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The Philippine Star : Shriveled

News & Interviews
18 November 2021

By Alex Magno | The Philippine Star

I wanted to use the word “imploded.” But that process requires some amount of force to happen.

Lackadaisical and diffident, the PDP-Laban (technically the “ruling” party) simply shriveled on the vine.

A few days ago, the PDP-Laban (Cusi wing) issued a statement saying the group was observing developments in the electoral field. That was its strangest statement to date.

All of us, as a matter of course, observe the developments. But as the “ruling party,” PDP-Laban ought to be shaping those developments. Instead, it was swamped by events and, in the end, became a party without a candidate.

Just two months ago, two factions were fighting fiercely for control of the party. This past week, no one wanted to be associated with it.

Bong Go and his principal Rodrigo Duterte simply filed their candidacies under the banner of some ramshackle political group that never before won any elective post. By doing so they avoid the uncertainties over which faction of this now irrelevant party wins accreditation.

For the same reason, the leader of the other faction, Manny Pacquiao, filed under the resurrected Promdi Party, organized during Lito Osmena’s 1992 run for the vice presidency. The other minor candidates who filed under this Cebu-based party rather strangely withdrew their candidacies before the deadline for substitution of candidates.

PDP-Laban was nothing until Rodrigo Duterte opted to run under its banner in 2015. With Duterte winning the presidency, the party’s ranks swelled with the usual turncoats seeking power under its wing. In the twilight of the Duterte presidency, the PDP-Laban is back to where it was in 2015 – a backwater party with a handful of loyalists.

Rodrigo Duterte has proven to be both boon and curse on this hapless political party.

After he accessed the presidency, politicians big and small scrambled to join the party. But strongmen are rarely disposed towards cultivating successors. Duterte treated his party as a platoon of gofers. The supposed leaders of the “ruling party” happily obliged him. They merely followed the autocrat’s every flip and every flop.

The party suffered a slow death with every flip and every flop.

With no major candidate, this is a party ready to be buried. It is moribund. There is no one to rally the party back together again. Humpty Dumpty has better chances at repair.

Rodrigo Duterte has made it clear he would support only his loyal aide Bong Go. Batman might still have enough in his tank to make it to the win column in his senatorial run. But Robin is way afield.

The current frontrunners will have to be incredibly incompetent for Bong Go to battle his way to the top over the next five months. He might have better chances lunging at windmills.

Second tier

The SWS survey commissioned by the Albert del Rosario Institute is all we have at the moment to indicate the state of play. Because of the week during which the survey was conducted, it is deficient in at least one thing: capturing the effect of Sara Duterte’s reentry to the national electoral game.

Nevertheless, this survey gives us a rather dramatic picture of current voter disposition. Bongbong Marcos garnered 47 percent voter preference followed by Leni Robredo at 18 percent.

Robredo supporters spin the results by highlighting their candidate nearly doubling her preference share since she declared. But BBM also doubled his share since Sara exited the presidential race.

Isko Moreno’s strategist, for his part, chooses to see the 5-point spread between his candidate and Robredo as a “statistical tie.” That is technically true. But even if Isko gets all the Leni votes, he will still be way short of BBM’s share. In fact, even if we add up the shares of all the “non-Duterte” candidates – Robredo, Moreno, Pacquiao and Lacson – it will still be short.

If elections were held today, BBM threatens to be the first majority president under the present constitutional framework. He will likely enlarge his preference share with the votes Sara brings in, particularly the command votes of local powerbrokers supporting her. All BBM has to do between now and the campaign period is to consolidate the votes he already has by doing highly targeted campaigning with local allies.

Leni and Isko, by contrast, need to figure out a way to shift tens of millions of votes to their favor. But in trying to do so, they will likely eat into each other’s voting bases.

For this reason, I prefer to look at Leni and Isko as second-tier candidates. Neither has yet found a way to pull down the frontrunner’s immense lead.

The first indirect reaction to the SWS poll is Robredo’s advisory to her supporters to refrain from attacking her rivals. That might be hard to enforce and probably foolhardy to pursue.

Robredo cast her candidacy as anti-BBM. She basically attracts the Yellow crowd, the same sanctimonious ones who love to congregate wearing clothes of the same color. Her whole campaign is cast as a defense of the Edsa narrative, including its polarizing good-versus-evil theme. This is the same crowd that condemned those that did not share their political opinions as “bobotantes.”

Over the past weeks, her followers have viciously heaped ad hominem attacks against BBM. This is almost a categorical imperative of the theme on which the Leni candidacy is built. So far, however, the negative campaigning unwittingly highlights the unity theme of the BBM campaign.

But if Leni switches from the hate campaign mounted by her followers, she cannot erode BBM’s immense lead.