Vote for scenarios, not candidates
The country has entered into political homeostasis. President Duterte is unable to deliver on his promises of swift resolution of the country’s drug, corruption, crime, insurgency and traffic problems. Yet, the people continue to support his administration. For the rest of the year, this homeostasis will likely continue.
Could the May 2019 elections change the status quo? Human-made (widespread and persistent terrorist acts, accidental war) and natural disasters (supertyphoons, droughts and earthquakes) could certainly disrupt the status quo. But let us consider the interaction of two drivers that are tied with the results of the May 2019 elections.
The first driver is whether or not the opposition (assorted anti-Duterte political groups taken together) develops a strong and sustained emblematic leadership that inspires a coherent defiance organization. “Yes” means there develops some semblance of an “ideology” and a uni-polycentric structure where a supreme leader has tight support from other leaders. The opposition carries out a concerted, incessant, probing, guerrilla-style opposition interdiction strategy, using mass media and key sectors as force multipliers.
“No” means the opposition leadership is fragmented, self-censoring, self-limiting, where ranting satisfies but dissipates mental combat energy.
The second driver is whether or not the Duterte administration becomes more infuriatingly authoritarian. “Yes” means Mr. Duterte expands martial law nationwide beyond Mindanao, with Congress and Supreme Court backing. Scores of opposition leaders are arrested and detained. Freedoms are curtailed and abuses abound. Mainstream and social media are shut down or severely restricted. Rallies and political gatherings are banned.
“No” means Mr. Duterte pushes his initiatives through a controlled Congress, the Supreme Court and constitutional bodies. He keeps the opposition off-balance with selective persecution of opposition leaders and key media critics.
In the KUYAKOY (Coast Along) scenario, a nonauthoritarian Duterte combines with no emblematic opposition leadership. This is the status quo. The prices of rice and gasoline remain steady. No major disruption of community, work, school, mobility, mass and social media, and social relationships happens. National wellbeing is somewhat uncertain, but individuals and families are hopeful. Mr. Duterte finishes his term uneventfully as just another president.
In the TIKLOP (Fold) scenario, an authoritarian Duterte administration combines with no emblematic opposition leadership. A new pro-Duterte oligarchy becomes institutionalized. A new federal constitution is successfully engineered and a new power distribution consolidated. Chinese influence over and inroads into territory, economy and politics increases. The use of propaganda, the military and an edifice complex manufactures legitimacy. Immediate prospects for bringing plunderers and human rights abusers dissipate. The decay of democracy continues beyond Mr. Duterte.
In the BANGON (Recover) scenario, a nonauthoritarian Duterte administration combines with emblematic opposition leadership. Weakened political institutions are resuscitated. Checks and balances gain traction. Public opinion becomes more informed and critical of government decisions and actions. The government’s appeasement stance toward China is subdued. Civic involvement and volunteerism increase. Government grudgingly responds to public opinion. Mr. Duterte finishes his term frustrated, but long-term damage to the nation is averted.
In the LABAN (Fight) scenario, an authoritarian Duterte administration combines with emblematic opposition leadership. The suppression of the opposition and human rights abuses alarms the people about looming despotism and the irreversible loss of democracy and sovereignty. The opposition resists the administration’s key actions. Students and youth across socioeconomic classes engage politically. International sympathy and support pour in. Momentum gains and defeats the flagship federal constitution initiative. The government becomes more abusive. The Duterte administration is preterminated, and the nation relearns and rebuilds democracy to make it truly inclusive.
The results of the May 2019 elections will affect the likelihood of these scenarios. An opposition sweep (e.g., Otso Deretso in the senatorial elections) will make the LABAN scenario more likely, while a pro-Duterte sweep will make the TIKLOP scenario more likely. The challenge in the May 2019 elections is how to make voters look at elections as choosing NOT among candidates, but among scenarios that represent real, long-term alternatives for themselves and their nation.
Click here for more elections stories.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.