2022 Philippine Elections

[OPINION] Sinungaling! (Substitution and the timeline of lies)

Carmel V. Abao
[OPINION] Sinungaling! (Substitution and the timeline of lies)

Illustration by Nico Villarete

'Do we really want the lying to go on and on and on?'

The substitution mechanism is supposed to be an option for emergency-like circumstances, where a candidate is incapacitated or for some other serious reason is compelled to withdraw his/her candidacy. In such cases, the candidate has the legal option to give up his/her candidacy to another candidate, provided that the replacing candidate comes from the same political party.  

The substitution mechanism was not meant to be a tool for politicians to buy time for electoral negotiations. Negotiations are supposed to happen (i) intra-party: within political parties through activities such as party consultations and conventions, where nominees are supposed to earn the trust of their party mates before they could even hope to earn the trust of the public, and/or (ii) inter-party: between political parties through negotiating talks where unities regarding common or shared platforms and candidates are reached. Moreover, these negotiations are supposed to be done within the official period for the filing of certificates of candidacies (COCs). 

The assumption here is that nominees are not supposed to present themselves directly to the people; rather, they should go through political parties – unless of course they run as “independent” candidates. (Note: this is why “independents” cannot be replaced in the substitution process).  

Another assumption is that when nominees file their COCs, that filing is final because the candidacies were already decided either within the nominees’ parties or party coalitions. The substitution process thus is not supposed to determine party nominations. Only party conventions are supposed to determine that. 

Precedent in 2016 elections 

In 2016, Rodrigo Duterte used this substitution mechanism as a way to buy time and create clamor for his presidential candidacy. Duterte had initially filed a COC for Davao City mayor under PDP-Laban and had repeatedly declared that he had no plans to run for the presidency. This refusal to run became a platform for his political communications team to drumbeat public demand that Duterte run for the higher post. 

While the Duterte camp was busy creating clamor for a presidential run, it also made sure that technical requirements were covered. Martin Diño, then a barangay captain, had filed a COC for president under Duterte’s party PDP-Laban. When Diño withdrew his candidacy with a public explanation that he was insulted that Comelec was considering to declare him a nuisance candidate, this paved the possibility for Rodrigo Duterte to run for president under his own party. Diño withdrew his candidacy on October 29, 2015 and Duterte filed his COC for the presidential race on November 29. Before this, Duterte (Sr) had withdrawn his COC for the Davao mayor race, and this allowed Sara Duterte to replace him as PDP-Laban’s mayoral bet for Davao City.   

The substitution of Diño with Duterte actually stirred a lot of controversy, because Diño had “mistakenly” put in “Pasay City Mayor” and not “President” in the COC. Duterte’s camp tried to get away with this by arguing that the CONA (Certificate of Nomination and Acceptance) attached to the COC had “President” written on it, not “Pasay City Mayor.” The case was eventually dismissed by a Comelec enbanc resolution claiming that the COC was in order and that it was lawful for Duterte to replace Diño for the presidential race.  

Substitution drama for 2022 elections 

This election, it is the Dutertes again who are playing the substitution game. Recent developments surrounding the substitution process put on public display a lot of dramatic, intra-inter family tensions – with the President’s daughter Sara topping the initial surveys but eventually opting for the vice presidential race (apparently without her father’s knowledge),  the President’s erstwhile ally Bongbong Marcos declaring he would never slide down for anyone (meaning, not even for Sara Duterte), the President’s closest aide Senator Bong Go moving up from vice presidential to presidential candidate, and President Duterte filing for the senatorial race at the very last minute.  

The substitution process – which ended on November 15, 2021 – has also revealed that the Duterte camp lied repeatedly to all of us. Here is a timeline of these lies and the wheeling and dealing that happened alongside these lies. I created this timeline from verifiable sources: reports of mainstream media and the official Facebook pages of the personalities mentioned. Any reader is free to confirm the veracity of facts presented in this timeline.  

