Illiberal democracy needs a strong and experienced leader, Part 11



“I thought in this country, the best social program was a job. Yet, minimum-wage jobs aren’t paying enough to keep people out of poverty.” – Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD, 2017)


If recent popularity surveys are good indications, former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. will win the 2022 presidential election. His closest competitor by a wide margin is VP Maria Leonora “Leni” Robredo. Marcos breaching the 50% threshold – a voting share that if converted to votes in the May election would set a record given that post EDSA presidents have been elected with a mere plurality of the votes.


The Robredo camp would often point to her election to the vice presidency as a good measure where she started a tail-ender in surveys but ended up capturing the position. In this instance, however, Robredo’s campaign is in trouble despite promises of free housing, more funding for education, and more jobs. These are promises that had been made before but were constantly broken by politicians once they were elected.


There are many reasons why Marcos and his running mate, Sara Duterte-Carpio are dominating the surveys. One major aspect is geography. Marcos’ Solid North stronghold and Duterte’s power base in Mindanao practically gives them a huge edge. Marcos mother Imelda is from the Visayas and the current Speaker of the House is also from the Visayas.


Another factor is the fact that all living Philippine presidents (Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Joseph Estrada, and Fidel Ramos) have endorsed the Marcos-Duterte tandem including former senator Juan Ponce Enrile who teamed up with Ramos during the 1986 EDSA revolt to depose the late dictator. Ramos and Enrile’s coming home to the Marcoses is a powerful message of the failures of EDSA.


Perhaps the more nuanced message of their popularity is the promise of continuity – continuity of the progress made by President Rodrigo Duterte and in a more subtle way, continuity of policies where the older Marcos left off. Despite their parents’ notoriety, the majority of Filipinos who are sick and tired of being poor and being looked down by the elites and the wealthy, are willing to look the other way.


Robredo’s campaign is also a factor in her poor performance in surveys. She fashions herself as an “accidental candidate’ to give the impression that she’s not a traditional politician but her accidental candidacy is also reinforcing her lack of political acumen and tone deaf messaging.


Her campaign’s elitist approach is not helping either. Why she would agree to brand herself as a different person is reflecting on her being a political novice. It is flattering to be marketed as a saintly figure like Cory Aquino but she should know if it is true. “Leni miracles,” really? She’s also being pictured as a well-educated person and belittles Bongbong Marcos as an Oxford dropout and nobody other than the beneficiary of his father’s political fortunes or corruption.


But is Robredo’s educational resume really that great? Sure her daughters went to exclusive or elite schools in the United States but their educational attainments are not hers and worst, it just reinforces the perception of her being one of the elitists who can afford such luxury. She also got honorary doctoral degrees but they’re not really educational accomplishments. Her law degree is not even from one of the recognized best in the country. She’s not a board placer and took the bar exam twice after having failed the first time.


Worse, her campaign supporters are calling those who would vote for Marcos as “idiots or unpatriotic!” Again, this view reinforces the fact that the core of her supporters are really moneyed oligarchs, elitists, or those who claim to be part of the moralistic majority. This is truly a fatal flaw because such belief reinforces the dumbing down of the poor.


In the Philippines, the poor are really politically voiceless. They would curse on corrupt and elitist politicians because they are the ones who drown their voices but they themselves, do not expect a seat around the table of power. The lugaw (porridge), bag of sardines and ramen, and a few kilos of rice are emblematic of such disrespect. The poor are looking for a strong leader like Duterte who is not afraid to take on the elites, the rich, and the men of the cloth. Sure they missed “Ang Probinsyano” but they cheered Duterte’s firm stance against ABS-CBN and the oligarchs who continue to enrich themselves at the expense of the poor.


They also cheered when the impolite Duterte spoke at the United Nations and lambasted the rich countries for covid vaccine hoarding. Duterte even dared to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States. While the elites complain about Duterte’s chumminess with the Chinese and lack of resolve in implementing the UNCLOS ruling, the majority in the country seems to trust what Duterte is doing given his high approval ratings.


So the surveys are truly good barometers of where the country is headed. The poor would love to express themselves about the ills of society, the impact of the haves and those who do not have, or why it is only them carrying such a heavy burden of the disparity in the distribution of wealth. But they also know their rightful place. Other than engaging in lively banters in street corners, at the market, or other spaces they have access to, talking back to radio commentators to defend or attack particular candidates; surveys are other ways they could express themselves and eventually, during elections.


These venues allow them to get their ill-feelings, bad vibes, complaints, and their idea of a better life expressed and off their chest. Yes, some of their families or themselves were victims of illegal drugs or the government drug war but a salvaged drug dealer or drug user will not get much sympathy from most Filipinos who are sick of the criminality, of being victimized by crimes against their property or their person, or by a justice system favorable to the rich people.


One of the things that Duterte promised but was not able to deliver, is changing the form of government from the current form to that of a federal republic. Marcos is in favor and is even running under the Partido Federal which is akin to his father’s Kilusan Bagong Lipunan (KBL) as a way of changing the trajectory of Philippine democracy and society, to benefit the poor.


Robredo is not for or against federalism but her ambivalence is really a tacit support for the Cory Constitution. She wants to keep the current form but in favor of making amendments to certain provisions much like what was done in the United States. The problem with this approach is that none of previous attempts to amend the Constitution ever succeeded because the oligarchs and the elites did not want to lose their financial advantage or even tinker with the Aquino legacy. (To be continued.)