By BENJIE OLIVEROS
Former Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte is, as of this writing, poised to take over the presidency with his insurmountable lead over his closest rivals. He is not the “presidential type” with his brash manners, foul language, single-mindedness, and “un-statesmanlike” conduct – such as when he asked the Australian and US ambassadors to shut up – but it appears that it is these very same characteristics that propelled him to the presidency.
Right from the very start of the campaign period – long before the official one, when the presidential hopefuls began positioning themselves, especially during the 2013 mid-term elections – President Aquino has been declaring that the 2016 presidential election is a referendum on his “daang matuwid” (straight or righteous path) administration. The main campaign message of the Mar Roxas-Leni Robredo tandem has been not about who they are and their track record, but that they are a continuation of the “daang matuwid” of Aquino. They even attached the “daang matuwid” to their names in campaign paraphernalia.
When Duterte was topping surveys, President Aquino himself campaigned for Roxas and even attacked Duterte directly. But still Duterte won overwhelmingly and Roxas got a trashing. It, thus, appears that Roxas got a trashing because he represented the “daang matuwid” and the Aquino administration. Add to this the technocratic, unsympathetic, self-righteous demeanor of Roxas.
Leni Robredo was able to somehow squeeze away from that because for one, her late husband Jesse Robredo was respected by a broad array of people; then there is her down to earth simplicity; and lastly, she did admit that her late husband had differences with Aquino.
Why did this protest vote not propel Vice President Jejomar Binay to the presidency? It could have if the election was held in 2013. But Binay bolted the Aquino administration late and only after he was persecuted by it. And in a way, Malacañang’s demolition job on Binay worked, as it was able to portray Binay as a corrupt trapo and not someone who represents change.
The protest vote could have propelled Grace Poe to the presidency if Duterte did not enter the presidential race. When Poe’s name was floated as a likely contender, she immediately overtook Binay as the most preferred candidate. But Poe refused to hit the Aquino administration hard, even packaging herself as an alternative candidate who would also continue the much-hated “daang matuwid” of the Aquino administration. She was too moderate for the people yearning for change.
Two days before the election, I had a discussion with a senior citizen, a retired colonel, who said that he was initially for Poe and that Poe had the best answers during the presidential debate. But he said, “Ayoko na ng mababait na wala namang nangyayari. Dun nako sa bastos basta may mangyayaring pagbabago.” (I am no longer for nice, polite candidates who, when elected into office, do not institute changes anyway. I would rather vote for a brash candidate who has the best chance of instituting changes.)
Duterte is not self-righteous; he is even foul most of the time. But he projects an image of a tough-talking candidate who could get things done. Add to the fact that Duterte, in all debates and even in his statements before the media, reserved his most virulent attacks on Roxas and the Aquino administration. He challenged Roxas to a slapping match, and when Roxas responded by challenging him to a fistfight, he challenged Roxas to a gun duel. And when Aquino began campaigning against him, Duterte told the president to just “go to sleep.” He treated his other rivals differently, often polite in dealing with them.
So what propelled Duterte to the presidency?
Duterte projected himself as the opposite, and even the nemesis of the Aquino administration; he has the image of toughness who could implement change swiftly; and he identified himself with the masses. This got him the votes of a wide cross section of society: a section of big business, a segment of the middle class, and the masses.