Monday, May 23, 2016

Philippine Elections 2016: What's Changing and What's Staying

Last week, the Philippines went to the polls in order to once again choose new leaders on both the local and national scenes for the next three and six years. Well I might have said new, but in this country that means “same old, same old”. This has been how elections tended to go for generations, that last part also being a key word. Government officials almost always go for re-election, and once they hit the consecutive term limit, they could run for another office then leave their previous post to spouses, children, or relatives, only to return later. Politics in this case is both lifetime career and family business; no laws are in place against such practices and likely never will. Yet somehow, even in this status-quo- driven landscape, there are some openings which have given way to changes and new faces that can affect the future in some different ways from what the Philippines is used to.

Nowhere else is this change more plain to see than in the now certain victory of presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte. While in terms of local government he is not exactly “fresh”, being the long-running mayor of Davao City for the better part of three decades, upon answering calls to join in the presidential race his relative “newness” in the national campaign has enjoyed unprecedented popularity in regularly conducted surveys up to the May 9 Election Day. Duterte has also gained an immense number of guaranteed votes from the Mindanao and Visayan electorates, having been born in Leyte but living in the Davao region since age three, and thus inflamed desires all over the Philippines’ southernmost island group to see one of their own leading the whole nation. Personality-wise he is one of the most assertive, abrasive and sharp-spoken people you could meet, sort of like a Samuel L. Jackson character who just happens to be Filipino and a politician. Never hesitating to lambast people and events he does not like and cultivating a harsh law enforcer image and may condone extrajudicial “hit squads” to cut down on crime, such is his charisma with the Filipino people that despite criticism for numerous verbal jabs and ill jokes, for every instance his survey ratings actually jumped. Another factor of his success was his different political platform; voters tired of the same poverty alleviation espoused by the other candidates were willing to give his law and order focus as well as possible change to a federal government system a try.

Compared to the presidential race, the vice-presidential one has turned out to be hotly-contested, with Camarines Sur – Third District Rep Leni Robredo and Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. fighting for domination, Robredo leading over Marcos by only hundreds of thousands or a vote percentage of 1.5%. This had sparked calls of possible tally shenanigans when the formerly leading

Marcos was overtaken by an upsurge of Robredo votes, but nothing has been found to substantiate these claims. So it was that the battle for the second highest national position has been picturesquely described as a “remake match between a Marcos and a Widow in Yellow”, calling to mind the Senator’s father, the late strongman Ferdinand Sr. against Corazon Aquino, now embodied by Leni, widow of former Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo and herself a newbie for national office.

On the senatorial front however, it was “more of the same”, mostly a who’s who of familiar faces who just never seem to go away. But a big new name on the Top 12 is Sarangani Rep and recently retired champion boxer Manny Pacquiao. Having capped off his professional career with an impressive unanimous victory over American Timothy Bradley, as well as coming down from two consecutive congressional terms since 2010 – second one unopposed – Manny is set to take his political career to a higher level. Other senatorial rookies among the veterans are Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Technical Education & Skills Development Authority (TESDA) head Joel Villanueva and Valenzuela City Congressman Sherwin Gatchalian, with the latter two zooming up the senatorial survey ratings from under 20’s to a solid “magic 12”.

To give an idea of a local election scene, in Mindanao’s General Santos City, most elected officials are re-electionists and old hands. Most of the winners are under the People’s Champ Movement party led by Manny Pacquiao, who also saw two of his brothers getting local offices in the polls. The city voters have voted overwhelmingly for Duterte as President over anyone else, despite Pacquiao’s alliance with incumbent Vice-President Jejomar Binay’s Presidential bid.

It’s been said that “the more things change, the more they stay the same”. As the 2016 Philippine Elections showed however, it’s more “some things change while others stay the same”.

Hopefully what changes there are will be good for this country’s tomorrow.

Photo Credits to Comelec Website