Duterte’s chosen ones: Who will benefit most from the President’s endorsement?

AT A GLANCE

MANILA, Philippines – In the days leading to February 12, the start of the 2019 campaign season, posters and tarpaulins of President Rodrigo Duterte holding up the hand of one politician or another have become a common sight.

A billboard for Congressman Zajid Mangudadatu towers over an intersection in Quezon City. Who could have missed the posters of presidential aide Bong Go extending his clenched fist beside Duterte?

Even local bets want to bask in the glow of a popular administration. Quezon City candidates Joy Belmonte and Winnie Castelo have posters with Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, who reflects the glory of her influential father.

Many want a piece of the pie but Duterte – and his daughter – make up their own minds. 

Duterte will be officially endorsing 3 slates – his own slate composed of his inner circle, choice partymates, and political allies; the “MaBaGoKoTo” slate of his national political party PDP-Laban; and the candidates endorsed by his daughter’s regional party, Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HNP).

All together, these are the administration bets of the 2019 midterm elections. 

Let’s look at Duterte’s candidates one by one.

INNER CIRCLE

These are his “true” candidates, in the sense that it is from them Duterte expects genuine loyalty, cultivated by real friendship and years of service. These 3 enjoy close personal ties with the President. In the hierarchy of presidential endorsements, they are at the top. It is only these 3 he regularly praises in his speeches so far. 

Of the 3, presidential aide Bong Go and ex-top cop Ronald dela Rosa are newcomers to the Senate race. Francis Tolentino had run for senator in 2016 but lost.  

Bong Go

ALL-OUT SUPPORT. President Rodrigo Duterte accompanies his aide Bong Go as he files his candidacy for senator in October 2018. Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

ALL-OUT SUPPORT. President Rodrigo Duterte accompanies his aide Bong Go as he files his candidacy for senator in October 2018.

Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

Executive assistant since 1998 and grandson of Duterte’s close friend and godfather in his marriage to Elizabeth Zimmerman, Go promises to be the “bridge” of the Senate and the public to Duterte. 

Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa

THE GODFATHER. President Rodrigo Duterte attends the premiere night of 'Bato The Movie: The General Ronald dela Rosa Story.' Malacau00f1ang photo

THE GODFATHER. President Rodrigo Duterte attends the premiere night of 'Bato The Movie: The General Ronald dela Rosa Story.

' Malacau00f1ang photo

Born and raised in Davao City, Dela Rosa became Duterte’s police chief there. They grew so close that Duterte agreed to be godfather at Dela Rosa’s wedding. He later on became Duterte’s first Philippine National Police chief and then, upon retirement, his Bureau of Corrections chief.

Francis Tolentino

TRUSTED. President Rodrigo Duterte attends the birthday party of Francis Tolentino. Malacau00f1ang photo

TRUSTED. President Rodrigo Duterte attends the birthday party of Francis Tolentino.

Malacau00f1ang photo

Tolentino and Duterte got to know each other when both served as mayors in their cities of Tagaytay and Davao, respectively. Tolentino is also the President’s riding buddy. Duterte often speaks with fondness of the time he toured the country on a big bike with Tolentino and other friends. When Tolentino lost the Senate race in 2016, Duterte took him in as a political adviser. Impressed by his work ethic, the President tapped Tolentino twice to lead relief efforts after disasters.

 

PARTY SLATE

PDP-LABAN SLATE. These 5 make up the small slate of the ruling PDP-Laban party

PDP-LABAN SLATE.

These 5 make up the small slate of the ruling PDP-Laban party

This 5-name "MaBaGoKoTo" slate is what would normally be considered the official administration slate because it is the line-up to be fielded by Duterte’s party, PDP-Laban. In the 2010 elections, for example, the Liberal Party’s slate was the administration slate because LP was then-president Benigno Aquino III’s party.

But Duterte and other PDP-Laban officials disagreed on some Senate bets the President wanted to personally endorse (such as Imee Marcos, according to sources). Thus, Duterte has his own personal Senate slate. Some have said this slate will be called the "Du It" slate.

 

POLITICAL ALLIES

POLITICAL ALLIES. President Duterte says he needs to pay a debt of gratitude to these allies

POLITICAL ALLIES.

President Duterte says he needs to pay a debt of gratitude to these allies

These are the candidates Duterte is supporting because he needs to pay a political debt. He said it himself on January 23: “They supported me, I have to support them. That's the right thing to do.”

Together with Go, Dela Rosa, Tolentino, Mangudadatu, and Pimentel these candidates form Duterte’s personal Senate slate.

Compared to his inner circle candidates and PDP-Laban partymates, these bets are veteran politicians with their own interests and political clout – a dynamic you can be sure Duterte is aware of. In a country where political loyalty is fickle, Duterte differentiates between political and personal allies. 

