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Gaming the 2022 Philippine Presidential Election

Twenty-twenty two, a presidential election year is still two years away but in the political world, campaigns should already be in high gear preparing for such eventuality. While it is an accepted truism that VP Leni Robredo is the presumptive presidential candidate for the opposition, President Rodrigo Duterte’s anointed one is still a guessing game. There are so many possibilities like Sarah Duterte, the president’s daughter; former senator Bongbong Marcos, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, or the current Speaker of the House, Alan Cayetano.

If one remembers what the president previously said regarding his daughter running, he seemed ambivalent to the idea but warns, “Don’t tempt her!” But is it really her? There are speculations that father and daughter might run as a tandem with Sarah for the top spot. This would be a potent combination but I believe Duterte is truly tired and could be suffering from a serious illness.

Marcos is a good possibility given the string of court victories that the Marcos family has been reaping. He already made it known that he is definitely running for a higher national position comes 2022 but came short of naming the position. Duterte has already returned the Marcos favor in the last election by allowing the burial of the late dictator to the Heroes Cemetery. So my guess is, Marcos will be running for VP again.

Manila Mayor Isko Moreno is a recent phenomenon and his no, nonsense approach to reinvigorating Manila has spawned a national following. But Duterte may not be sold to the idea given Moreno’s alliance with former president Joseph Estrada and he ultimately turned against Estrada for political reasons. Duterte is big on loyalty and that brings me to Speaker Cayetano who is also identified with the Villars. Cayetano is a wild card and may not have Duterte’s unbridled support.

So then, who? Well, the headlines point to a Sen. Bong Go’s presidential run. People might laugh but Go could have the last laugh. Go is always on the news in a good way. He may not admit it since it is too early but Duterte himself might have let the cat out of the bag when he recently teased him about running for president.

Sen. Go is everywhere commiserating with fire victims, disaster victims from earthquakes to typhoons. When Taal volcano erupted it took the president a day or two to get to visit the evacuees in Batangas and to conduct an aerial survey of the damage. Duterte who appeared to be sluggish, was criticized for the slow response. Bong Go as the president’s sidekick and BFF took the cudgels for the president and explained away the rationale for the delay.

But that is not all. He then went into offense with various forms of media blitz. He frontally addressed criticisms on the government’s response to the novel corona virus developing pandemic calling for calm when others were offering alarmist responses. He was also a voice of reason for not out rightly scrapping the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States and for reviewing it instead.

It seems Bong Go is better at putting Duterte’s thinking into the right perspectives. While Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo speaks for the president on legal issues and the like, it is Go that puts a human spin to Duterte’s foibles. The opposition look at Go derisively as a gopher for the president and presidential assistant for life even though is now a senator of the republic because he is always by his side. This is where the opposition is gravely mistaken by under estimating him.

From a political standpoint, Go might not be the intellectual everyone expects him to be but think about this. Go placed 3rd during the last senatorial election with 21 million votes – that’s more than double than what Mar Roxas got for president. He bested other more intellectually gifted and better educated candidates of the opposition. But more than that, by constantly being in the news speaking for the president, Go is perceived as the president’s alter ego and easily recognized nationwide.

On the policy side, Sen. Go has authored more bills than any other senator. More importantly, he thinks strategically. Take for example the Malasakit Center in public hospitals. The news has covered for the umptiumph times, a “Malasakit Center is inaugurated by Bong Go” with one being in Roberedo’s territory.

For the uninitiated, a Malasakit Center is a one-stop shop for coordinating healthcare. It is a simple concept that places a small booth in a public hospital that houses desk representatives from the DSWD, PhilHealth, PCSO and the Department of Health. These agencies have agreed to have their respective representatives present in the Center so that people are able to transact without having to leave the hospital.

Poor families know the cumbersome process of trying to get approvals from these agencies that are normally located in different parts of the city or province. Down the road, families will remember how this initiative made their lives simpler while they were going through a difficult part of their lives like having a loved one in the hospital.

Here’s another headline: “Bong Go bats for the creation of Department of Disaster Resilience (DDR).” The idea actually originated at the Lower House as pushed by Rep. Joey Salceda. At the senate, it is Sen. Go getting all the publicity mileage for pushing to have it enacted. The president will most likely sign it once the senate concurs.

Some critics point to another layer of bureaucracy but just like the Malasakit Center, DDR will be like a one-stop shop primarily responsible “for ensuring safe, adaptive and disaster-resilient communities” by focusing on three key result areas: disaster risk reduction, disaster preparedness and response, and recovery and building forward better. That is huge politically! Just imagine Bong Go in every key result area speaking for Duterte – not planning, but implementation.

Contrast that with VP Robredo’s media appearances in the aftermath of the Taal eruption where she picked up a fight with one of Duterte’s surrogates: Mocha Uson, who was clearly getting on the VP’s skin because of the insults she constantly hurls at her. From her photo op appearance at Taal after the volcanic eruption, to showing the VP packing some relief items with Mocha clearly emblazoned behind her, to the “lugaw” distribution in a Taal evacuation center as a dig to her, the VP is hitting the wrong target. Then, nothing after that – not even during the VFA issue or the raging novel corona virus epidemic.

Go is getting away with this early campaigning because he appears to be speaking for the president. The opposition doesn’t seem to be ready for prime time. If they are just relying on the goodhearted VP, then they need more strategic thinking campaign advisers. The opposition cannot just continue on criticizing the government. On the corona virus issue, Go sounded more presidential than the veteran Sen. Pangilinan advising Chinese tourists possibly contaminated with the virus to “go straight to Malacañang.”

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