How much power does Inday Sara have?
The scripts almost write themselves. As the outgoing leader of the majority-backed minority in the House of Representatives, Rep. Danilo Suarez, told ABS-CBN: “Anak s’ya ng presidente, maganda ang reputation saka maverick with a terrific right hook.” This is how low the political discourse in the country has sunk: The fake minority thinks Davao City Mayor Inday Sara Duterte is a “kingmaker” because she possesses one antidemocratic quality, one debatable advantage, and one fascist qualification.
Suarez’s first factor is of course true: She is President Duterte’s daughter—the only person, according to the President himself, who can stand up to him. And it is also obvious that, in the political class, her advice is sought, her counsel shared, her preferences divined for the most favorable interpretation. She is not the first offspring of an incumbent president to wield a potent derivative power. But Sara is a special case; as far as I can recall, she is the only son or daughter of an incumbent president who is openly described as a kingmaker, and who is widely credited with both unseating a Speaker of the House and installing the successor.
In a functioning democracy, children of the head of government or state should not accumulate power solely because of their family relationship, or simply because “anak sila ng presidente.” This mocks, it attacks, the democratic ideal of equality.
Suarez, who is not even pretending to be part of the minority anymore by openly campaigning for newly elected Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez as speaker of another Duterte-supporting majority, spoke of Sara’s good reputation as the second factor. Sara has in fact done good things for her city; over the years, many people have spoken of her good work, including Vice President Leni Robredo; and I cannot forget that the two former assassins who once worked for her father, Edgar Matobato and Arturo Lascañas, had also told me that they had nothing bad to say about Sara at all.
But Sara’s reputation as an effective mayor cannot be separated from that of her father, who served in that office for over two decades. She has also proven to be a brittle spokesperson for administration-supportive candidates, prone to responding to questions out of pique rather than policy or strategy.
It is true that she now enjoys a national reputation, but it is a reputation that has not yet gelled and is still open to reshaping through discussion and debate. I cannot accept my friend Raul Dancel’s sweeping premise, in his analysis for the Straits Times, that “if an election for… Philippine president were held today, Mr. Rodrigo Duterte’s daughter and political heir would likely top the race.” This is unlikely, for reasons I already touched on in a previous column, and which I will elaborate on.
Suarez’s third factor was an allusion to Sara’s act of violence against a court sheriff, back in 2011; when the sheriff insisted on implementing a court order for the demolition of houses inside a contested property, an angry Sara punched him four times. A maverick with a terrific right hook, indeed. But this is an appeal to brute force, to the use of physical or political violence as a form of intimidation. Perhaps Suarez has stopped pretending to be a democrat.
But it should be clear that political assessments like those offered by Suarez are in fact campaign tactics; in his case, his generous appraisal of Sara’s influence is meant to either secure her support for his candidate, or to nudge her into neutrality.
So how much power does Inday Sara really have? The real answer is: As much as the politicians are willing to give her. If they read the midterm outcome correctly, they should know that she did not fare all too well.
Her Hugpong party dropped Koko Pimentel, so the most that can be said is she helped elect eight senators. But these winning candidates had either considerable political capital to begin with (Villar, Cayetano, Angara, Lapid, Tolentino, Revilla), or massive government resources backing them up (Go, Dela Rosa). On the other hand, the two leading figures of her party lost in embarrassing landslides, and in her own bailiwick: Anthony del Rosario and Antonio Floirendo Jr.
What about her unseating of Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez? The political class should now understand that political battle the same way we ought to treat Brother Mike Velarde’s so-called crucial endorsement of Joseph Estrada’s presidential candidacy in 1998: It wasn’t crucial at all. Sara’s support for former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was important, but Arroyo would have wrested the speakership from Alvarez even without Sara’s help.
Besides, with video proof of an obviously infirm President Duterte, the source of her derivative power can no longer be considered unassailable.
If Alvarez, her bitter political rival, wins the speakership again, that can only mean Sara did not have an Arroyo—a tested political personality, beloved by the political class—on her side. If she sides with Romualdez, it would be for the same reason; because that’s where Arroyo is. So who, in fact, is the real kingmaker?
On Twitter: @jnery_newsstand, email: [email protected]
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