Malaya Business Insight : COVID and the 2022 elections

By Jose Bayani Baylon | Malaya Business Insight


IN a few weeks’ time the countdown to the 2022 national elections for President, Vice President, half of the Senate, all seats in the House and all elective local government posts will be 11 months. Imagine that – 11 months – a period shorter than the length of time the Philippines has been under some form of lockdown as part of our national response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

From where I type, it seems to me that both sides of the political coin remain confused and undecided as to who their 2022 bets will be. For the camp of outgoing President Duterte, it is not yet clear whether their candidate for President will be the presidential daughter, Mayora Sara – who I like for what I sense are her “middle child” traits – or Presidential assistant turned Sen. Bong Go, whom many seem to prefer for being “approachable.” I put quotation marks around the word approachable because that is how they describe him to me, making the quotation mark signs with their fingers when they utter the word “approachable.” I just couldn’t find the meaning of the word in quotation marks in the dictionary I use.

I guess what the people imply is that SenSAP will be easier to work with, compared to Mayora. But easier is not always better, eh?

On the opposition front, it also is still up in the air. By the nature of her elective position, Vice President Leni is the “llamado,” the way Hillary Clinton was the “llamado” for her party’s nomination in 2016; but we all know what happened to Hillary (who, by the way, was the one I was rooting for). If Hillary had a Bernie Sanders, it seems that VP Leni has former Sen. Sonny Trillanes – seen as too extreme by some, but someone who in my book is a “what you see is what you get.” Which is not common in the world of politics, more so in the world of Philippine politics – and maybe this is why Sen. Sonny and former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile (the Philippines’ political survivor non-pareil) never get along with each other – because they are the exact opposites.

But there are two more personalities who can complicate things for both sides.

For the PRRD camp, there is the “pambansang kamao,” Sen. Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao, who has made no bones of his ambitions. When Pacquiao was first elected to the Senate, he was, not surprisingly, scoffed at: how could a man who all his life was having his head and body beaten up hold up in the august chamber of the Senate? Over the years, however, Pacquiao seems to have demonstrated an ability to learn “on the ropes,” and except for a few controversial statements that have riled specific audiences like the LGBTQ community, has generally fared fairly well especially when it is obvious that he has studied a topic well.

The threat that Pacquiao poses to the PRRD world is twofold: first, he attracts the same segment of the voting population that abandoned the “yellows” in droves in 2016 and helped elect PRRD; and second, the devotion of these people to him is deeply rooted in his own life story culminating in the numerous national pride-inspiring victories in the ring that have made him a legend in the world of boxing. (And a rich man, to boot!)

I am thus not surprised that my suki therapist, who admits to having voted for PRRD in 2016, has openly told me he will vote for Pacquiao in 2022 even if PRRD were to campaign for some other candidate. That’s one vote less from the fabled 16 million.

For the opposition, the third man in the ring could very well be former Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, who has been consistently held up as “the” legal luminary, especially when it comes to the West Philippine Sea issue, and one who had accepted a presidential dare to a debate only to see the President back off. His age notwithstanding, Carpio may provide a less controversial choice for the opposition; at the same time the lack of controversy may also mean he will not be a good choice if one

wanted to excite passion among the voters.
But the 2022 elections may revolve less around the personality of the candidates and more around COVID-19. With the goal of achieving herd immunity by the end of this year a pipe dream (at least in my book), the chances that how we vote and, maybe more crucially, who we vote for in 2022, will be affected by the pandemic.

Bottom line: how will COVID-19 become an election issue in a few months’ time? Will it be hung around the neck of the administration and its chosen candidates for 2022? Will the administration be able to deflect any responsibility for the much-criticized response and deny the opposition a potent issue? Will the Filipino connect his COVID experience with how he voted in 2016 – and will this mean voting for or against the candidate of the administration?

Soon we will know the answers to these questions – and who will be inheriting COVID-stricken Philippines as its new President in 2022!