[OPINION] Presidential race: Trends and post-election scenarios

[OPINION] Presidential race: Trends and post-election scenarios

Fr. Amado L. Picardal, CSsR

April 24, 2022

For the last six years, the Philippines has gone through a dark period under a despotic regime comparable to the Marcos era. Duterte’s War on Drugs has claimed the lives of over 34,000 Filipinos – mostly poor people accused of being drug users, human rights defenders and members of militant groups tagged as communists. He is now facing investigation by the Prosecutor’s Office of the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity. The spiral of violence continues since the breakdown of the peace negotiations between the government and the National Democratic Front. Lumad communities have been subjected to militarization and their schools shut down.

Over 3.68 million have been infected by COVID19 and over 59,000 have died. The government failed to effectively address the pandemic crisis in spite the huge Bayanihan budget due to incompetence and corruption which involve the president and his friends as the finding of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee reported. So far 60 percent has been fully vaccinated and the case infections and mortality rate has gone down. Restrictions have eased although one cannot really be certain that the pandemic crisis is over. There are rising cases in other countries especially like China. Another wave with new variants cannot be ruled out.

The pandemic has affected the economy severely with more Filipinos becoming poorer due to the militaristic approach, long community quarantine, unemployment and bankruptcy. From P6.1 trillion six years ago, the Government’s debt has reached P12 trillion. The Philippines faces great difficulty in coming out from the economic crisis and adapting to the rapidly changing global economic system based on the emergence of a new industrial revolution based on renewable energy and the digital information and communication technology. The Russian invasion in Ukraine which threatens to involve the NATO and escalate into a wider war has triggered an economic crisis related to the energy crisis as well as food crisis considering that Ukraine and Russia are the main sources of gas, oil, grains and fertilizers. The global economy will continue to face recession in the years to come. The ecological crisis is not being seriously addressed as the government continues policies that harm the environment and continuing dependence on fossil fuel. Unless the target of reduction of GHG emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050 are reached, humanity faces extinction. The Philippines is not doing something substantial to implement the international agreements to address climate change.

The press has been under attack while false news proliferate in social media carried out by trolls of the government. The CBCP in a pastoral letter denounced the lies, disinformation and historical revisionism carried out by those in power and those who want to succeed Duterte especially Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. Church leaders who came out against human rights violation (EJK) and corruption by those in power have been harassed and three priests have been killed and others hunted by the death squad.

As the elections draw near, we are at a critical juncture which will determine whether the reign of darkness will continue for the years to come or our country will finally see the light. In the midst of the crises the country is facing, the country needs leaders who are competent, compassionate, self-less capable of inspiring everyone to work together for the common good and effectively address the crises we face.

Political trends

As his term is about to end, President Duterte’s power and influence has waned. The administration party does not have any presidential candidate. The PDP-Laban has splintered. Other political figures and parties allied with him have gone their own way. He still has influence over the outcome of the elections. The COMELEC is made up of his appointees – four from Davao, two fraternity brothers and one former lawyer of Marcos Jr. His friend Dennis Uy is the owner of F2 logistics which is handling the delivery of ballots, SD cards, counting machines, etc.. He can use whatever influence he has left to ensure that the next president can protect him from accountability – especially from investigation of the International Criminal Court..

There are many who are running for president – four of them were Duterte allies and enablers who are vying for his support. (Isko Moreno, Ping Lacson, Manny Pacquia and Marcos Jr) and one consistent opposition figure (Leni Robredo). With less than a month left before the elections, the presidential race is becoming a two race between Marcos Jr and Vice-President Leni Robredo. In this article, I would like to focus on both candidates – their character, qualities, the state of their campaign and the post-election scenarios if they win. I will also discuss a scenario that is being talked about which appear farfetched but cannot be ruled out.

Ferdinand Marcos, Jr.

He is the son the former dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr. Although he claimed that he has a BA degree from Oxford University and an MA from Wharton School of business this was later proved to be false. His father was worried about his lazy and carefree attitude. He has no track record of good governance as governor of Ilocos. Being an absentee governor, he relied on his vice-governor to fulfil his responsibility. Ilocos Norte remains a 3rd class province. He proudly claimed the windmills of Bangui as his project although this was actually initiated and funded by a private company. As senator, he has no impressive record of legislation. He was one of those implicated by Napoles in the pork barrel scam and asked by COA to return P10 million pesos.

