Who's afraid of Duterte? Rivals target poll front runner

MANILA, Philippines – Not too long ago, Liberal Party (LP) standard-bearer Manuel Roxas II was the only presidential bet who made it a point to call out, hit and criticize the tough-talking and popular Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.

It helped that Duterte was consistent in attacking the administration bet, singling him out for government's alleged failure to fix traffic, manage disasters or address concerns on other basic services.

Roxas would bewail this in his campaign sorties, accusing Duterte of using him as a platform to boost his popularity.

But it is by no accident that the Davao mayor crafted himself to be Roxas' exact opposite.

In general, Filipino voters tend to be reactionary, pollsters said in the book "Ambition, Destiny, Victory" written by Rappler editors Chay F Hofileña and Miriam Grace Go on the 2010 presidential race. Pulse Asia's Ana Maria Tabunda said in the book: "We elect the antithesis of the previous."

Indeed, the brash, cursing, whimsical antithesis of Roxas (and the soon-to-be-previous administration) is now the front runner in the polls. 

And now Roxas has company – all joining the fray in hitting Duterte for his stand here or his statement there. 

In two successive campaign sorties, Jejomar Binay took a dig at Duterte. (READ: Binay: Duterte is an executioner)

Senator Grace Poe, who was the survey front runner before Duterte’s surge, took a less confrontational route and made her strongest statement on fighting crime. Peace and order, of course, is the cornerstone of Duterte’s campaign.

Roxas was not far behind, going a step forward in his pronouncements on Duterte.

In a press conference on Tuesday, April 12 in Misamis Occidental, Roxas emphasized how the Davao mayor was the “biggest danger” to the country “since Ferdinand Marcos.”

On April 12, the results of an ABS-CBN poll conducted by Pulse Asia Research, Inc. showed the Davao mayor ahead of the pack with 30%, trailed by Poe with 25% and Binay and Roxas with 20% and 19%, respectively.

The ABS-CBN poll, conducted from March 29 to April 3, solidified what another survey conducted around the same time showed: Duterte was on the rise while his rivals were either slipping or plateauing.

Call to action

But if the Binay and Poe camps this week decided to make a quick shift in strategy when it came to Duterte and the problem of criminality, the Roxas campaign didn’t really shift gears.

Instead, it decided to be more specific in its messaging.

This is indicated in the statement released by Roxas spokesman Akbayan Representative Ibarra Gutierrez on the earlier Social Weather Stations (SWS) poll.

Mukhang dumadami ang nahuhumaling sa pulitika ng pagkatakot na dala ni Mayor Duterte. Para mapawi ang takot, ibibigay natin ang ating kalayaan at karapatan sa kanya. Banta siya sa demokrasyang tinatamasa natin. Nananawagan kami sa lahat ng disenteng Pilipino, kumatig kay Mar,” read the statement, which was emailed to media hours after the SWS poll was made public.

(It is becoming clear that more and more of our countrymen are being seduced by the politics of fear of Mayor Duterte. To ease our fears, we give him our freedom and rights. He is a threat to the democracy we cherish. We call on all decent Filipinos to rally to Mar.)

Tight race no more

It was a striking departure from the coalition’s usual answer to every survey – that the poll showed the race was still tight, and that the “most important” survey would happen on May 9, election day. It wasn’t that Roxas’ numbers dipped dramatically in this round of opinion polls, because they didn’t.

In every SWS, Pulse Asia, or Laylo survey that showed Roxas at 3rd or 4th, the coalition – or Roxas himself – would be quick to express optimism at the statistical differences.

But the key difference was that Duterte was pulling away from the pack.

Si Mar lang ang may napatunayang integridad, karanasan, at husay para isakatuparan ang pangarap natin na magkaroon ng isang disenteng bansa. Si Mar lang ang napatunayan na kayang humarap kay Mayor Duterte, may solidong suporta, at may organisasyon para magtagumpay. Sa tunay na survey sa Mayo, ipakita natin na matapang tayo at hindi magpapadala sa takot. Ipakita natin ang ating suporta para sa demokrasya. Suportahan natin si Mar at Leni,” continued Gutierrez’ statement.

