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The Manila Times : The autumn of a leader

News & Interviews
7 December 2021

By Ma. Lourdes Tiquia | The Manila Times

RODRIGO Roa Duterte came from nowhere in 2016 and was not considered "winnable," but he won on account of a very unique messaging that resonated with the masses. Duterte was, after all, the revolt of the masses finally finding their collective voice. Registering as a different kind of leader, someone who was truly like them, his base was strong on the stretch. Five years and six months after, the base had weakened and floundered because of the way he won (throwing out the playbook) and being unable to build a party that could carry the day for him as he sailed into the sunset.

PRRD's term was all about a leader pushing everyone. It was a very leader-centric approach, hurling presidential might against oligarchs and institutions that had long placed Juan de la Cruz at a disadvantage. Decisive to the core, delivering more than just lip service, showing a lot of heart for Filipinos, carrying the flag in domestic as well as international fronts and so much more. But in that period, political reform, political party reengineering were not made. He still believed that he could ouido through the political waves and come out the winner. His permanent campaigning had assured a high approval rating. PRRD was clear who the enemies were, and he kept reminding the voters.

Though there are more party-lists today than ever before, the smaller parties are now front and center with PRP, Reporma, Promdi and Aksyon Demokratiko as well as PDDS and PFP in the news cycle. Good thing Lakas-CMD is able to hold on. While LP and PDP-Laban are mere extensions of their grand past and the rest are watching and building alliances because the way the cards were dealt was badly done. Who will be the predominant majority and minority parties is really hard to tell.

As Duterte threw the campaign playbook in 2016, different strategies were used for the midterm, introducing his daughter, the mayor of Davao City leading a movement, Tapang at Malasakit and a regional party, Hugpong ng Pagbabago. Sara Duterte-Carpio used the 45 days of the 90-day campaign period for national candidates to go around the country, a good investment for 2022. It became her listening tours, increased her national awareness and introduced her to national politics as the heir apparent.

But there was another figure who was also introduced into the national arena at the same time as Duterte-Carpio. His monicker then was the 'pambansang photo bomber," later to be branded, "ang bisyo, serbisyo." Bong Go was PRRD's aide since 1998 for a total of 18 years. He became the special assistant to the President from 2016-2018. Go ran under the PDP-Laban in 2019 and everyone saw how PRRD went all-out for him with an unbelievable ante to third rank by the second week of the campaign period and holding that position for the 90-day campaign period.

For the administration come 2022, it was to be between PRRD and Duterte-Carpio with a reserve tire in the person of Go, now a senator, who conveniently stayed on as aide to the PRRD, making a mockery of the independence of the executive and the legislative branches of government. The powerful seat next to PRRD is Go's. In the autumn of PRRD's term, Go was not just an aide to a president with high approval ratings, he was also a senator in the 18th Congress. The fusion of the executive and legislative powers give Go strategic control over two branches of government.

Clearly, all the strategies and tactics were tested in 2019 but what the administration didn't count on was the PDP-Laban split and the defining decision of Duterte-Carpio, signaling she is her own person and can't be a puppet to anyone, even her father.

PDP-Laban was the party to be, but unlike the other national parties, PDP-Laban melted while still a year before the campaign period. As the party in government, it didn't become an engine for the delivery of assistance due to the pandemic. PRRD relied on his ex-military men to execute and carry the country at the height of the pandemic. The party in government was nowhere to be found.

The one-two punch of PRRD going into 2022 was supposedly the daughter and the aide under PDP-Laban but these were scuttled by Duterte-Carpio in August 2021, making public Plan A and Plan B. Substituting a placeholder for Lakas-CMD last Nov. 13, 2021, Duterte-Carpio became the VP candidate of Lakas-CMD. She assumed chairperson position on November 17 and by November 24, Lakas-CMD had passed two resolutions: granting Duterte-Carpio the power to choose her running mate and formalize the adoption of former senator Bongbong Marcos as the party's presidential candidate.

In a sea of red, there is one green (or a few greens) and that is by design. The optics are masterful because it is Duterte-Carpio, daughter of PRRD, female, 43 years old, a lawyer and a Mindanaoan making a strong case for BBM, namesake of PFEM, male, 64 years old, social studies (from Northern Luzon). The caravans are often along bridges with the background of the countryside. "Sama-sama, babangon" is all about unity and rising up. A united team in Philippine politics has never been seen save the PGMA-VP Noli de Castro, a different mix.

Today, PDP-Laban is headless, with Senator Bato withdrawing and Senator Go substituting Gregor "Butch" Belgica, president of PDDS. This was based on an alliance agreement between PDDS and PDP-Laban signed September 23 in preparation for the period of the filing of the CoC last October 1 to 8. The substitution took place in Nov. 15, 2021. PRRD as candidate for the Senate under PDP-Laban also substituted a Mona Lisa Visorde under PDDS. It was planned, no coincidence there.

When Duterte-Carpio filed for VP, Go said he was giving way in an emotional speech in Antipolo last November 11. He again released a statement last November 25 but only read two paragraphs and instead used Andres Bonifacio Day to finally say he was withdrawing. From November 11 to 30, or 19 days of drama. When asked if he has filed the withdrawal with the Comelec, he said it "was a mere formality," which is not. He has until December 10 to do so or else his name will be on the ballot. Go just played a trick on Filipino voters, a defining moment becoming a deceptive attack. From November 11 to December 10 is 30 days of trying to squeeze dry a stone.

In the autumn of Duterte's term, he was made to choose between two people close to his heart and a country he worked hard serving. Go is but a puppet, not a Duterte but a loyal acolyte. Duterte-Carpio is a Duterte but an independent and decisive daughter.

The danger lies in a legacy that is clear and definite to one that is compromised because of the way the cards were dealt. Several things are sure: BBM has been inoculated and the triangulation on issues associated with the Marcoses has been measured. With both Marcos and Duterte-Carpio on a pathway to a super majority, having the beachhead is needed to prevent any last-minute operation. The trump card of PRRD appears to be the disqualification petition at the Comelec. For some, the threat is real, even if BBM had been allowed to run, from vice governor to vice president in previous election cycles. Why now? See the crowd? They tell a story. Listen.

The falling leaves are on the ground, some piling up. Will we see the radiant colors of being or a sulking patriarch removed from the table, ready to give the death blow to a daughter standing mightily proud that the continuity is assured with her?