As co-administrator of Marcos’ estate, Marcos Jr. blocked government efforts to recover the billions plundered by his father. The estate tax which was is now equivalent to P203 billion remains unpaid. The Supreme Court had ruled the BIR assessment as final and unappealable. His mother, Imelda Marcos who is the co-administrator of the Marcos estate, was convicted by the Sandigan Bayan of seven counts of graft which is on appeal at the Supreme Court. She posted bail while facing 42 years in prison.
Even before the 2016 elections, Marcos Jr allegedly hired the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica to assist him. This includes rebranding the Marcos image. Through lies, deceit and disinformation using social media and trolls and funded by ill-gotten wealth he is trying to make people believe that: a: the Marcos dictatorial rule was the golden era of the country b. the Philippines deteriorated after the ouster of his father and c. he will bring back the golden era with his victory. At the same time, his trolls continue to spread lies about his principal rival Leni Robredo.

Marcos Jr was able to convince Sara Duterte to run for Vice-President which brought many of Duterte’s supporters to his side. So far, he has not received Duterte’s endorsement Duterte has publicly stated that he would not endorse Marcos Jr. He considers him a spoiled brat and a weak leader who relies on his father’s achievement, He even insinuated that Marcos Jr is a cocaine addict.

Marcos Jr is backed by a coalition of political parties and traditional politicians most of whom had been charged and imprisoned for plunder: Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Estrada, Revilla, Enrile, et al.. In spite being convicted for failure to file income tax returns, Marcos Jr. has been favored by the Comelec in the disqualification case. The case will eventually reach the Supreme Court for a final ruling.

Aside from a promise of another golden era for the Philippines, Marcos Jr has not presented a clear vision and concrete program of government should he win. His constant message: unity is the answer to all our problems. He avoids debates believing that he can protect his big lead based on the surveys. His supporters believe that the country will prosper when he brings back the hidden wealth (Tallano gold, Yamashita treasures), pay the country’s debts, and distribute the gold to the people.

In spite being considered the front- runner, he has difficulty drawing large crowds in his rallies and campaigns. He has to rely on “hakot” and giving P250-500. His campaign is focused on the poor (DE class) many of whom he believes can be bought. and those who are gullible and easily duped by lies and disinformation. Thus, far his reliance on social media and ground campaign by barangay leaders have bore fruit with his high survey results. However, he lacks volunteers who can carry out the ground campaign in the last months of the election.

In the most recent survey conducted by Pulse Asia, Marcos Jr remains at the top although there is a decline in his numbers. This downward trend is causing alarm to his campaign strategists and has resulted in more intense negative campaign and dirty tactics against his closest rival. A lead in surveys months before the elections does not guarantee victory as previous elections have shown.. In 2016, Marcos Jr. was the frontrunner in the VP election surveys but lost to Leni Robredo . It remains to be seen if he can keep the lead this time.

Leni Robredo

She is the incumbent vice-president and regarded as the leader of the opposition. She graduated from UP with an economic degree and became a lawyer while being the wife of Naga mayor (later DILG secretary) Jesse Robredo and raising two children. She worked for the Public Attorney’s Office and later for an NGO (Saligan) offering free legal services to poor clients and organizations. After the death of her husband , she was prevailed upon by supporters to run for representative even without money. She defeated a wealthy and powerful politician who was the patriarch of the political dynasty that ruled Camarines for decades. She was elected vice-president in 2016 defeating her four male rivals in spite of having 2 percent ratings at the start of the campaign.

