Give the Devil his due

As in many other times in the turbulent history of this country, the Filipino people’s capacity to endure is once again being severely tested. But the threat to their lives and future isn’t just the rampaging COVID-19 epidemic. It is also the “kill them all” regime of impunity that is demonstrating daily its inability to control the contagion.

The Duterte administration will end in 2022, but Dutertism could still continue to afflict the country for the next six years and even beyond should any of Mr. Duterte’s lackeys, cronies, clones, and surrogates win the presidential election that year. It will mean the continuing use of state terrorism against dissenters, the independent press, and government critics as well as the country’s descent into even worse penury and who knows what other infirmity.

But it is not only the future of Philippine democracy, as limited as it already is, that is at stake but also the very survival of the Filipino people. No nation can survive rank incompetence for long; it kills not only every prospect for meaningful change, but also entire populations, hence the imperative of preparing now for 2022 so as to put an end to the scourge of the past five years.

Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko” Moreno and the Bible-thumping but death penalty advocate boxer Manuel Pacquiao, who is also a senator of this unfortunate quasi-republic, have declared that this isn’t the time to think about and talk politics.

But they are wrong; the time is now for the forces of democracy, change and anti-authoritarianism.

For some reason that some observers of the political landscape cannot fathom, Moreno was mentioned by the 1Sambayan coalition during its March 18 launch as among the possible anti-authoritarian, pro-democracy candidates for President in 2022. The others were Senators Nancy Binay and Grace Poe, former Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, and Vice-President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo.

Pacquiao was not, and for reasons quite obvious to anyone except himself. He heads the PDP-Laban, the party of President Rodrigo Duterte, of whom he has been an enabler, apologist and loyal ally. But he was apparently so irked that 1Sambayan did not include him in the roster of possible pro-democracy candidates (!) next year that he forgot that he himself has been politicking since he was first mentioned in 2019 by Mr. Duterte as among those he would prefer to succeed him as President.

On the other hand, Moreno has certainly had his eye on running for higher posts since he was Manila’s Vice-Mayor. He wouldn’t have otherwise made it a point to surround himself with publicists and friendly reporters who have made it their business to report on an almost daily basis practically everything the “Yorme” says and does.

It isn’t as if politics, pandemic or no pandemic, were ever far from any politico’s mind. But what is even more to the point is that the May 2022 Presidential election is only a scant 13 months away — and the Duterte ruling coalition has been preparing for it since it came to power in 2016.

Once in power, much of the acts, policies and public declarations of Mr. Duterte himself were calculated to assure his candidates’ winning the mid-term 2019 elections even as some of those candidates themselves began campaigning even before the official campaign period. It has been politics since then, with Mr. Duterte earlier expressing his support for Pacquiao come 2022, and, early this year, his followers’ touting his daughter Sara’s candidacy in a spate of tarpaulins in Metro Manila and other places, and some PDP-Laban personalities’ floating such trial balloons as Duterte loyalist Christopher “Bong” Go’s running for President, to which he said he would be open if Mr. Duterte agrees to be his Vice-Presidential running mate.

To give the Devil his due, one must acknowledge that Go’s boss and company have been exploring their 2022 options since 2016 unlike the so-called opposition. It has taken the independent pro-democracy forces and personalities — retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, former senior government officials like Conchita Morales-Carpio of the Ombudsman’s office, Armin Luistro of Education, and Albert del Rosario of Foreign Affairs, plus labor, party-list and other civil society groups’ representatives — to address what has been the fundamental political issue in this country since 2016: the imperative of restarting the democratization and development process from which human rights and the defense of Philippine sovereignty are inalienable that the present regime has compromised.

The 1Sambayan coalition has the unenviable task of finding and supporting only one pro-democracy, anti-tyranny candidate for President in 2022. It is in fact vital for democratic forces not to fall into the trap fostered by various political groups in 2016 when they fielded six candidates for that post. The result was PDP-Laban candidate Rodrigo Duterte’s getting less than 30% of the votes, but nevertheless winning the Presidency by a plurality because the remaining 70-plus percent was divided among his five rivals. As Justice Carpio pointed out during the 1Sambayan launch, if the 2016 scenario repeats itself in 2022, the pro-democracy forces will lose to the candidate of the Duterte cabal.

That catastrophe can of course still happen. But not only because of the vaulting ambition and focus on self-interest of even those politicians who claim to be reformers and the champions of democracy. It can also happen should the candidate 1Sambayan endorses is ideologically unacceptable — if he or she is too Left or too Right wing, or not Left or Right wing enough — to some coalition members who could then field their own candidate.

There is also the possibility that supposedly anti-despotism pols will run with or without 1Sambayan support, with some even being Duterte camp minions fielded to divide the pro-democracy vote.

To forestall such possibilities, the coalition will have to demonstrate that it indeed has the majority behind it so as to convince every potential candidate to commit to supporting whoever it finally endorses. But its endorsement should be based on an extensive, multi-sectoral consultation on who among the potential supposedly pro-democracy candidates it has mentioned has the support of at least the majority of the electorate. It will not do for that endorsement to be solely based only on the say-so of the conveners and the groups they represent. For this enterprise, 1Sambayan can enlist the support of a reputable polling firm and the independent media and journalists’ organizations. They have as much of a stake in government’s respecting the right to free expression as everyone else, and would welcome the opportunity to help protect it.

A truly democratic consultation is necessary not just because Sara Duterte-Carpio has criticized what she thought would be the “authoritarian” process 1Sambayan would use to decide whom to endorse.

She is, of course, right in implying that no hint of elite entitlement should taint a consciously democratic undertaking.

Even the most egregious tyrant can sound like a democrat — or, as Shakespeare put it, even the Devil can quote Scripture. But what really matters is that the pro-democracy, pro-human rights and pro-rule of law candidate who in 2022 will face her or whoever else — whether Pacquiao, Go, or some other equally worthy paragon of moral and intellectual gravitas from the Duterte clique — should be a true representative of the democratization process that instead of defending and nurturing, her father’s regime has instead so grievously imperiled.

Luis V. Teodoro is on Facebook and Twitter (@luisteodoro).

Published in Business World
March 25, 2021

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