“These others are politicians. They top the surveys, they have their own interests and bases,” said University of the Philippines political science department chairperson Ela Atienza.

So far, the most Duterte has done for them in public is to mention his support for their candidacies during his speeches.

SARA'S SLATES

HNP, Davao regional party founded by Sara Duterte, has two slates – a national slate with 8 names and a regional slate with 13 names.

Hugpong ng pagbabago slate for 2019 elections

As Duterte’s “proxy,” Sara is using her own influence and power to change politics in Davao region and the country as a whole. She says HNP, supposed to be just a regional party, has a national slate because many national political parties asked for an alliance. But without a doubt, HNP’s supposedly unintended national clout is good for Sara and Davao. The presidential daughter herself has said they will use HNP to ensure that the Davao region’s interests are considered by the national government.

Sara is different from her father, but HNP officials have made it clear to Rappler that the main requirement to be an HNP candidate is support for President Duterte.

Who will benefit the most from Duterte’s blessing? 

With Duterte’s continued popularity, there's no doubt any candidate would somehow benefit from his endorsement. But some more than others. There are also some candidates who will need his endorsement more than others, if they are to land a coveted spot in the Magic 12. 

“It has a big impact on some, especially the last few spots in the 12. I think it will make or break. Duterte’s endorsement will be critical for those trying to break through,” said UP political science professor Aries Arugay.

Surveys officially released so far show that the 12 winning spots are dominated by reelectionists, come-backers, and legacy candidates. The administration candidates on the cusp of that winning circle will gain the most from the President’s support.

“The endorsement of the President is not just an endorsement by word but it’s also backed up by network, machine, and let’s admit it, state resources. That’s part of how electoral politics works anywhere,” said Arugay.

Bong Go is case in point. Out of all Duterte’s favored ones, Go is the only one who is counting purely on his association with Duterte to see him through the race. Dela Rosa made a name for himself as a popular police chief (he even has his own mascot). Tolentino had held major government positions before. Go’s only claim to fame is being Duterte’s long-trusted aide and confidante. Indeed, his power to be the "bridge" to Duterte is his main selling point in his press releases. (READ: The man they call Bong Go)

Duterte is pulling out all the stops for Go, singing him praises in every event he attends. Everything from how Malacañang official photos prominently show Go to government agencies inviting Go to their activities proves the state machinery is fully behind the former aide. 

How invested is Duterte in the midterm elections? For Arugay, this year's elections is an extension of the 2016 race Duterte dominated.

“This is still a President who hasn’t stopped campaigning and that’s a mark of a populist leader. They never descended the campaign stage. They’ve always liked to engage in adversarial [language] and politicking,” said Arugay.

Duterte has already begun badmouthing the Senate race survey toppers.  

Alam mo, nagkamali lang ‘yung tao pero I do not have to, you know, derogate others. Iyong nangunguna sa survey, susmaryosep,” he had said last January 3 at Tolentino’s birthday bash in Tagaytay City.

(You know, the people just made a mistake but I do not have to, you know, derogate others. Those topping the surveys, my god.) 

He compared the front-runners to Tolentino. 

“Silent worker. Hindi mayabang. Hindi kagaya ng iba diyan, sus tapos 'pag dating sa survey, nakita mo. You can only shake your head and say ‘tsk.’ Well, ‘yan talaga ang gusto ninyo then you deserve the kind of government that you elect,” he said. 

(Silent worker, not arrogant. Unlike others there, then when the survey comes, you see them. You can only shake your head and say ‘tsk.’ Well, if that’s what you want then you deserve the kind of government that you elect.)

Interestingly, among the consistent survey front-runners are his own political allies, Cynthia Villar, Pia Cayetano, and Koko Pimentel, for example. 

Scarce resource

But some Senate hopefuls hoping for a Duterte miracle are in for a disappointment. There are limitations to a presidential endorsement, even one from a popular Duterte.

That his blessing is spread out across so many names and slates could dilute the power of his endorsement.

“The more candidates he endorses beyond the 12, the more that the endorsement will lose value… Endorsement is a scarce resource. The fewer that it is given by the President, the better the chances, especially for those who want to break through,” said Arugay.

With his personal “Du It” slate, MaBaGoKoTo, and HNP slates, Duterte is endorsing 13 individuals, one person more than the 12 Senate seats up for grabs. It becomes 14 if you consider musician Freddie Aguilar, whom Duterte said he would endorse.

The power of Duterte’s endorsement weakens with those lower in the hierarchy of prioritized candidates. With Duterte’s constant mention of Go, Dela Rosa, and Tolentino, he has already made clear that such a hierarchy exists.

For those on the bottom rung, their individual machinery and networks will have to pick up the slack. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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