Some things I’ve learned about the political scene–or at least, the horse races– since I got into Manila a few days ago:
1. On Duterte: apparently, his campaign staff, especially in the provinces, are made up mostly of former NPAs who are adept at local organizing. When I asked a 20-something supporter of Dutere why she liked him, she told me, “because he would tackle imperialism” and do something about ending the “extractive industries” in the country.
Standard NDF talking points, nothing to do with criminality. That former (and perhaps current) members of the Communist Party constitute the backbone of his campaign staff is apparently an “open secret”, according to another friend.
This makes Duterte the stealth left-wing candidate who, because of his support for extra-judicial killings, is also the right-wing candidate (unless you think of extra-judicial killings in the sense of “revolutionary justice”). But he is also the outsider-probinsyano-anti-elite candidate, who also happens to be from a political dynasty–hence, the non-trapo trapo candidate. Further proof of this are his sympathies for GMA and the Marcoses.
He seems to have all his political bases covered.
Furthermore, he crosses all social barriers, breaks down all the traditional categories: he’s the feminist who supports Reproductive Health and divorce law, but is also an inveterate womanizer; the agnostic who cusses at the Pope but pays respect to Catholics and was himself molested by a Jesuit priest; a member of the provincial elite, he is also the democrat who lives simply and drives around in a cab to meet with constituents; and he is an advocate of gay marriage who likes to pose with large guns as a supremely macho man (certainly not mutually opposed images), etc.
He combines an earthy, ribald sense of humor with the faux-naiveté of a high school drop-out.
In short, Duterte seems at once post-modern and post-colonial, the anti-establishment establishment, the barbarian whose own city is held up to be a model of civilized living. How do you campaign against that?
If he were to win, his presidency, or so I’ve been told, would either be a disastrous or transformative one–or both. He’ll have a new wave of people come into the government, many former NDF’s, who would have lots of grassroots experience but little by way of national or international competencies, blinkered with the usual leftie orthodoxies. He may also rely on the old GMA and Marcos people, a situation that may well lead to selective corruption and more regulated cronyism.
And the police and death squads? Well, you can say that Duterte doesn’t have a monopoly on death squads. “Everyone”, or so we hear, has them in some form or the other. PNoy’s administration has even seen the continued rise of extra-judicial killings. And with people like Ping Lacson running for the senate, we may well be witnessing the resurgence of death squads as key instruments of governance. All of which does not excuse the use of death squads and the horrible human righrs abuses they spawn, but simply tries to reckon with their wide-spread existence.
Will his brand of authoritarian populism auger a return to Martial Law? Unlikely. The geo-political and national conditions are entirely different. The end of the Cold War will mean that Duterte can’t draw on an imperial patron for support the way Marcos did from the US. If anything, his skepticism towards EDCA will make this alliance with a weakened and distracted US even more problematic. China? Not with the conflicts in the West Philippine Sea. One of Marcoses excuses for declaring ML was the danger posed by the Communists. With Duterte, the communists will be part of the government.
Under Duterte, then, the initial chaos may well be epic, the adjustments–in both style and substance of leadership–will be difficult to say the least, but not insurmountable. In the end, if one believes the Alice-in-Wonderland writings in the business pages, the Philippine economy will continue to thrive and grow regardless of who becomes president.
PNoy’s reforms have taken root, OFW remittances and BPO growth will continue unabated (given our over-abundance of labor and English-speaking abilities) and we can look forward to all those signs of growth: greater traffic jams, more shopping malls and condos, and greater inequality.
Long live the AlDub nation!
2. I also learned that Grace Poe’s chances of qualifying for candidacy is getting smaller and smaller. Her last chance appeal to the Supreme Court will be very tight, and perhaps she can manage to win her case with a tiny margin of one or two votes. It might even be tied. But her campaign has been dealt a severe blow by the two recent COMELEC rulings.
Many people now assume that she’s no longer running, and she has had to spend all her time just trying to convince people that she’s still in the game. Instead of talking about issues, she ends up spending all this time just telling people that she’s still around.
3. If Grace loses her appeal, Chiz Escudero will fall with her. Who is left among the vices? Not Trillanes (a non-entity who has also hitched his star to Grace); Not Gringo (Who? many don’t even realize he’s running with Binay). And unfortunately, not Leni who seems to be campaigning by solidifying her base of support among those who already like her, but not expanding it among those who don’t know her–who are legion at this point. The anti-BLB Cayetano (who plays the Islamophobe to Duterte’s pro-Moro and pro-lumad rhetoric. He really has all his bases covered!)? Other than him, who’s left, then, but the Bong man? The horror, the horror.
4. Binay seems to have dropped out of the news and the daily chatter. He’s still out on the hustings, meeting with LGUs, mayors, governors, etc. but he can’t compete for oxygen with Duterte. His family is still a stumbling block. His only chance is if Duterte and Poe are both eliminated and he faces only Mar.
5. Then there is the sad, pathetic candidacy of Mar. A “legacy” candidate, it’s hard to make the argument that he’s the right person for the times. Most people agree he’s fairly decent, but he’s suffered from the the many blunders of the recent past: Zamboanga; Yolanda; Mamapasano; the laglag bala scandal; the nightmarish traffic jams; the worsening infrastructures, from the slowest internet in the galaxy to the lag in Private-Public developments; the persistent poverty levels, and on and on.
All of these cast doubt on his purported managerial competency and simply amplifies his reputation for kayabangan. His campaign has been stunningly inept (and the admirable Leni Robredo has suffered as a result). The LP has yet to live down the embarrassing twerking incident. And Mar has proven adept at alienating local politicians while appealing largely to metropolitan elites.
He would make a fine president for the Makati Business Club and the Harvard-Stanford-Wharton (hah!) Republic of the Polo Club, but his staged acts of populist outreach have been predictable failures–including his hilarious attempt to out-macho Duterte with, of all things, a sampalan-suntokan match.
His inability to run an effective campaign–his second in the last two cycles–suggests that he would probably be unable to run the country well were he to win. In a debate with Duterte, I suspect Mar would appear intelligent but effete, unable to match his opponent’s provincial swagger and macho-bakla street smarts.
In the absence of any political testicles, Mar will most likely go down in flames, and so, too, will his mother’s substantial investment–monetary and otherwise– in his candidacy. His only chance is if he manages to use the courts to eliminate all his opponents and he ends up being the last man standing–an unlikely scenario. But if Mar were to win, and Bong-ga becomes vice, then the country will be ruled by the Araneta family, since the latter is also married to an Araneta. Welcome to trapo-ville.
6. Finally, the media obsession with national candidates have resulted in totally obscuring local races. Very little is known, at least by Manila-centric folks, about provincial races, e.g., Mark Cojuanco’s struggling campaign to be governor of Pangasinan (he can’t even speak Ilokano or Pangasinense!) or the governor’s race in Cebu. One wonders what’s going in Palawan or Iloilo or the Negroses.
Anything going on in Cavite or Sulu, Batanes or Bukidnon? Just more SM Malls?