Duterte rule seen to get boost from midterm polls

Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 12 2019 11:43 AM

President Rodrigo Duterte leaves the podium after delivering his speech during a campaign rally of his PDP-Laban party in Bohol province on May 8, 2019. The May 13 vote is seen as a referendum at the midpoint of his 6-year term. Rey Baniquet, Presidential Photo

But pushing federalism in 2nd half of term still won't be easy: analysts
 
MANILA -- Millions of Filipinos will cast their votes on Monday in a midterm election seen as a referendum on President Rodrigo Duterte’s populist regime, which continues to enjoy wide public support despite a sustained crackdown on critics and a drug war that has left thousands killed.

At stake in the remainder of Duterte’s 6-year term are his campaign promise to spread wealth and political power to the countryside by shifting to a federal form of government and the tax reforms aimed at companies.

Surveys indicate that most of Duterte’s senatorial candidates will likely win and he could firm up his majority in the Senate, as he did in the House of Representatives soon after his 2016 victory.

But seizing the numbers in the Senate will not necessarily guarantee “smooth sailing” for federalism, said Julio Teehankee, a political science professor at the De La Salle University.

“Within the coalition, there are members who are against charter change and there is also a bigger number who are against federalism or have great doubts about federalism,” said Teehankee, who helped draft the president’s proposed federal charter.

“So it would take a lot of convincing and inducing by the President and his allies to convince these administration senators to support charter change and federalism.”

Senators sat down on proposals to overhaul the post-Marcos constitution, refusing to yield to a House of Representatives that passed its own version of a federal constitution last year.

Financial markets will be watching how Duterte will use his political capital to pursue further reforms and the first ever "A" credit rating, said Jonathan Ravelas, chief investment strategist at BDO Unibank.

"I don't see the elections as a key event, I think it's a non-event. I think what people are waiting for is clean and honest elections," he said.

HIGH STAKES VOTE

Duterte has not detailed his vision for a federal Philippines, relying instead on his consultative committee’s draft, which sought to create 18 federated regions.

The body headed by former Chief Justice Reynato Puno also proposed a ban on political dynasties, which was rejected in the House draft prepared under Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Lawyer Tony La Viña, former dean of Ateneo’s School of Government, said federalism would be “disastrous for the country” but conceded it had a better chance of passing in the Senate after the midterm elections.

“But I suspect the people would say no in a plebiscite if it’s not presented properly, if it is not the right design,” he told ABS-CBN News.

“The stakes are very high for this election.”

VIABLE PRESIDENT

The fate of the federalism initiative will also depend on how much of Duterte’s political influence would be left in the next 3 years, said Teehankee, citing the convention that Philippine president’s are weakened during this period.

Part of it has to do with the electoral system that limits presidents to a lone 6-year term, he said.

“Most of these politicians, after the midterm, usually look forward to their political life after the current presidency and this is one of the unintended consequences of having a single-term presidential system,” he said.

If a “viable” president is cool to the idea of federalism, politicians will “hedge” derailing Duterte’s proposal, he said. 

His daughter Sara Duterte Carpio’s towering presence in the campaign has been seen as her way of testing the waters for a possible presidential run in 2022, similar to what the father did prior to the 2016 race.

Duterte-Caprio, the incumbent Davao City mayor, led her regional party Hugpong ng Pagbabago in campaigning for 13 senatorial candidates.

DRUG WAR

The opposition’s senatorial campaign sought to draw the line with Duterte’s candidates on issues such as the drug war, his high-handed approach to criticism, and China’s growing influence in the Philippines.

Otso Diretso candidates occasionally called on voters to reject “thieves” in the Senate, in apparent reference to candidates linked to the multi-million-peso pork barrel scam.

But such forms of negative campaigning, while relatively effective on social media, apparently failed to drag down certain candidates’ survey numbers.

Administration bets backed either by Duterte or his daughter Sara have dominated most of the surveys, in an election system that puts heavy premium on individual popularity, massive campaign resources and political network.

Election laws allow candidates with parties to spend only P3 per registered voter while those running independently can shell put P5 per voter.

In reality, a senatorial candidate needs around half a billion pesos to sustain an effective nationwide campaign, strategists told ABS-CBN News.

A cost too high for a job that by law pays little.