In the eyes of many, she has shown integrity, compassion and servant-leadership especially during the pandemic. In spite being portrayed as elitist, she has proven her love for the poor. She has a clear strategic vision and concrete platform to address the crises the country is facing. She is inclusive and consultative. She is backed by a movement that emerged spontaneously made up of various opposition groups, classes and sectors including clergy, religious and laity. A bulk of her support come from the middle-class, the youth, and urban poor organizations, peasants, labor, etc. She also has the broad support of groups regarded as rightist (Magdalo), left of center (Akbayan) and the left (Makabayan bloc). She is endorsed by various universities, civic groups, the business sector. This so-called Pink Movement is capable of coordinated nationwide mobilization. They are conducting a highly-organized people’s campaign with energetic supporters/volunteers who are engaged in social media and ground campaign (barrio to barrio, house to house, face to face). They are self-financed or crowd-sourcing which make up for her lack of funds. She represents the new style of politics different from the traditional patronage politics. There are massive attendance in rallies held all over the country even in areas considered as bailiwicks of Marcos Jr-Sara Duterte tandem (Northern Luzon, Mindanao, NCR). In these rallies there is consistent message of good governance that can bring progress and hope for the future. Besides being projected as the leader that can bring light amidst the darkness and inspire others to do the same, two other archetypal figures are emerging: the loving mother and the warrior woman – Urduja. To most, she is just simply Leni – approachable, full of charm and charisma, competent and indefatigable.

With the momentum of her campaign, a bandwagon effect has started. Politicians allied with Duterte and his daughter Sara are supporting her – Escudero, Salceda, Andaya, Rufus Rodriguez, Evardone, et al – and are promoting a Robredo-Sara Tandem (RoSa, KaLeSa). She also received the support of the Lakas-CMD chair Jose de Venecia and his son who is deputy majority leader in the House of Representative allied with Duterte, Even Partido Reporma of Pantaleon Alvarez, former ally of Duterte who earlier backed Lacson has declared support for Robredo. The volunteer groups of Isko Moreno – Ikaw Muna Pilipinas – have also shifted their support to her. Many governors and mayors are supporting her – even those competing locally for the same position. These defections to her side continue especially since the start of the campaign for local elections.

In the poll surveys, Robredo has climbed to the second place overtaking Moreno, Pacquiao and Lacson. There is a significant upward trajectory and surge in her numbers. This could be due to the massive crowds in the rallies and the house to house campaign of her army of volunteers. It looks like the spirit of people power has started to manifest in these campaign in spite the harassment and red-tagging. Unlike the surveys, the social media analytics (Google Trends, Facebook Analytics, etc.) which analyze searches and social media engagements are showing that as of March, Robredo leads in most regions. Still, there are many who doubt if she can overtake Marcos Jr whose lead in the surveys remain wide. Many think that it would take a miracle for her to win.

Post-election scenarios

Robredo presidency

Her “miraculous” victory is met with euphoria and rejoicing among the majority of the Filipinos. She reaches out to the supporters of other candidates. Although feeling cheated, there is no strong reaction from supporters of Marcos Jr who files a series of election protests and demand a recount.

She appoints people of competence and integrity in the cabinet and other government positions, she mobilizes the Pink Movement and Civil Society to assist in carrying out her program of government. She focuses on addressing the pandemic crisis like what she had been doing as vice-president but this time in a grander scale – stopping the spread of the epidemic, assistance to those most affected, etc. Appropriate policies and systems that address the pandemic, economic and ecological crises are implemented, Good governance with grassroots participation becomes the norm.

The rule of law is upheld. Those responsible for plunder and murder are held accountable. The DOJ initiates investigation on abuses and crimes committed during the previous administration. The government cooperates with the International Criminal Court in the investigation of the Extrajudicial Killings. System of transparency is put in place to prevent corruption. The peace process with the NDF is resumed and a final peace agreement is reached that addresses the roots of armed conflict. Since she was elected with the support of Church people there is close Church and state collaboration for the common good.

She faces the problem of lack of support from the Senate and House of Representatives if few of her allies win . She has difficulty in passing legislative agenda for reforms and good governance. She also has difficulty with local governments units dominated by traditional politicians and political dynasties. The Pink Movement can bear pressure on local government officials and promote good governance at the local and grassroots level. New leaders of the same mold as Robredo emerge and are supported that will challenge the traditional political elite and dynasties.

Marcos Jr presidency (2 probable scenarios )

Scenario A

The elections turn out to be credible, fair and honest. The losing candidates concede but Marcos Jr does not get the full support and respect because of a general feeling that his victory was achieved through lies and disinformation funded by his family’s ill-gotten wealth. For the next six years, the efforts of Marcos Jr. focus on the following:

• the restoration of his family honor and dynasty, stop all efforts to recover ill-gotten wealth and payment of estate tax, protection of Imelda from serving her sentence for graft.
• the continuation of the policies and style of governance of the Duterte administration characterized by incompetence, corruption, violence and impunity.

