presidents and leaders manage local elections? Well, they didn’t. They’re not supposed to.

A fractured democracy like ours continues to have mechanisms for election management. If a province is a hot spot, the Commission on Elections takes direct control of it during the campaign period. If warlords brandish their armies as they barnstorm, the police and military are mandated to disarm them. If a reelectionist congressman is suspected of being a drug lord, well, a competent government, rather than deploying investigators against its critics, should have thrown the books at him prior to this day!

What’s a Philippine president to do during a midterm race which – except for a few aberrations – is won by incumbent administrations anyway? He does what he must: ensure the victory of his party and his administration by forging alliances (or breaking them), refereeing among warring allies, cutting deals, strong-arming big business to fund them, and ordering a massive campaign to defeat the opposition.

Through his daughter and heir apparent Mayor Sara Duterte, the President has done all that. But there’s more.

By naming and shaming politicians up for reelection for their suspected drug links, by red-tagging candidates and putting them on a watchlist, and by harassing bishops and priests who are embedded in communities, Duterte has essentially nationalized and institutionalized everything that’s abhorrent about local campaigns: terror, black propaganda, violence.

He is now acting like the mayor he was once – except that he has command of the entire armed forces and national police, holds sway over investigative bodies and the judiciary, is the CEO of the entire government bureaucracy, and is immune from suit, not matter what he says, no matter what he does.

We have not seen anything like this since the fall of the Marcos dictatorship in 1986: a strongman inserting himself in local elections by carpet-bombing his enemies. He intends to take votes away from them through means and resources available only to a president. 

We warn that the consequences are dire. Those who manage to win the local races would be so paralyzed by the brazen use of state power that they will have little choice but to say yes to his every whim until his term ends in 2022.

Dear reader, what looms ahead after May is a sycophantic Congress, a Duterte Senate, and a bunch of coopted provinces.

Stop it while you can, or that’s the last nail in the coffin. – Rappler.com

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