MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte’s enduring popularity has become a boon for many candidates in the upcoming polls, with some bets showing willingness to set aside their long-held principles or even share the stage with their opponents just to get an endorsement from the firebrand leader.
The midterm polls have shaped up to be a peculiar one compared to past elections, as Duterte endorses his own senatorial slate apart from the one fielded by his political party, PDP-Laban.
To make matters even more complicated, his daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, also decided to carry her own senatorial slate through her regional party, Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HNP), as the chief executive’s equally feisty daughter has shown herself to be an effective power broker.
The three different slates are composed of almost the same personalities.
PDP-Laban is composed of five members considered part of the President’s inner circle – former special assistant to the president Christopher Lawrence “Bong Go”, former police chief Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, former presidential political adviser Francis Tolentino, former Senate President and PDP-Laban president Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, and Maguindanao Rep. Zajid “Dong” Mangudadatu.
Duterte’s own slate is composed of the 5 PDP-Laban candidates with the addition of reelectionist senators Sonny Angara, Cynthia Villar, and Joseph Victor "JV" Ejercito, Taguig Rep. Pia Cayetano, Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos, folk singer Freddie Aguilar, and former Interior Secretary Rafael Alunan.
Carpio’s HNP lineup, meanwhile, is composed of the same candidates minus Aguilar and Alunan, with the addition of journalist Jiggy Manicad, and former senators Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., who were both linked to the pork barrel scam.
The creation of three different pro-administration slates are a challenge for campaign managers when it comes to arranging sorties.
Even more important than this, however, was how administration figures juggled their alliances with local politicians who can deliver votes for national candidates and ensure organic support for the President until his term ends and beyond.
University of the Philippines political science professor Aries Arugay said the two Dutertes’ decision to go separate ways in the campaign trail was a way to deal with and accommodate opposing figures at the local level.
“The differences in the slates have something to do with the Duterte family being invested in local races. It tells you they would rather hedge their bets locally, in order to make sure that they have the loyalty of whoever is going to be elected,” Arugay told ABS-CBN News.
Carpio herself admitted this strategy, saying she would prefer the HNP to make more “friends” if this would mean increasing the chances for victory of its supported candidates.
“Isa din sa strategy na ginagawa ng HNP is maghanap ng maraming allies, iba’t ibang allies sa local,” Carpio told reporters on the sidelines of HNP’s campaign sortie in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi on April 25.
“Ang sinasabi ko nga kailangan natin ng maraming maraming kaibigan para magtulak at magcampaign sa nga senators natin.”
(One of the strategies of HNP is to look for allies, especially at the local level… We need more friends who will campaign for our senatorial candidates.)
Another way to look at the clashing politics of the President and his daughter, is that Carpio wants to build an image of her own.
Carpio has been rumored to be eyeing the presidency in 2022 and observers say she is using HNP as a launching pad. Even her allies are already nudging her to run for president in 2022, but the Davao City mayor said she has not made up her mind yet.
“To a certain extent, Sara is trying to present herself as different from the President. Both of them are Dutertes pero ang dating, si Sara pwedeng pagsabihan ang Presidente. Hindi nakikinig si Sara sa presidente,” said Ela Atienza, chair of the UP Political Science Department.
(To a certain extent, Sara is trying to present herself as different from the President. Both of them are Duterte but it appears that Sara can admonish the President and she does not listen to him, too.)
PDP-LABAN VS HUGPONG
With the massive popularity being enjoyed by Duterte and his daughter, a great number of politicians have been lining up for their hands to be raised by the two powerful figures.
Being PDP-Laban’s chairman, Duterte is bound to endorse the party’s local candidates. This has effectively limited the President’s ability to forge alliances at the local scene. Thus, Carpio has been open to endorsing candidates who do not belong to her father’s political party.
In the San Juan race, for instance, PDP-Laban is backing the mayoralty bid of Francis Zamora, but the President surprisingly raised the hands of his rival, San Juan City Vice Mayor Janella Ejercito, as seen in a photo uploaded by the latter on Feb. 20. Ejercito also enjoys Carpio's support.
Three days later, Zamora appeared at a PDP-Laban campaign sortie in Laguna seeking to have his hand raised by the popular President. He insisted he is the President’s official candidate.
Janella’s father, former senator Jinggoy Estrada, had also wanted Duterte’s endorsement in his Senate comeback bid.
The President raised Estrada's hand at a gathering in Legazpi City, Albay last Feb. 8, only to clarify a week later that he was not endorsing the pork barrel-linked former lawmaker, unlike the latter's brother JV.
As Duterte was busy campaigning for his PDP-Laban allies, Carpio was also building connections with local politicians who are more than willing to be associated with the Duterte family.
In Isabela, she appeared with three rivals for the congressional race. She also did this in Davao del Sur, where she endorsed competing candidates from Digos City and Sta. Cruz town.
Carpio also forged an alliance with Cotabato City Mayor Cynthia Guiani, who is opposed to her city’s inclusion in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, a key advocacy of the President.