September 9:

In a statement to media, Sara Duterte claims that she “will not run for a national position” and that she and her father had both agreed that only one of them will run for a national position in 2022. Two weeks before Sara Duterte makes this claim, Duterte Sr. had already declared that he had “firmed up his plan to run for vice president.”

October 2: 

Accompanied by President Duterte, Senator Bong Go files his certificate of candidacy (COC) for vice president under the PDP-Laban party (Cusi wing).  He claims that this was because President Duterte had decided not to run for vice president and that he (Go) had to take up the challenge for his party. Go also claims that he doesn’t “want to be remembered as just another senator or VP” but “as a public servant…who will wholeheartedly serve for the welfare of our country.”

October 2:  

Rodrigo Duterte claims he “will retire from politics.” (Note: it doesn’t seem to bother him that earlier he had said he would be running for VP.) When a journalist asks him, “So is it clear, Sara-Go?” Duterte replies confidently, “It is Sara-Go.” When asked whether this meant that he had given Sara permission to run for President, Duterte claims “No, we do not talk about politics, ever since.”

October 2:

Sara Duterte files her certificate of candidacy (COC) for Davao City mayor under the party she previously created, Hugpong ng Pagbabago, and urged everyone “to work together for honest, orderly, and credible elections.”   This got people thinking, oh, she’s probably the more honest Duterte since she filed for a local and not a national candidacy, as she had promised.  

October 6: 

Bongbong Marcos files his certificate of candidacy for president under the party Partido Federal ng Pilipinas (PFP) and urges Filipinos to join him “in this noblest of causes and we will succeed.” When Marcos Jr. is asked about his vice presidential candidate, he exposed a number of things: (i) that he had originally “planned to adopt” President Rodrigo Duterte as his VP, (ii) that he was in talks with Mayor Duterte, and (iii) that a Marcos Jr.-Bong Go tandem was also possible. (Note: also interesting is the fact that Marcos Jr. decided to run under a political party other than his father’s KBL; perhaps to dispel any association with this Martial Law regime party?)

October 8: 

Senator Bato dela Rosa files his COC for president under the PDP-Laban (Cusi wing). This caused people to wonder if he was just a placeholder for Sara Duterte. When asked by media, De la Rosa got irked and claimed, “Do I look like a mockery to you? I won as senator, I was No. 5…. Is that a mockery…to the 19 million Filipinos who voted for me?” Dela Rosa also claimed that this was “a long-time party decision.”

October 11:

Political unknowns Anna Capella Velasco and Lyle Fernando Uy file COCs for president and vice president, respectively, under Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s party Lakas-CMD. Party official Prospero Pichay then claims that these were “placeholders” because the party had yet to adopt a candidate for president and VP.  

October 12:

Lakas-CMD official Prospero Pichay retracts his earlier statement and says “we cannot call them placeholders because they are qualified to run” but that he “does not discount the possibility that we have some plans.” Pichay also says “it’s just like a poker game or a game of chess” where players wait for each other’s moves. 

October 23:

Sara Duterte posts a photo of her and Bongbong Marcos just sitting on a sofa, and confirms that she met with Marcos Jr. in Cebu for the “happy celebration” of Congresswoman Yedda, wife of House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez.  

October 24:

Sara Duterte shares a Facebook post about her “closed door meeting” with Bongbong Marcos and Imee Marcos. (So, it was a meeting after all and not just a birthday party of some common colleague!) Sara captioned the photo with “Happy Sunday and God bless to all of us.” Everyone then started speculating, oh, it looks like it’s going to be Marcos Jr.–Duterte Jr. or Duterte Jr.–Marcos Jr. in May 2022. 

October 25

Senator Bato dela Rosa posts a picture of him and Sara Duterte at Davao City hall – just a “teaser,” Dela Rosa claimed. This post revealed the possibility of Dela Rosa withdrawing his candidacy for Mayor Sara.  

November 9

Sara Duterte withdraws her bid for re-election. This causes people to speculate that she has decided to run for a national position. Meanwhile,  Sara’s mayoral candidacy is replaced by her brother, incumbent Vice Mayor Baste Duterte.  

