2022 Philippine Elections

[Pastilan] Epic fail: How the Dutertes bungled their bid to stay in power

Herbie Gomez

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[Pastilan] Epic fail: How the Dutertes bungled their bid to stay in power

Illustration by Alejandro Edoria

'Now, the old man is looking for someone to blame for his failure to communicate, and the nation is seeing the toddler in the septuagenarian in tantrums again.'

As the circus smoke and dust settled following the deadline for substitutions, members of the Duterte family woke up with the realization that by this time next year, none of them will be calling the shots in Malacañang. Yes, not even if, by some stroke of luck, the chief of the court jesters gets elected president. (More on that in a while.)

From whatever angle, it was a series of blunders of epic proportions. It was as if everything conspired to make sure none of the pieces would fall in place in favor of this family. By “everything,” I mean all the good and evil forces in the universe.

Now it can be told that what the father wanted was for his daughter to run for president, pretty much like what they pulled off in their little kingdom in the south, except that, this time, it was supposed to be big-time. 

Well, she ended up running for vice president instead, a move that went off like a thousand elephants all breaking wind on his face at the exact same time right at the heart of the Palace by the river. Gosh, it must have smelled terrible!

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The Dutertes’ alliance with the Marcoses has always been a matter of convenience. It was never intended to become a Bongbong-Sara tandem as far as he is concerned. 

Just like its other alliances, it was meant only for one thing: to tighten the family’s political grip further, and ensure that it stays that way beyond 2022. Whoever can help make that happen was an ally. If that meant benefiting another political dynasty, so be it, as long as the other family doesn’t grow stronger.

The grumpy old man is fuming because he trusted that his daughter and everyone who had been licking his boot for the last five years understood clearly that when he announced his retirement, he meant the exact opposite. That retirement was supposed to be on paper only and did not mean allowing an outsider to take over.

Now, the old man is looking for someone to blame for his failure to communicate, and the nation is seeing the toddler in the septuagenarian in tantrums again.

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Whenever Duterte panics, he says the most outrageous things faster than what his brain can process.

This is why he now calls Bongbong Marcos – hold your breath! – “pro-communist,” and says he cannot support the former senator’s presidential bid for some mysterious reason, which he plans to divulge later. 

Of all the things he could have chosen to say about the son of a late dictator, whose family this nation threw up 35 years ago, only “pro-communist” crossed his mind. Yet “pro-Duterte,” which Bongbong has been since 2016 at the very least, would have sounded more slanderous than “pro-communist.”

And we all know, by now, that whenever the old man threatens to drop a bombshell on anyone standing in his way, it means that his researchers are still busy looking for skeletons in the closet so that they can make issues stick on the target. 

In the case of Bongbong, Duterte and his demolition team don’t need painstaking research because the historical facts are plenty and have long been out in the open.

But he just could not seem to come to terms with the fact that his penchant for making everyone decipher what he says and read his body language factored in this epic fail.

If only he made it very clear to them that he wanted his daughter to succeed him long before the deadline for substitutions, then, perhaps, none of them would have even dared entertain the idea of a Bongbong-Sara tandem.

He pointed an accusing finger at Bongbong last weekend, blaming him for Inday Sara’s VP run. But it’s not like his daughter is a minor who cannot take full responsibility for the decisions and actions she takes.

Or, is he saying that his daughter is someone who easily succumbs to pressures and manipulations just like her father – if we are to believe retired lieutenant general-turned-presidential aspirant Antonio Parlade Jr.?

In late May, the former senator and his sister Imee flew to Davao. The city’s mayor and her husband treated them to lunch at a new restaurant on Quimpo Street called Prime Bistro. The Marcos siblings’ purpose: greet Inday Sara in advance on the occasion of her 43rd birthday. But, of course, there was another obvious purpose. 

By all indications, Bongbong wasn’t thinking of the presidency yet at that time. It was unlikely for someone who thought he was the man to beat in a presidential race to do something like that just to make someone feel good shortly before her birthday.

Sara didn’t grab that opportunity. Instead, she dilly-dallied, choosing to move based on her father’s playbook, which worked in 2016.

For her, there was still a guessing game to be exploited, and a telenovela to be squeezed dry in the months leading up to the November deadline for substitutions. The more they delayed it, the more they made Bongbong thirst for the presidency and fueled the late dictator’s son’s BBM-Sara blitzkrieg, to the point that sliding down was no longer an option for him.

And while she was busy at it, Bongbong’s ratings soared. The thing was, her father encouraged her to pursue her newfound career as a drama starlet, notwithstanding the predictability and the really bad acting.

Just how many times did her old man say he didn’t want her to become president because she was a “woman?”

And how many times did Inday Sara say she had no plans of running for president while giggling and encouraging her supporters online to keep up the artificial “Run Sara Run” clamor?

Now, Sara is probably in one corner, recapping and figuring out what went wrong, and her father is furious and looking for someone to blame.

If only this Davao family did not exploit the weaknesses of our election laws and filed their certificates of candidacy in October just like all the normal candidates, then they would have plenty of time to troubleshoot.

It’s way past the deadline now, and that defective substitution rule can no longer be twisted. The damage to the Duterte political dynasty has been done. It cannot be undone.

So, he fields the chief of the court jesters to become the standard-bearer of the DDS party as a spur-of-the-moment response to the bungled grand plan. Not only was that an act of desperation – it was a last two-minute Hail-Mary pass.

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Don’t expect the caretaker to be part of that family. If by chance he makes it, he won’t resign just to give the presidency back to that family on a silver platter. If he wins, he’d be the first one to hand Duterte over to the International Criminal Court (ICC) so he could keep it all to himself.

First, he is Duterte’s student, and his master taught him to hold on to and never give up power.

Second, he doesn’t seem to get along with Inday Sara. 

Third, he has a legitimate and good excuse not to yield power: “My loyalty to Duterte ends where my loyalty to my country begins.” 

Not only has this President become a lame duck, but he has also been exposed as a political weakling who has lost control. Naunay sa kaugalingong tari.

Face it. Whether he likes it or not, the next president will not be a Duterte, and none of the major presidential aspirants will stick his or her neck out for him. Even if Duterte’s bets win in next year’s elections, he still loses.

Pastilan. – Rappler.com

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Herbie Gomez

Herbie Salvosa Gomez is coordinator of Rappler’s bureau in Mindanao, where he has practiced journalism for over three decades. He writes a column called “Pastilan,” after a familiar expression in Cagayan de Oro, tackling issues in the Southern Philippines.