A surplus of candidates
Writing recently in SunStar Cebu, Pachico Seares observed that the President takes a nuanced approach to weeping: At times, he cries; at other times, he is “in near tears”; on other occasions, he is “emotional.” And members of official family are tearjerkers, too, by their own account: Seares mentioned Secretary Martin Andanar as part of the boo-hoo brigade.
It is a self-granted privilege of men who are perceived — and perceive themselves — to be strong to burst into tears for political effect. Were anyone else — a woman, for example — to do it, it would be sneered and laughed at as a sign of weakness.
Most recently, the President was reported to have wept as he recalled that former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said, back in March this year, that he (Duterte) ought to see a psychiatrist. It seems the President didn’t realize that Zeid was the brother of the king of Jordan
until he was there, on an official visit — which ended up cut short.
That was quite a sob story of a trip, when you come to think of it: lectured by the president of Israel, met with protests by some indignant Israelis, entertained at a reception that at least one business leader publicly boycotted, and then unpleasantly surprised in Jordan. What’s there not to cry about?
When you come to think of it, the President has been pretty glum in public in recent weeks, pointing out that he’s tired, frustrated, and that there isn’t a ghost of a chance for quite a number of his campaign promises to be fulfilled. His critics have taken to gleefully repeating these supposed admissions of failure, but overlook their having been made for effect. What sort of effect? Consider the situation the President finds himself in at a time when candidacies have been filed, and his administration and what passes for the opposition are gearing up for the 2019 midterm elections.
Hogging the headlines is the surplus of candidates that Hugpong ng Pagbabago—the coalition of regional power blocs representing the Arroyo, Marcos, Estrada, Villar and Duterte factions and other allies—has cobbled together: 14 names for 12 slots up for election. In fact, for the first among equals in this band of provincial barons—Hugpong in Davao itself—not one, but two, lists have been approved: as of the start of October, one with eight names (Villar, Cayetano, Marcos, Dela Rosa, Go, Ejercito, Estrada, Mangudadatu), the other with five.
Davao Mayor Sara Duterte says the eight are Davao-only endorsed candidates, while the shorter list (Roque, Tolentino, Angara, Pimentel and Manicad) represents the candidates Hugpong is endorsing in alliance with the other barons. According to her, this meant the eight names being carried locally freed up four other names that voters could select from the short list of allied organizations.
The most glaring omission in all this list-making is that of the person who’s supposed to be the list-maker in chief: the President. The power of a president, since administration slates came into being in 1938 (the first midterms), has been in picking and choosing which candidates receive the Palace’s blessing. But for the first time since the modern presidency began, the President has proved unwilling — or worse, unable — to hold his nominal party together, while the very existence of Hugpong is his daughter’s political initiative and not his. (Recently, too, he finally grumbled in public about what everyone knew — his daughter, it turns out, can depose speakers of the House if she, not he, wants to).
So back to my original question: To what effect is all this crying being made? The President is entering an election that is a referendum on his administration, and where he is unable to control his own coalition. The result is, potentially, electoral cannibalism. With 14 administration bets competing for 12 slots, the opportunity for candidates to stab each other in the back is unlimited. As is the opportunity for mischief.
Imagine the effects of too many of the faithful obediently and faithfully voting for all 14 of the endorsed: How many invalid votes would that be? And if too many candidates get local leaders to boost them, but junk others, the cumulative effect might be to drag down everyone’s votes in the coalition.
And the President cannot, or will not, do anything about it, contenting himself with saying he will focus his efforts strictly on Bong Go.
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