The Manila Times : A (not so) hypothetical scenario and what the political opposition needs to do

28 August 2021

By Antonio Contreras | The Manila Times

I WILL match President Rodrigo Duterte's audacity in running for vice president with an audacious attempt to present another possible scenario, perhaps not likely, but for the purpose of academic exercise, it is worth entertaining.

I guess in this crazy world of Philippine politics, entertaining a hypothetical scenario may be as rational as a man who has admitted being tired, at one time saying that he was inutile, but would still run for vice president.

What is even more bizarre is when Duterte rationalized his run as his way of ensuring the continuity of his fight against drugs, criminality and rebellion, things that the last time I checked were not in the pay grade of a vice president. Worse, he admitted that he may not have the power, and so he mused that as vice president he can have a platform for his agenda, effectively forgetting that a vice president can easily be ignored by a hostile president, the same way he disrespected his vice president.

But like I said, Philippine politics has become a theater of the absurd that entertaining an unlikely scenario, as long as it makes sense, may be worth taking.

It is actually possible that a Duterte will run for vice president, and it could either be the father Rodrigo or the daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio. When Duterte announced his candidacy for vice president, they may have felt constrained to allow for another ally to run for president, and the most likely, and rational, is former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. And there is a reason for this.

If Duterte-Carpio runs for president and her father for vice president, it effectively shuts off Marcos from the equation, and this scenario will hurt the Dutertes more than Marcos. Marcos can just run for the Senate or even try his luck for president. But either way, this will antagonize the Marcos loyalist base, which remains significant to affect any election outcome and is as solid as the diehard Duterte supporters or DDS. The mere announcement by the President that he is running for vice president has now triggered a word war in social media between prominent DDS and Marcos loyalists. As current allies of the DDS, the Marcos loyalists could very easily undermine the candidacies of the Duterte daughter and father, in the event that Sara Duterte-Carpio runs.

Recall that in the 2016 elections, Marcos had an excess number of votes in relation to his running mate for president, the late senator Miriam Defensor Santiago. Marcos ended up tallying 14,155,344 votes to Defensor-Santiago's 1,455,532. Thus, potentially, and assuming that all those who voted for Defensor-Santiago are Marcos voters, which is unlikely, there are close to about at least 12.7 million Marcos voters who voted for other presidential candidates. It is unlikely that they would have voted for Mar Roxas, and some of them may have voted for Grace Poe or Jejomar Binay. But it is more likely that a huge number would have voted for Duterte, who was a natural ally. In fact, Duterte even entertained the possibility of asking Marcos to be his running mate.

It is therefore safe to assume that a Marcos run for the presidency or even just leaving Marcos out would greatly erode the chances of any of the Dutertes, considering that a huge, loyal and solid political base of Marcos loyalists who will feel betrayed can very easily withdraw their support. In fact, I will even surmise that the reason why Duterte-Carpio's survey numbers are low, even if she is the frontrunner, is precisely because many potential supporters are indicating their preference for Marcos.

Thus, if this is a game and the intention is simply to protect the interest of the Dutertes, particularly in making sure that the father will not be prosecuted for his many transgressions during his tenure, then the better strategy is for the Dutertes to invest in a Marcos candidacy now that Rodrigo is running for vice president. After all, Marcos is a strategic ally. It is even likely for the father to simply change his mind and just allow his daughter to run for vice president instead. Who knows, all of these, including Duterte-Carpio's public scolding of her father, may just be well-choreographed moves to set the stage for a Marcos-Duterte (father or daughter) tandem.

Of course, it is in the best interest of the political opposition if the Duterte-Marcos alliance crumbles, since this maximizes their chances. Right now, they are fixated on pushing for the candidacy of Vice President Maria Leonor Robredo, which by all indications, may not necessarily be a winning proposition. And this is not just coming from my own bias but is effectively supported by empirical data.

Robredo has a very narrow voter base, which is only at 11.4 percent based on the result of Digivoice's second quarter survey. In terms of voter preference - when respondents were asked to rank their choices on who they would vote for - even Senators Richard Gordon and Panfilo Lacson, both of whom have indicated their interest to run for president, rank higher than Robredo. She is not even the potential candidate with the highest voter base in her home region Bicol, where she only obtained 31.8 percent compared to Manila City Mayor Francisco Domagoso's 59.1 percent or Marcos' 45.4 percent.

The political opposition should not lose the chance to rally behind a candidate who can match the Duterte-Marcos alliance, which if it remains would still be formidable, and maximize their chances should it crumble. The looming Lacson-Sotto candidacy is likely to dent the opposition's chances more than it will harm a Duterte-Marcos alliance, even if it collapses.

Applying game theory, the political opposition will be better served to look for another candidate. And the most strategic move is perhaps to look toward those who are both winnable and can offer a better future for the country.