November 11, morning 

Sara Duterte arrives in the posh Balesin island resort on a private jet. The press release is that Sara’s visit was just for the birthday celebration of House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco. People, however, started speculating that she was there not for a party but for a meeting with Bongbong Marcos, as brokered by GMA and Lakas-CMD (note: Lord Allan Velasco is now with PDP-Laban Cusi wing but was previously affiliated with Lakas-CMD). Photos of Sara and Velasco circulate on mainstream and social media, but GMA and Bongbong (supposedly also invited to Balesin) were not in these photos. A few days later, on November 15 (i.e. after Bong Go announced his presidential run), Lakas-CMD issues a statement that Arroyo did not meet with Sara Duterte and did not summon Bongbong to Balesin.   

November 11, afternoon

After spending the morning and lunchtime at Balesin, Sara Duterte flies to Silang, Cavite and walks down the aisle with Bongbong Marcos, as godparents during the wedding of Bong Revilla’s daughter (note: Bong Revilla is the Chairperson of Lakas-CMD). The event becomes the talk of the town for two reasons: (i) after releasing to the public a handwritten note to her own party Hugpong signifying her party resignation, Sara Duterte takes her oath of membership with Lakas-CMD – at the wedding party venue,  and (ii) Bongbong Marcos was at Silang but he wasn’t at Balesin. This started people speculating: so, was GMA successful or not? 

November 12

Bongbong Marcos declares in a campaign rally that “there were no quitters in the Marcos family.” This declaration was obviously meant to douse speculation that he would be sliding down to the VP position, to give way to Sara Duterte. (Note: netizens were quick to note that Bongbong had lied, because his mother Imelda had withdrawn from the 1998 presidential elections and had thrown support instead behind then-presidential bet Joseph “Erap” Estrada.)  

November 13

Sara Duterte files her COC for vice president, replacing Lyle Uy of Lakas-CMD. Sara explains that this is an act of solidarity with her supporters. In her official Facebook page, she thanks her supporters and says she is “one with them,” insinuating that she ran for VP upon the clamor of her supporters. Sara’s exact words were: “Nakikiisa po ako sa inyo, tatakbo na po ako sa national. (I’m one with you, I will now run for a national spot.)”

Shortly after, Bongbong Marcos’ party Partido Federal ng Pilipinas issued a resolution adopting Sara sa Marcos’ VP candidate. Lakas-CMD Chairperson Bong Revilla also tells media that his party was still in the “process of formalizing” the adoption of a presidential candidate who will running alongside Sara Duterte as VP.  

November 13

Senator Bato dela Rosa goes to Comelec to withdraw his candidacy for the presidency, and just says that this was a “party decision,” i.e. of the PDP-Laban Cusi wing. He seems to have forgotten his earlier “Am I a mockery to you?” line.  

November 13 

Senator Bong Go withdraws his candidacy for VP under PDP-Laban and files for candidacy for president. Instead of replacing Senator Bato as PDP-Laban standard bearer (as everyone expected), Go replaces Gregor Belgica, who filed a COC for president under the party Pederalismo ng Dugong Dakilang Samahan or PDDS (yes, akin to the Duterte Diehard Supporters DDS). Belgica is the son of Greco Belgica, whom President Duterte appointed as Chair of the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission. According to PDP-Laban Chair Alfonso Cusi, Bong Go had to run under PDDS to avoid “legal complications” since PDP-Laban leadership was still being contested in court.  

President Duterte accompanies Bong Go during the latter’s substitution-filing. In that event, media ask President Duterte if he is running for senator, and he says, “No, baka (maybe) vice president.” Media then ask, if he will run for the VP post, will he be running against his own daughter? Apparently, the President was not informed that his daughter had filed a COC for the VP post, since his reply to media was: “I don’t know. Nag-file ba? (Did she?)” After that awkward moment with media, Martin Andanar, the President’s Communications Secretary, steps in and says the President would be going back to Comelec on November 15 to file his COC for the vice presidency.  