He pursues the War on Drugs and the Pro-China policy as well as total war against the revolutionary movement. He appoints his vice-president Sara as Defense Secretary to help carry this out. The death squads are allowed to continue to operate with impunity targeting not just drug users but also those who have been red-tagged. The ICC investigation continues and includes Sara who was mayor of Davao when the Davao Death Squads were active.

While uniting the traditional corrupt political elite, Marcos Jr is unable to unite the nation behind him. Lacking in leadership experience and competence, he is incapable of addressing the pandemic, economic and ecological crises effectively. Being contented with the honor and glory of being the president he remains carefree and lazy and continue to practice an absentee and laissez-faire style of leadership. He depends on others to do the hard and dirty work and relies on the advice of his wife Liza thus, earning the title of conjugal rule. He is unable to do away with corruption in government. He does not have the trust, confidence and respect of many Filipinos, He is unable to go to the US for fear of being arrested.

Crony-capitalism becomes rampant and he is unable to attract foreign investments due to lack of investors’ confidence. The economy deteriorates and he is not able to fulfil his promise of bringing back the golden era of the Philippines. There is no Tallano gold and those who voted for him and the majority of Filipinos remain impoverished and feel scammed once again.

Leni Robredo does not disappear from the scene. She continues to serve in her own capacity even without government position. She provides leadership to the opposition and the Pink Movement that shifts to peaceful, nonviolent resistance. Every self-serving decision of the Marcos Jr administration is challenged and resisted. His non-payment of P203 B estate taxes as well as non-implementation of the Sandigan Bayan conviction of Imelda for plunder is raised. There is a threat to nonpayment of taxes. There is demand for accountability including investigation of corruption and extrajudicial killings.

As the economic crisis deepens, the people have to fend for themselves. Civil Society groups, the members of the Pink Movement and Churches respond by sharing their resources, time and expertise to deal with the bleak situation. They promote a sharing and collaborative economy. Instead of relying on the government, they come up with concrete socio-economic programs and projects that address hunger and unemployment, alleviate poverty, and address climate change. They promote renewable energy, circular economy, sustainable and regenerative agriculture. They implement the agenda and platform of the Pink Revolution even if outside the government. They make use of the digital information and communication technology and help the country to adapt to the emerging new industrial economic revolution. They exert effort to change Philippine society from below.

As Marcos Jr resorts to authoritarian style of governance copying his father’s and predecessor’s playbook, resistance increases. The political and economic situation deteriorates There is heightened social unrest, division and tension. The NDF-CPP-NPA become stronger as many – especially the youth- who are disillusioned with the situation and the political-economic system join the armed revolutionary movement fighting for radical change. Peace remains elusive as resistance to his rule grows. There is no peace negotiations as the government and the revolutionary movement adopt a hardline stance. There is constant effort to oust him. The Church exercises a prophetic/critical role judging the Marcos administration as built on lies, deceit and corruption, having no moral basis to govern. A segment within the military is restive and does not support the repressive rule and pro-China and anti-US policy. The question: will he be able to finish his term or will history repeat itself? Will there be a peaceful transfer of power or a long dark bloody night?

Scenario B

Due to unchecked disinformation campaign, vote-buying and rigging of election by the administration aided by COMELEC, Robredo and other candidates do not concede. The result is unacceptable to the millions of people who want change and pinned their hopes on Robredo presidency. This triggers sustained vigorous protest and civil disobedience spearheaded by the Pink Movement waging active nonviolent struggle with Robredo providing leadership. This spreads nationwide with the support of the Church.

The situation becomes volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Duterte declares a state of emergency until Marcos Jr is sworn into office. This leads to greater reaction. An insurrectionary mood prevails. Duterte orders a crackdown. NPA operations increase. Due to civil disobedience the entire country is paralyzed. A segment of the military refuses to carry out repressive measures against the people. This can either be quickly resolved through People Power like 1986 – with history repeating itself – or to a long dark night of authoritarian rule and determined struggle to oust the ruling regime and usher in a new political-economic system. Whether there is a peaceful transfer of power or a bloody one remains to be seen.