(Only Mar has proven to be capable to standing up to Mayor Duterte, to have a solid base of support, and to have an organization that can deliver victory. And when the real survey comes in May, let us show our courage in not giving in to fear. Let us show our support for democracy. Let us support Mar and Leni.)

It wasn’t just a reaction to another survey but a call to action. The same day, Roxas and his running mate Leni Robredo’s supporters egged on fellow supporters to make their choice known on social media.

Disente (Decent)” were their supporter’s battle cry, hitting the Davao mayor for his supposed links to extrajudicial killings in Davao and brashness (in words and in deed.)

Roxas, meanwhile, criticized his friend-turned-foe for “fooling” the electorate.

Citing figures from the police, Roxas questioned how Duterte can eradicate crime in 3-6 months (among his biggest campaign promises) when Davao City itself is “one of the most dangerous places in the country.”

So kung hindi niya mapaliwanag kung papaano niya susugpuin ang krimen sa Davao City lang mismo kung saan siya ay naging mayor dalawampung taon mahigit, papaano niya ipapaliwanag, papaano niya lilinawin sa sambayanang Pilipino na sa loob ng anim na buwan, susugpuin niya ang krimen sa buong Pilipinas?” said Roxas.

(If he can’t explain how to stop crime in Davao City where he was mayor for 22 years, how will be able to explain to the entire country how he intends to stop crime within 6 months?)

Pambobola ito. Kasinungalingan ito. At ako, pagod ako sa panloloko sa mamamayang Pilipino. Dahil itong mga statement, itong mga generalities na ito, walang lugar ito. Pagod na ang Pilipino sa pambobola, pagod na ang Pilipino sa mga matatamis na pangako, at dahil ilang beses na silang nabigo,” he added.

(He’s fooling Filipinos. He’s lying. And I’m tired of people fooling the Filipino people. Because these statements, these generalities, they have no place in this country. Filipinos are tired of being fooled, of hearing promises that time and time again have failed.)

Duterte himself has yet to truly elaborate on his plan to eradicate criminality, save for statements saying he would tap the military and police to do it. His running mate, Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, insists "political will" is all it takes. 

Can the tide still turn?

Still, Gutierrez insisted the coalition was not “too concerned” with Roxas’ numbers.

“If you look at yung current to frontrunners don sa surveys si Senador Poe at saka si Mayor Duterte, historically talaga namang taas baba yung kanilang mga numero. So, kami, we rather be a slow and steady sa pagtaas at kaysa naman doon sa ikaw magsu-surge at biglang babagsak na naman,” he told reporters in an interview at the LP headquarters on Tuesday, April 12.

(If you look at the numbers of the frontrunners in the survey – Senator Poe and Mayor Duterte, historically their numbers have been erratic. So we’d rather be slow and steady in our rise instead of surging and suddenly falling.)

But Roxas’ numbers haven’t been “steadily” increasing. Since the campaign period began on February 9, Roxas has yet to get past the 22% mark.

Anti-Duterte vote

The ruling party is banking on local machinery and ironically, Duterte’s rise, as keys to victory in the lead-up to the May 9 polls.

“They're taking seriously all his pronouncements and his candidacy. I think there's a real possibility for there to be a consolidation of an anti-Duterte vote,” Gutierrez said.

Said Roxas: “Ako, nananatili akong kumpiyansa na sa dulo, tayo ang mananaig. At in fact, isa sa mga katunggali ko ang nagsabi din, something to that effect, na ‘yung dalawang kandidatura na may political infrastructure on the ground kumbaga, may makinarya on the ground, isa doon ang Liberal Party ng Daang Matuwid. Kaya naniniwala ako na sa dulo, mananaig tayo.”

(I’m still confident that in the end, we’ll win. In fact, one of my rivals even said that only two candidacies have political infrastructure on the ground… and one of those is the Liberal Party. So I believe that in the end, we’ll win.)

Roxas was referring to Binay, who earlier said the race would still be between himself and the ruling party’s bet

Back in March, when Duterte was non-stop in criticizing all that could possibly be criticized about Roxas, the LP was quick to dismiss the Davao mayor.

“I ignore him and I continue to ignore him,” Roxas once quipped, when asked to react to Duterte’s allegations that funds meant for Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) rehabilitation had been misused.

Well, Roxas can't ignore him now. – Rappler.com