Senators who can say No to Duterte
With seven weeks before the 2019 midterm elections, opposition candidates continue to face daunting odds — but I wouldn’t go so far as to say, as a friend who took part in many campaigns before has said, that they are irrelevant.
Recent history has proven yet again that many, if not most politicians, are loyal mainly to their own interests; they will change parties, or switch sides, if their self-interests are on the line. Note, for instance, that the Liberal Party won a large plurality (almost 42 percent) of the congressional seats in the 2016 elections; candidate Rodrigo Duterte had very short campaign coattails. Once the extent of his victory was clear, however, many newly elected or reelected politicians were overcome by, shall we say, a sudden clarity of mind. In the country’s election casino, the first rule has always been to get a seat at the table. What the office-holder does after is up to him, or her.
High stakes. If the administration wins a real supermajority in the Senate in the second half of President Duterte’s elected term, I am certain it will mean that Vice President Leni Robredo will be impeached on made-up charges; that the Constitution will be revised, and not through a constitutional convention but through the houses of Congress convening as a constituent assembly; that onerous treaties with China will be concurred in; and that Sen. Leila de Lima, already the target of dirty tactics, will be expelled from the Senate.
By real supermajority, I mean a total of 16 senators will form a voting bloc that will consent to and concede every major demand of the President’s. We have a supermajority in the 17th Congress, but in name only; the main reason the administration resorted at the last hour to the patently unconstitutional quo warranto proceeding against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno was the administration could not be sure it had at least 16 votes for impeachment. With the likes of Bong Go, Bato dela Rosa, Lito Lapid, Bong Revilla, Jinggoy Estrada, Francis Tolentino and Imee Marcos in the Senate, the administration will be enjoying the advantage of a new arithmetic.
(Incidentally, a member of Congress can be expelled or suspended by a two-thirds vote of all the members. De Lima, who is detained under manifestly unjust circumstances, would not even be able to vote for herself, if a resolution for expulsion were to be put to the vote.)
As it is, the prospects of the opposition candidates, including Neri Colmenares and labor’s Leody de Guzman, remain forbidding. But all is not lost.
Trillanes template. The first time Sen. Sonny Trillanes ran for office, he did so from his jail cell. His unlikely, late-breakout victory is the main source of hope for opposition candidates not surnamed Roxas or Aquino.
In January 2007, four months before the elections, Trillanes was still well out of striking range. His awareness level was a relatively robust 46 percent in the Pulse Asia poll, but his voting preference rating was less than a tenth of that, at 4.2 percent. In a race with 12 seats at stake, he was running anywhere between 38th and 57th place. There was no Pulse Asia survey for February; in the March 2007 poll, Trillanes moved up significantly, to 23rd and 24th place, with a voting preference rate twice as high as the last: 9.9 percent.
In early April, his numbers improved even further: now ranking 20-22, he had 17.1 percent of prospective voters saying they would vote for him, almost double the number in March. Two weeks later, and about two weeks before the elections, Pulse Asia ran another survey. Trillanes was now in 16th to 20th place, with a voting preference rating of 22 percent.
On election day, Pulse Asia’s exit poll showed that Trillanes, on the back of a 35.4 voting preference rating, had broken into the top 12, placing somewhere between 8th and 12th. The official results bore the surveys out; he won the 11th seat, with 11.2 million votes.
Word of caution. To be sure, Trillanes was the beneficiary of an opposition wave. The president at the time, Gloria Arroyo, was facing a legitimacy crisis and was hobbled by dismal ratings; her disapproval ratings were higher than her approval ratings.
Eight of the 12 winning candidates for the Senate were opposition (although it took Koko Pimentel a few years to take his seat). Five of the first six winners were leaders of the opposition; only two represented Arroyo’s administration; two ran as independents.
What works. Comparing the January 2019 and February 2019 Pulse Asia polls, we can see that there is some volatility in the Senate rankings. Most interesting is the drop in Imee Marcos’ vote-for number, from 41.2 percent to 36. This suggests to me that negative campaigning works. Pimentel dropped about 10, Jinggoy over 11 percentage points. Even Lapid and Revilla are down.
The Senate candidates who can say No to President Duterte don’t only need to make themselves better known; they need to say No to other Senate candidates, too.
On Twitter: @jnery_newsstand, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.