The Hugpong ng Pagbabago candidates are not running for their stand on the issues, on character, on their record of public service.
Sara Duterte, the President’s daughter, made it very clear that it’s the administration slate’s loyalty to her father that counts when she said a candidate’s honesty should not be a factor in these elections.
The acid test is their willingness to swear absolute, unthinking fealty to the President. Apparently, if the surveys are right, most Filipinos agree with Sara and are willing to hold their noses and overlook the fact that quite a number of the Hugpong candidates are out-and-out rascals, liars, or plain ass-lickers and are willing to put the likes of Jinggoy Estrada, Bong Revilla, Imee Marcos, and Bong Go in the Senate.
The need to believe
In times of crisis, there is a desperate need for people to believe in something and someone. And after putting up with what they viewed as the corruption, incompetence, and hypocrisy of previous administrations, a great part of the electorate has placed its faith in Duterte to lead them to the promised land.
A disgruntled middle class that had high hopes in the post-Marcos “Edsa Republic” and felt betrayed by its failure to deliver on its promises is the driving force of what is essentially an insurgency against liberal democracy, a force that is sweeping most of the rest of the country along with it.
That several thousand people have been killed in the President’s war on drugs is something that Duterte’s supporters say is a necessary cost to be incurred on the way to the good society. That inflation is making life difficult for most people is a detail, something not to be blamed on the President.
That corruption continues to be rife and is, in fact, synonymous with some of those running under Duterte’s banner is something to be tolerated because he’ll eventually whip the corrupt in line. And when there are reports on the President’s unexplained wealth, they shrug and say no one is perfect.
Mass politics of authoritarianism
In the U.S., political analysts have noted that whatever he does, some 30% of the population will always approve of Trump. There is a similar phenomenon going on here, except that here some 70-80% appear to approve of Duterte whatever he does.
This is not because those 30% of Americans and 70% of Filipinos are stupid, as implied in the derogatory term “Dutertards” that many anti-Duterte people have used to describe his base. The reality is that we are no longer paddling in the waters of democratic politics as usual, where factors such as money, interests, issues, and name recall spell the difference, though they continue to have some influence.
Many analysts have said that they have not lived through a period as tumultuous as the last 3 years. That is because we were launched in 2016 into a whole new ball game, one where the country was seized by a collective fever that some call the politics of faith, others term the politics of charisma, and still others say is authoritarian politics.
Whatever one calls it, what it essentially is is the willingness of people to hold their critical faculties in abeyance and allow themselves to be swept away by the hope that an authoritarian leader will lead the country into a future that he himself has only vague ideas about.
An intimidated opposition
Mass authoritarian mobilization of the electorate is what the traditional opposition has been up against, and it has made the mistake of allowing itself to be intimidated by it.
From the very beginning, the Otso Diretso slate projected a marked lack of confidence, with some of the candidates publicly proclaiming that it would be hard to win against Duterte.
A Liberal Party spokesman, in fact, said that the electoral campaign would provide an opportunity to “consult” people on why the previous administration lost the trust of the people, effectively making the elections a referendum on that administration than on the current one.
It was probably smart to avoid sporting the color yellow given the success of the administration’s propaganda machine equating it with incompetence, hypocrisy, and elitism, but the behavior of Mar Roxas, the opposition’s leading candidate, was downright demoralizing. He displayed a marked reluctance to campaign with the rest of Ortso Diretso, apparently seeking to soften his image as an opponent of Duterte and sell himself instead as an economist. (READ: Mar Roxas seeks to defeat ghosts from 2016 bid)
Instead of being appeased, Duterte predictably took to making Roxas a “punching bag,” to use the words of Senator Panfilo Lacson. Individual candidates like Chel Diokno, Florin Hilbay, Samira Gutoc, Gary Alejano, and Erin Tañada did well in television debates, but the opposition never graduated from being perceived as a ragtag group that did not pose a serious challenge to the administration machine.
If the polls are showing that it might be difficult for even one of them to reach the “Magic 12,” they have partly themselves to blame. However much people might support what you stand for, they will find it difficult to identify with people who behave like they’ve already lost.
An aggressive campaign on human rights, due process, the dangers of dictatorship, and the state of the economy is what the opposition should have mounted. While taking a strong stand on these issues might not be in sync with the mood of the electorate at this particular juncture in the country’s political history, the opposition should have realized that human rights, due process, opposition to one-man rule are enduring values, values that may be temporarily eclipsed by a collective derangement like that which has currently infected the nation but to which people will eventually return once they have come to their senses, even if that takes a generation.
They should have defined the electoral campaign not simply as a fight to win the coming elections but as pivotal point in the struggle to preserve democracy and brought to the enterprise an aggressive and passionate spirit.
Ray of hope
Yet there has been a ray of light during these elections, though it has not come from Otso Diretso. This sign of hope was the coming together of “Labor Win,” a coalition of representatives of labor federations.
This was not planned. It was something that jelled in the middle of the campaign period, when the different candidates from labor realized that instead of running alone, they would do better to band together in order to effectively project the demands of labor and the masses to the electorate.
Though it does not encompass all of the labor movement, Labor Win is a notable achievement, given the traditionally fractious state of Philippine labor.
The candidates are veteran labor organizers and activists, a welcome whiff of sanity in the midst of the collective derangement. Nobody could provide a better contrast to the rascals in the Hugpong than Leody de Guzman of Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP), Ernie Arellano of National Confederation of Labor, labor lawyer Alan Montano, Sonny Matula of Federation of Free Workers, and Neri Colmenares of Bayan Muna.
Labor Win is significant for two reasons.
First, it may provide a precedent for people from labor and people’s organizations coming together for future electoral coalitions.
Second, given the greater media coverage of the underdogs in the Senate race during this election campaign, they have brought to the fore the bread-and-butter issues that are the daily concerns of people such as inflation, the water crisis, contractualization, and unemployment.
And, owing to their roots in the working class and the masses, they have addressed these issues with a credibility that few of those in the administration slate and Otso Diretso could ever manage.
While Sonny Angara of Hugpong was complaining about not having the opportunity to shower together and have “sexy time” during the severe shower shortage, only the Labor Win candidates could convincingly project the anger and frustration of the people about not having water to enable them to deal with basic body necessities owing to the incompetence of the water bureaucracy.
Labor Win may yet pull a big surprise, not in terms of landing in the Magic 12, but in terms of performing well given the odds, proving that an election based on burning issues and records of service to the people may yet be possible in the Philippines.
May 13 will not just be a mid-term election. It will be one of the most consequential elections in the history of the country, one whose results may bring us closer to a full-fledged authoritarian system.
Paradoxically, such an outcome may be the jolt that is needed to get us to finally realize that we are no longer in the realm of politics as usual and force the still disorganized democratic forces to finally take seriously the task of forging an effective mass political movement to head off the Final Solution. – Rappler.com
The author was a member of the House of Representatives from 2009 to 2015.