A Bicolano friend asked me once why there has not been a Bicolano president. And my short answer was, “We’re too nice!” He was probably baffled by my response but it is true. VP Leni Robredo and her all-out support for Otso Diretso epitomizes such principled amiability - both in a literal and metaphorical sense. VP Robredo and the Leni Team campaigned as if they were gunning for the Miss or Mister Congeniality throne! President Duterte’s matrices (drugs & coup plotters) clearly worked sans legal justifications.
Raul Roco, the greatest president we never had, was the same way in a lot of ways. When he visited San Diego that year he was running for the presidency post-Estrada, I posed “Why can’t you continue to align with Gloria Macapagal Arroyo?” As expected, he moralized on me. “Yes Alibaba left but the forty thieves stayed and they’re with the Arroyo administration now.
Roco gave up his portfolio as secretary for DECS in principle to campaign independently. As the secretary, he was able to go around the country using government resources. In other words, he was able to campaign freely courtesy of the government. But, being the principled man he was, he did not want the appearance of impropriety so he gave it up much too early. DECS is one of the crucial agencies of the government that deals with Filipino children’s future. His resignation meant DECS lost an advocate at the helm.
VP Robredo was given the DSWD secretary portfolio by Duterte. Piqued, she resigned after receiving a text from one of Duterte’s factotum telling her to stop attending the president’s meetings. She was not fired but was told to stop attending meetings because of her alleged participation in anti-Duterte demos. Her resignation meant that poor families relying on her to advocate for them in that capacity, left them.
The 2019 midterm elections outcome particularly for the Philippine senate was a wipe out in favor of Duterte’s bets. The only question remaining is whether Sen. Nancy Binay will hold on to the 12th post or Sen. JV Ejercito will overcome her. The Liberal Party’s (LP) worst nightmare has just happened and fighting words such “the fight is not yet over,” or “the elections did not end on election day,” or “nothing to apologize for, we did our best” are just that – devoid of reality. The drubbing that the Team Leni got has great repercussions to the future of the country. Not necessarily bad, but Duterte will have an overwhelming majority in the senate.
In previous Siling Labuyo columns, I alluded to this election possibility and blamed it on LP’s penchant for selecting the so-called “A-Team” of human rights activists, de campanilia lawyers or other pedigreed individuals – elites. Nothing really wrong with that and at some other time (like the time before Marcos became a dictator), it would have work. But the moment is well past that. Filipinos are mostly Catholics but they (and Muslim Mindanao) clearly want authoritarians like the former PNP Chief Bato de la Rosa, in the senate of all places! He was the architect of Duterte’s drug war. Filipinos where looking for Duterte supporters who will help push his ambitious agenda.
A rising star, Francis Tolentino ran under President Aquino’s team in 2016 but lost. He then abandoned the LP and joined the Duterte admin. Well, lady luck smiled on him this time! How about Imee Marcos? Despite the Yale and UP brouhaha that the LP tried to smear on her, the people picked the daughter of the dead dictator. She will be joined in the senate by an all-star cast that includes accused plunderer former senator Bong Revilla and action star and former senator Lito Lapid. The biggest surprise of course, well not really, was former Duterte alalay (sidekick) and maybe still is, Christopher “Bong” Go. The “Bikoy Expose” backfired royally especially when Bong Go’s tattoo disappeared before a live audience.
Distilling the elections’ outcome though, hinges more on perceptions. The winners will brag about an overwhelming people’s mandate while losers will claim to have been cheated or just outspent. More reports of vote buying will surface but Duterte got it right that vote buying is now part of the Filipino election culture. Both sides do it under the guise of something legit like paid election watcher volunteers who are given IDs in exchange for some sum of money that varies depending on the position being sought.
But mind you, I see a silver lining to this. The Liberal Party’s opposition to federalism in the senate is now lessened to a small minority. Opposition to the charter change for the sake of opposing anything Duterte proposes in this area was a mistake. The LP clearly misreads the people’s thinking on this. Democracy is not imperiled just because charter change proposal is advanced. The opposition was clearly blinded by their opposition and disgust for Duterte’s drug war and human rights transgressions. Yes, righteousness is a virtue but it does not do any good if you lose elections. You have to be in power to effect change.
The LP should have seen the writing on the wall when Filipinos just shrugged off the sacking of former Chief Justice Malou Sereno through a new interpretation of quo warranto. There was just a sigh but no uprising or all out demos. Similarly, all the hullaballoo about the Chinese invasion of Philippine territories on the South China Sea that despite strong denunciation of the Chinese through polling results but citizens overlooked it and clearly saw the cemented roads, bridges, airports from Duterte’s Build, Build, Build infra projects financed by the Chinese. These were colossal misreads!
The other silver lining was ending some political dynasties. What congress refuses to do, Filipinos did it through the ballots. New breeds surfaced to effect these changes. Joseph Estrada lost to younger Isko Moreno, his former vice mayor. His daughter also lost a mayoralty contest in San Juan. Former senator and accused plunderer Jingoy Estrada seemed to have lost his comeback bid in the senate. A millennial also ended the Eusebio clan’s hold of Pasig. While former VP Binay lost to a younger LP nemesis in Makati, his daughters are thriving politically. So don’t be lulled into thinking that political dynasties are a thing of the past. New ones are actually emerging like the Sottos and Dutertes. In Bicol, the Khos, Escuderos, and Villafuertes are still lording it over their fiefdoms as shown by this past election.
With diminished presence in Congress, LP stalwarts has to pick up the pieces and chart a new course with renewed emphasis on electability. The complete drubbing of Team Leni portends bad omen for Robredo and the LP in 2022. VP Robredo’s popularity and trust ratings remains high but she needs to recalibrate her political calculus going into the next presidential election. The Filipino electorate are not idiots as some losers would say – they just have a different perception of reality. Robredo’s task as the titular head of the LP is now to change that paradigm and there lies the biggest challenge.