Carpio’s crisscrossing alliances at the local level have also put PDP-Laban president Koko Pimentel in a difficult situation. The former Senate President admitted earlier he had to skip certain HNP sorties because the hosts are rivals of his party’s local bets.
In Taguig City, the PDP-Laban fielded brothers Arnel Cerafica and Allan Cerafica to battle filmmaker Lino Cayetano and his older brother, former senator and foreign affairs Alan Peter Cayetano, in the mayoralty and congressional races, respectively.
The idea of a Duterte-led PDP-Laban pitting its own candidates in the Taguig race to battle the Cayetanos would have been tough to swallow for Alan, the President’s defeated running mate in the 2016 polls and one of his ardent defenders.
In Quezon City, Carpio aired support for the candidacy of Vice Mayor Joy Belmonte, who will run for mayor against PDP-Laban’s Bingbong Crisologo.
Belmonte, who was among those who abandoned the Liberal Party for PDP-Laban when Duterte became president, used her local party Serbisyo sa Bayan Party (SBP) as her vehicle for her mayoralty bid, after the ruling party chose to support her rival Crisologo. SBP has an alliance with Carpio’s HNP.
Meanwhile in Sulu, former Governor Ben Loong hosted HNP in its campaign sortie in the province last April 25, even though the ruling political party is backing the election bid of Abdusakur Tan.
Pimentel has downplayed the clashes at the local level between PDP-Laban and HNP-allied parties, saying what’s important is both are supportive of the President.
“PDP-Laban and HNP are not competitors. If you imagine an umbrella, you call that the Duterte umbrella, we are found under that umbrella,” Pimentel told ABS-CBN News.
“HNP limited itself to Region 11. But should it decide to become a national political party, that’s still welcomed. I just hope people will look at the ideology or program of government or the principles of the party.”
Pimentel also does not mind sharing the stage during HNP sorties with Gov. Imee Marcos, whose family his father Nene fought during the martial law era.
“Imee has not joined the party. Hindi ko rin siya partymate. It’s wrong to say that the PDP-Laban has become pro-Marcos,” Pimentel said.
The rift among the President’s allies reached its tipping point when Carpio and then-Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, a PDP-Laban stalwart, clashed over the Davao City Mayor’s formation of HNP. Alvarez allegedly called Carpio part of the opposition.
The word war between the two eventually led to Alvarez’s ouster as Speaker.
For Arugay, Alvarez’s ouster was one of the key events that contributed to the loss of PDP-Laban’s luster as the ruling political party.
“It’s quite intriguing that it somehow lost steam immediately and this has something to do with the different factions within President Duterte’s own political coalition,” Arugay said.
“So you now have candidates that rather go with regional party that has the Duterte namesake rather than the official party, supposedly, of the President.”
WILL THE 'DUTERTE MAGIC' WORK?
While Duterte’s endorsement power is something definitely not to disregard, Arugay said there are forces in Philippine politics that would be hard for the firebrand leader to challenge.
Arugay said one manifestation of the limits of Duterte’s endorsement power is the continued dominance of independent candidate Grace Poe and other non-Duterte allies like former senator Lito Lapid and reelectionist Sen. Nancy Binay in the pre-election surveys.
He also noted that most of the candidates in the winners’ circle in the recent pre-election surveys have established their names long before Duterte broke into the national political scene.
“Most of those who are doing well in the surveys are basically returnees, meaning they already have their own brands, their brand names in the Senate, national political arena and it just so happens they are attached to President Duterte,” Arugay said.
“So to say they are rating well, particularly the comebackers, just because of Duterte’s endorsement, I don’t buy that. It’s really more that these are the names the people are used to.”
Arugay said Duterte’s endorsement power, however, will be tested by how his long-time aide Go, and former police Dela Rosa, will fare in the polls.
“In the case of Bong Go and to a certain extent, Dela Rosa, there is a very deliberate mobilization of all the possible resources of the administration, which we have already seen in the past,” he said.
“I think it will really be embarrassing for President Duterte and for the administration if Bong Go will not win and will not win big.”
Looking at the recent surveys, it seems Duterte’s endorsement power has worked in favor of Go and Dela Rosa.
In the latest Pulse Asia survey, Go sits comfortably at the 4th to 8th spot, while Dela Rosa is a just a few notches below.
Opposition figures have called on the public to prevent the Senate from being dominated by pro-Duterte candidates. However, judging by the recent survey results, this call seems unheeded.
Arugay said, while those who aligned themselves with Duterte will have an advantage going into the May polls, they will someday have to deal with the repercussions of being identified with a controversial leader.
“I don’t think they criticize themselves… They try to cosmetize, sanitize, legitimize [Duterte’s statements] to the point that they shoot themselves in the foot. That’s the trade off of a Duterte endorsement,” he said.
“You will be put to a lot of uncomfortable position trying to defend the President’s statements.”