2022 PH Elections - Voices

[OPINION] 2022 is PNoy versus Digong: Decency versus loudmouth braggart

Joel Rocamora

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[OPINION] 2022 is PNoy versus Digong: Decency versus loudmouth braggart

Alejandro Edoria

Duterte highlights his power with constant bragging, with 'panghulga' – threats to those who go against him. But he now has only less than a year left in office.

Unfortunately it took PNoy’s death to see what he represented alive.

Decency, dignified unselfish governance. This is what the impact of PNoy’s passing will have on the coming elections. Whoever the candidates of Duterte and the opposition, the 2022 election is going to be symbolically Duterte versus PNoy.

PNoy worked hard to deflect attention from himself. Unable to control things after he died, an outpouring of grief focused attention on him, what kind of person he was, and what he achieved in his unfairly short life. Just days after his burial, people are already asking how his passing will impact preparations for the 2022 elections.

Reticent to inject partisan hopes into a time of mourning, most refrained. But in focusing on PNoy’s decency, how could we not turn to the rude, crude indecency of Duterte. Strangely, though maybe not, the most “political” were priests, Father Albert Alejo (Pareng Bert), Father Jett Villarin, and Archbishop Soc Villegas. Passionately denouncing the present, they underlined the contrast with their praise for PNoy.

We do not need to ride on the “Aquino deaths lead to epochal change” line circulating in social media. Kawawa naman ang mga Aquino. I am hoping for smaller steps. Without violating the church’s non-partisan stance, can we obey Pope Francis’ admonition to become principled politicians? Can we transform our grief into determination to prevent the continuation of Duterte rule?

Who is ahead?

Many analysts assume that Duterte and his candidate are ahead. Pointing to Duterte’s continuing popularity and to the expected abuse of government resources, they believe that Duterte’s candidate, whoever he/she is, is favored to win the presidency. I disagree. In the coming year, the ability of Duterte to get his anointed elected is going to decline. The opposition candidate is going to steadily get stronger.

Duterte’s popularity is a function of people’s perception of who has power, and who supports him. Of course the President has power. Duterte highlights his power with constant bragging, with ‘panghulga – threats to those who go against him. But he now has only less than a year left in office. This is what being “lame duck” is about, the perception of declining power, decreasing capacity to provide rewards, and punishment.

There are early signs of former supporters abandoning him. Rats only leave when they see the ship is sinking. In 2019, political clans with local vote banks saw three more years of having to hold out their begging bowls for Malacanang largesse. 2022 is different, they will be looking to who has the strongest chance of winning the presidency. If declining power is “push,” electoral ambition is “pull.” The closer the election, the more widespread the pandemic of “illusionitis.” Whoever Duterte’s anointed is, there will be those who think they have more chance of winning the presidency.

The most important challenger is boxer Manny Pacquiao. He is not exactly presidential material (but then neither was Duterte), but he is a threat to Duterte’s anointed for several reasons. It is not just his popularity from a super successful boxing career. He is from Mindanao, and he is a Cebuano speaker. He will take large chunks of  Mindanao and Cebuano votes from Duterte’s anointed. Because it looks like he has plans to run for president, Duterte and his people have begun to move against him. Duterte embarrassed Pacquiao by supporting the call for a meeting of the PDP Laban without Pacquiao’s approval as party president. Senator Koko Pimentel is warning against a split in the party.

Other prominent politicians who used to be in the Duterte camp now beginning to distance themselves include Duterte’s vice presidential running mate in 2016, Alan Peter Cayetano; Senate President Tito Sotto; Manila Mayor Isko Moreno. These are prominent politicians with 2022 ambitions who will take votes away from Duterte’s anointed. These people do not necessarily aspire to the presidency, but getting exposure as “presidentiable” is useful for vice presidential or senatorial ambitions.

It appears that Duterte is slowly losing his capacity to control decisions by the judiciary and the legislature. The Supreme Court, sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, has confirmed VP Leni’s victory over Bongbong Marcos with finality. Solicitor General Calida’s push to impeach Supreme Court Associate Justice Leonen did not get a single vote in the House of Representatives. The validity of former Senator Sonny Trillanes’ amnesty was affirmed by the Court of Appeals (CA). The CA also ordered the government to remove Leyte Representative Vicente Veloso from its list of local officials involved in drugs. Two San Beda fraternity brods of Duterte were convicted of bribery.