Sara Duterte presidency

(These two scenarios, although seemingly farfetched and dismissed as conspiracy theory, cannot be ruled out. Questions have been raised why the COMELEC failed to come out with a timely decision on the disqualification case against Marcos which could prevent the Supreme Court from coming up with a final ruling before the elections. Duterte’s allies are also making sure that Sara wins as vice-president by promoting a ROSA (Robredo-Sara) tandem. This has brought suspicion that this is part of a complex maneuver by Duterte to ensure his hold on power by proxy and defend him from the ICC investigation. There are two scenarios: a, Marcos Jr victory, b. Robredo Victory).

Scenario A: Marcos Jr is declared winner by the COMELEC. Sara Duterte is also declared winner as Vice-President. Before or after being sworn in, the Supreme Court decides to disqualify Marcos Jr.. Sara is proclaimed as the new president.

Scenario B: Robredo wins the presidency with Sara as vice-president. Robredo has no support in the Senate & House of Representatives dominated by Duterte allies. They maneuver to impeach and oust Robredo. Sara becomes president assuring the continuity of Duterte hold on power.

Whether scenario A or B, both trigger widespread protest and civil disobedience spearheaded by the Pink Movement waging active nonviolent struggle. This spread nationwide with the support of the Church. The situation becomes volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. This leads to greater reaction. An insurrectionary mood prevails. NPA operations increase. Due to civil disobedience the entire country is paralyzed. This can either be quickly resolved through People Power like 1986 or to a long dark night of authoritarian rule and determined struggle to oust the ruling regime.

Final thoughts

The future is unpredictable. We find ourselves in an uncertain, complex, ambiguous situation. Nothing is certain. We will be surprised how things will turn out. This is how many felt at the beginning of 1986 before the Snap Election that Marcos Sr called confident of his victory. What happened in EDSA in Feb 22-25,1986 was totally unexpected. It was not in any of the scenarios. It seemed miraculous.

But already we are seeing a glimpse of what can happen no matter what the outcome of the election may be. What we are seeing so far is the emergence of a new kind of politics that gives hope for the future – beyond May 9. A substantial number of ordinary citizens from all walks of life, most of them young people, fed up with the traditional style of politics, who are actively involved in the fight for good governance. They are people full of hope, with integrity, decency, kindness, compassion, self-discipline, creativity and joy. They represent the best version of the Filipino.

They look for and support servant-leaders who can inspire them to share their time, talent and resources to work for a better Philippines. They are developing a sense of solidarity, communion and what sociologist Victor Turner calls “communitas”. We can already see and experience this in the massive rallies. They are organic and self-organizing making use of the digital information and communication technology to connect to each other, fight false news and disinformation, and go out into the streets, and far-flung communities voluntarily to make a difference. The spirit of EDSA People Power is once again here and will not easily go away.This is the face of transformative politics that will replace the traditional transactional-patronage politics dominated by corrupt and self-serving political elites and dynasties. Assuming that this is not just a temporary phenomenon but a genuine social movement, the struggle – the Pink Revolution – will not end on May 9 –whether with a victory of Robredo or Marcos Jr or a Daughterte presidency.

Under a Robredo presidency, their active support and participation can be relied on so that there will be genuine transformation and good governance. From among them will emerge new breed of servant-leaders chosen and supported by an awakened citizenry that cannot be bought and dominated by traditional politicians. They can change the prevailing political culture.

Under a Marcos presidency, the Pink Movement will resist the continuation of the corrupt and authoritarian style of governance and any efforts of impunity, human rights violation, etc. They are capable of carrying out massive protest and even another people power uprising when necessary. The struggle for good governance and genuine social transformation continues. This time it will come from below rather than from the top. This is the new paradigm of social change.

According to Italian sociologist Vilfredo Pareto, based on his studies of institutions and groups, it only takes at least 20 percent to make a difference. Arnold Toynbee in his study of the history of civilizations and nations also wrote about the role of “creative minorities” in initiating social change. Whether the number of those in the Pink Movement is enough to win this coming election remains to be seen. What is certain is that in the long run, this is enough to effect genuine social transformation. This is the source of hope, the light in the midst of darkness.

Fr. Amado Picardal is a Redemptorist priest and human rights and peace advocate. He was executive secretary of the CBCP Episcopal Committee on Basic Ecclesial Communities. He also served as co-executive secretary of the Commission of Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation of the Union of Superiors General in Rome.

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