As in previous elections, I have been invited by various organizations to share my take on what truly matters, and seeing through all the noise and smoke that blur our senses as a country. This is a work in progress as political developments unfold. On August 18, I will share in an Ateneo Eagle Watch briefing a more complete version of the framework I am using.
The framework, which can provide citizens a method to understand the chaos of our politics, stands on three main pillars. First, we have to ensure that we have a COVID-safe election campaign and election day that will allow for maximum participation. Second, we have to ensure that we have good choices for 2022 for all positions, both national and local. Third, we have to ensure that we have a positive agenda for the future to be implemented after the elections.
The Philippines must ensure that we have a COVID-safe election campaign and election day that will allow for maximum participation. I believe that we, as a country, must push for the conduct of our elections consistent with our Constitution’s mandate. However, the risk of the whole electoral process, from campaigning to the casting of ballots, being a super spreader should not be understated. The safety of every electoral actor is on the line: voters, election officials and staff, political party volunteers, and even the candidates themselves.
On a positive note, however, these risks can be studied to inform policy decisions in necessary interventions that may be specifically adopted. This is precisely what was initiated in the policy note released by Project Participate, a non-partisan, non-profit movement dedicated to engaging and empowering the political participation of the Filipino people, which is led by the Ateneo School of Government (ASOG). The study looked at international experiences, particularly of the US and Indonesia, as well as domestic experience in the conduct of the Palawan plebiscite in early 2021. Another highlight is the study’s estimate that an additional budget of roughly P10 billion is needed to augment the usual budget of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) in order to “COVID-proof” the May 2022 election.
Notably, Comelec had introduced innovations that provided alternatives for voters’ registration, such as the mobile registration app. Because of a pro-active registration campaign, there are now 5.4 million newly registered voters. However, we expect a lag on last-minute registration due to the ECQ. Further, the election season has yet to peak, especially during the campaign period and election day itself. We hope to see progressive changes in the guidelines to reflect the realities now posed by the pandemic with an aim of maximizing citizen participation and voter turnout.
The country must ensure that we have good choices for 2022 for all positions, both national and local. We can understand our 2022 choices by looking at the following political blocks: the Duterte coalition (administration), the opposition, and those that claim to be in the middle ground.
The Duterte coalition
Sara Duterte, the President’s daughter and now mayor of Davao City, is the foremost presidential contender from the coalition. Although she has not yet confirmed her bid for the presidency, her meetings with prominent political figures such as the Marcoses and Arroyos, courtesy calls with various local officials, and pending alliances between her Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HNP) party with other national and local parties seem to give away her eventual move.
As for her running mate, her father President Rodrigo Duterte may as well slide down and heed the call to run as vice president, though he has publicly discouraged his daughter to run. Both politically allied with GMA, former Secretary of Defense Gilbert Teodoro and House Majority Floor Leader Martin Romualdez are also on standby.
Personally, if Teodoro is chosen by Sara Duterte, I would endorse and support him. I have known him for more than 30 years and I know very well his record as a public official. He is qualified to be president – which is the only qualification for vice-president.
Senator Bong Go, who has been a constant sight in every COVID-19 briefing in Malacañan, has also been remarked by Duterte as a possible presidential candidate. He has managed to maximize his political capital during this pandemic as the Chair of the Senate Committee on Health and President Duterte’s most trusted aide. We may as well see a Go-Duterte tandem in 2022, if PDP-Laban pushes through with its latest move of endorsing the tandem as its standard-bearers.
I suspect that in the end the Dutertes, like any Filipino political dynasty, will settle this issue among themselves, and that we will see soon enough if it will be Go-Duterte, Duterte-Duterte, or Duterte-Romualdez/Teodoro.
Fragmentation of the Duterte coalition
The Marcoses are also a crucial part of the coalition. Despite his loss in the election and in his electoral protest against Vice President Leni Robredo, former Senator Bongbong Marcos is still hopeful for his political career. He definitely wants his family to be back in Malacañan. However, we have yet to see his place in the already crowded Duterte line up. For sure, if the Dutertes and Marcoses find a way to combine political forces, they would have a big lock on the Mindanao and Ilocos votes.
Senator and boxing legend Manny Pacquiao remains with the Duterte coalition for now. In the past months, we have seen Pacquiao’s attempt to expose corruption controversies under the Duterte administration, which was later "rewarded" with his ouster as PDP-Laban’s president. Whether this was enough to keep Pacquiao in line or push Pacquiao to distance himself from the Dutertes will be seen after his boxing fight in late August. I suspect he will break away from the Duterte coalition and may run a credible campaign building on the popularity of our athletes, given the enthusiastic support our athletes in the Tokyo Olympics have been getting. Imagine the return of a victorious Pacquiao and what that will do to his candidacy, especially in Mindanao where he could cut into the Duterte support.
The Cayetano and Villar block under the Nacionalista party have achieved political strides during the Duterte administration, so it would be nonsensical for them to part ways with the current government. Alan Peter Cayetano was Duterte’s running mate in 2016, then Secretary of Foreign Affairs, then House Speaker. Despite losing Duterte’s backing for continued speakership last year, Cayetano still aligns with the coalition. Mark Villar, the current Secretary of Public Works and Highways, has risen to political prominence on the national scale as he leads the administration’s Build Build Build program.
Lacson, Sotto, and Gordon
Senator Ping Lacson and Senate President Tito Sotto are the first tandem to publicly declare their candidacy as president and vice president (although the official announcement has been postponed to September). They bank on their length of service and experience in the Senate, now that they're on their third and fourth terms, respectively. Further, they claim to have kept the Upper Chamber’s independence through the years on their watch, especially during the Duterte administration’s supermajority in Congress to which Sotto himself belongs.
Senator Richard Gordon, who is concurrently the chairman and CEO of Philippine Red Cross, also contemplates a higher office. Known for his aggressiveness on the Senate floor, especially during investigations, he has been in the limelight for quite a while. His defining leadership of the Philippine Red Cross in the time of pandemic, which has helped the country, might just be the push that he needs to join the race again. He previously ran for President in 2010.
Lacson, Sotto, and Gordon are all in their seventies. They believe that the main argument in their favor is the experience they bring to the job of president. But frankly, it is difficult to imagine that these gentlemen will be able to excite the young electorate that we now have.
Tony La Viña teaches law and is former dean of the Ateneo School of Government.