There is a concerted effort to push Davao City Mayor and Duterte daughter Sara to run. Duterte says he does not want her to run. Spokesperson Roque turns around and says he actually wants her to run. This is standard Duterte zarzuela. It does not matter if he and his spokesperson say opposite things, it keeps her in the news. If she does run, she will be weighed down by a large albatross, her father. She has no choice but to build on being Duterte’s anointed while avoiding Duterte’s many negatives.

Sara has to shape her own political persona. Being Duterte’s daughter can cut both ways. What little the public knows of her makes her out to be a female version of her father. But can a female be macho? Boxing the sheriff at an urban poor demolition is one thing. But there’s also insisting that being honest is not required in politics; there’s saying she has been raped, but does not mind her father’s rape jokes. Her move to unseat Pantaleon Alvarez as House speaker made her out to be a power broker on the national stage. But Alvarez got back at her by defeating her candidates in Davao Occidental, Sara’s political backyard.

Duterte is showing doubts about his ability to secure the victory of Sara. The Duterte as vice president floater is an attempt to maximize his endorsement. Duterte has tried this formula in Davao City where in one election he ran as vice mayor. Many have denounced the move as unconstitutional. A Duterte-Duterte ticket would be perfect – for the opposition. Duterte’s recent call for arming untrained civilians is revealing. He wants a private army like he had in Davao City, another instrument for winning the coming election. But it has been denounced by everyone including his secretaries of justice and the DILG. 

The opposition

The opposition has a problem opposite to that of the administration. Where Duterte is having problems getting his supporters to support only one candidate, the opposition is having problems getting candidates to challenge Vice President Leni Robredo. 1Sambayan, which has taken on the task of selecting an opposition candidate, was criticized when everyone it named other than the Vice President begged off from being considered. Trillanes said he will run for president only if Leni does not run.

Much has been made of Leni’s not having announced her candidacy. She has been called indecisive; weak. But no one has formally announced a run for president. Leni says she wants to focus on her programs for helping the poor during this pandemic. Attacks on her sound as if they want her to be macho. It is Sara who has to be perceived as macho the better to ride on the coattails of her father. Much of the administration’s attack has focused on Leni for most of the last five years. She has sailed through them with grace. She is tough enough.

Alone among politicians both in the administration and opposition camp, Leni has a demeanor, and personal character closest to that of PNoy. She does not need to point to this. In her statements after PNoy’s passing, Leni harked back to another death, that of her husband Jesse, and how PNoy shared her grieving. At the right time, who better to carry the torch of PNoy, who, in her actions, is best placed to help us return to the ideals of selfless service so rudely set aside by Duterte?

Much is made of Sara’s high survey numbers. Like her father, Sara is perceived as powerful. Because, like PNoy, Leni does not push into the limelight, her survey numbers suffer. But it is precisely these personal characteristics that will push her to victory. When she announced a run for the vice presidency in 2016, she started with 1 percent favoring her. In the end, she bested not only Duterte’s candidate, she won over Bongbong Marcos’ billions. I will take survey’s seriously during the campaign when she is pitted against Duterte’s anointed.

Why do I believe Leni will win? Because the administration camp is going to be divided, while Leni will be the only unequivocally “opposition” candidate. Because alone among national politicians, Leni is the exact opposite of Duterte. Whether Duterte likes it or not, the coming election is going to be a referendum on Duterte. Things were moving in that direction when PNoy’s passing brought it into focus.

Here we need to become practical. Is a few days past PNoy’s burial enough to now begin to reach out to those touched by PNoy’s death? By Philstar’s count 20 million viewed PNoy’s burial. We can’t wait too long before day-to-day concerns heightened by the pandemic take over.

A cursory glance at Facebook shows many groups in the provinces already working for Leni.

I propose a new group, “Pinoys for Leni.” We do not need to directly refer to him who was nicknamed for us. – 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, and the Akbayan Citizens’ Action Party. He worked in government under the late former president Benigno Aquino III as the Lead Convenor of the National Anti-Poverty Commission.

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