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The Manila Times : Duterte's snub frees BBM from the burden of defending DU30 administration and its record

News & Interviews
20 November 2021

By Yen Makabenta | The Manila Times

First word

SOMETIMES an untoward and unexpected development that seems at first glance like a setback may in reality be a boon or an opportunity.

The reported denial by President Duterte of support for Bongbong Marcos (together with his strange charge also tagging BBM as "pro-communist") should be viewed in such a light by the Marcos camp.

It suggests a rift between longtime assumed allies that will subtract support from a presidential campaign, particularly when the support is coming from the highest official of the government.

But viewed from another angle, however, the broadside by Duterte is not entirely unfortunate or damaging.

It can instead be seen as liberating Marcos Jr.'s campaign for the presidency. It will free him from the chore or expected burden of helping defend the Duterte administration's record and its policies during the campaign, which an ally would be expected to do. BBM and his team (together with running mate Sara Duterte-Carpio) will be free to mold a clear-eyed vision of their objectives, platform and policy agenda in the campaign. They will be freed from hang-ups like the war on drugs and the confused administration policy on the South China Sea dispute.

Alliance of political families

This is not an insignificant matter. It ruptures a long alliance between two political families that has stretched over half a century and has been strengthened by solicitous gestures given and received by both sides.

When he first announced his intention to seek the presidency in the 2022 election, BBM readily told one media interviewer that he and his family clan were ever thankful to President Duterte for his steadfast decision to allow the burial of the remains of President Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani in the face of raucous loud opposition from various political groups in the country. It took a majority decision (9 to 5) by the Supreme Court for the interment to proceed with state approval. Because President Duterte held firm, the controversy was bridged, and the nation was able to move on.

Thereafter, the Duterte and Marcos families became allies in national politics and on major issues of national import and interest.

But now, with a national election on the horizon next May, and with Duterte due to irrevocably end his term next year, and with national politics wracked in competition to win the mandate to succeed him, there is a question whether the alliance can hold on for much longer. Both families intensely aspire for the chance to name the next president of the country

Divergent plans

Marcos Jr. made manifest the Marcos plans by declaring early his resolve to run for president in the 2022 elections. Significantly during his announcement, he also indicated that he hoped to run for president, with President Rodrigo Duterte agreeing to be his running mate.

President Duterte's plans for his succession ran along a different line. He wanted his daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, to run for president herself, given her good standing in pre-election surveys. Duterte said he would run for vice president beside her.

Mayor Sara thumbed down this scheme, however, and any plan that would put her and her father running for the highest positions in government at the same time. She preferred to just run for reelection as Davao city mayor.

Later she modified her decision by accepting an offer to run for vice president in tandem with Marcos. And the two have since filed their certificates of candidacy and have made their team-up official.

Meanwhile, for his part President Duterte continued to dream of naming his successor from his party or from his administration. After an ill-starred attempt to put Sen. Ronald "Bato" de la Rosa as a placeholder for the administration's presidential candidate, he switched to his longtime aide, Sen. Christopher Lawrence "Bong" Go as the administration's official candidate, and he designated Sara Duterte-Carpio as Go's running mate.

Marcos bid catches fire

BBM's presidential bid caught fire almost from the moment that it was officially announced. In the media, mainstream and social, and by word of mouth, Bongbong's candidacy resonated instantly with the public. And this was vividly projected aided by a well-orchestrated publicity campaign on all media. When favorability and pre-election surveys were conducted, BBM and Sara fared first and second in nearly all surveys. When Sara's reluctance to run became publicly apparent, BBM became the runaway favorite in voter preference surveys in the 2022 election.

As for the other presidential aspirants — Vice President Leni Robredo, Sen Panfilo Lacson, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno and Senator Go — hardly any one was in BBM's pole position in the coming election. Sara's decision to team up with BBM has plainly increased many times over the level of support for BBM across the nation.

Before this rising tide of Marcos support, Duterte has increasingly been at his wit's end trying to find something to stanch it.

It was in these circumstances that he publicly declared that he would not support Marcos' candidacy for president.

At the same time, he announced the presidential candidacy of Senator Go almost as though he were the senator himself. He followed this up with the announcement that Go would run with Sara.

To paraphrase Isaac Asimov, cheap drama is the refuge of the incompetent. The Duterte administration's Squid Game-style plot twists over the weekend were suspenseful enough to warrant some attention, if not dreadful anticipation. To be fair, the roller-coaster plot turned out even more twisted than many had expected, though I doubt it would perform well on the Rotten Tomatoes review-aggregation barometer.

But the flagrant and unabashed mockery of the "substitution" candidacy rule, which is allowed in the coming election, and which came as totally unsurprising to all the other candidates, was not only an affront to our Constitution and democratic principles. It was also a reflection of the rotten core of performative populism.

The fact is the President remains unreconciled to the idea that by June 30 next year, he will no longer be president. He desperately wants to have his chosen one succeed him, if that can be arranged with the electorate.

He has also opted to run for senator in the May election.

Duterte's big problem with BBM and the Marcos family is that they are on the ascent in national politics, while he is on the decline. His approval ratings may now be less than 50 percent.

The big hope for the Duterte family is that Sara Duterte-Carpio is running in tandem with BBM. As vice president, she will be well-positioned to run and be elected as the president of the Philippines by 2028.