A few hours later: President Duterte, through an interview with DDS blogger Banat By, reveals to the public that he was the one behind Bong Go’s decision to run for presidency. Duterte also claims he did not like the way that the negotiations were turning out, i.e. with Sara Duterte having to slide down to VP. In this interview, Duterte starts to lambast the Marcoses and claims he had never declared his support for the Marcoses (this, despite evidence showing a Marcos-Duterte alliance, e.g. Marcos Sr. given a hero’s burial under Duterte’s watch in November 2016). Moreover, when Duterte was again asked whether he would run against his own daughter, he replied by saying, “Give me a few hours, I will fix this.”

November 15

Duterte Sr. files his COC for senator under PDDS (a PDP-Laban Cusi wing ally), replacing a certain Mona Liza Visorde who had previously filed and then withdrawn a COC for the senate race. PDDS founder Greco Belgica claims this was “a party decision.”

What the lies signify 

There are a number of things that can be gleaned from the abovementioned timeline of lies: 

  • Lying to the public has been normalized. 

While it is easy for the Duterte camp to spin everything, the facts presented above show that the Dutertes and their (previous and current) allies have been consistently lying to the public. The lying has, in fact, been normalized since said lying seems to have no impact on the survey ratings of President Duterte. He continues to be popular despite his habitual lying. 

Moreover, Bongbong Marcos continues to be popular in the surveys, and this shows that the historical revisionism of the Martial Law era has been successful. Marcos Jr. is now being claimed by many – including the Comelec – as “just another candidate.”

  • The Dutertes are desperate to stay in power.  

The Dutertes’ sliding up and down the candidacy ladder shows that while there are obvious factions in this camp, they all want to keep their power.  Who are the puppets and who are the masters remain to be seen. What is obvious is that they have interests to keep, and this explains their tight hold on power.  

One such interest is keep Duterte Sr. protected from the International Criminal Court (ICC) case. Another is probably the China connection, not only in relation to the West Philippine issue but also in relation to China’s economic interests in the Philippines and in the East Asian region. 

  • The Marcoses are desperate to make a Malacañang comeback. 

The Marcoses are no different from the Dutertes in their bid to reclaim Malacañang. They also have family interests to protect. Aside from the perks and privileges of being in Malacañang, a presidential win for Bongbong would mean the vindication of the Marcoses. It will further legitimize the Marcoses and erase all accountability for their atrocities and plunder during Martial Law.      

  • Political families, not political parties, will be shaping and structuring the May 2022 elections. 

The biggest casualty in the substitution game is the political party system.  Political parties are supposed to structure electoral competition. While government is the “output institution” that delivers services to the people,  political parties are supposed to be the “input institution” where government personnel and programs can be sourced from. Recent events show that this is not the case and that, in fact, political families have completely replaced political parties as the dominant institution during elections.   

  • Given the fragmentation of both the administration and opposition camps, the next president is likely to be a minority president.  

While the Comelec has yet to decide on the complete and official list of presidential candidates, it looks like the competition will be among multiple players. There are at least seven names that are likely to be part of this competition.  On the administration side (just in alphabetical order): Bong Go and Bongbong Marcos. On the opposition/non-administration side (also in alphabetical order): Leody de Guzman, Panfilo Lacson, Isko Moreno, Manny Pacquiao, Leni Robredo. 

Given the number of candidates, there is a high likelihood that the next president will be a “minority president.” Being a minority president will, in itself, be a challenge to whoever will win: how will he/she generate majority support for his/her proposed policies or programs? 

Thus far, election-related events such as the most recent substitution process have shown what is actually endemic in our society: the normalization of lies, the culture of impunity,  the weak party system, and elite dominance in our politics. Indeed, Philippine elections just reflect Philippine society.  

On the other side of the coin, elections too can shape and alter society. My next thinkpiece will be on this topic, especially on what our choices really are in May 2022. For now, let me just say: Do we really want the lying to go on and on and on? – Rappler.com

Carmel Abao, PhD is Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the Ateneo de Manila University. She works in the areas of labor migration and politics and governance.