And Harry Roque claims deadpan that the administration is engrossed in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and shunning politics. He also, in the face of censure from the public and the Senate over the abysmal handling of the public health crisis, equates criticism with politicking and says it’s rampant because of next year’s elections. He behaves as though the people were stupid and ignorant, as though his words would not in time bite him in the ass. (He drives the weary observer to inelegant language.)
What Roque said last week as President Duterte’s spokesperson commenting on the efforts of the opposition to unite and select a common candidate to go against his boss’ anointed in 2022 was that election talk was premature, and that the administration was bent on putting work first, the pandemic first, before politics. The original statement, said in Filipino, displays the rich irony that lards the former human rights lawyer’s daily briefings in behalf of the Palace: “Napakaaga pa ho para mag-usap ng eleksyon at pulitika. Yun naman po ang aming sinasabi palagi — Isantabi muna po ang pulitika habang nandito po ang pandemya. Kami po sa administrasyon, gawa muna, pandemya muna, bago pulitika.”
But that prim stance quickly crumbled in the online theater, where netizens posted a shot of Roque standing beside others holding up a tarp calling on Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte to run for No. 1 next year, the clearly “pulitika” pose complete with the mayor’s father’s fist salute.
Even Mr. Duterte has indulged in political play himself, saying in a speech apropos of nothing that Sen. Bong Go, his longtime aide, wanted to seek the presidency. That pitch — like a presidential toe testing the waters — was accompanied by the senator demurely saying the idea was farthest from his mind, but that he’d consider it if the President ran as his VP.
This early, even as the pandemic ravages the nation at a frightening pace, the notion of the President running for vice president is fast being fleshed out. The nervous laughter that once greeted it appears to have dissolved into grudging acceptance of its possibility: A Philippine president descending to a lesser post has been done before, by two other worthies, as though the highest public office were too intoxicating to let slip and stooping a few notches would ease the exit.
The ruling PDP-Laban is trying mightily to make it happen. It issued an “informal” resolution urging Mr. Duterte to ensure continuity of his programs and policies by gunning for No. 2 in 2022. The party is not letting the displeasure of its acting president, Sen. Manny Pacquiao, get in the way of its project; the champ may rant, correctly, about the urgency of government focus not on politics but on the pandemic, but PDP-Laban Olongapo has gone ahead and launched the Go-Du30 movement.
Couldn’t Malacañang bestir itself and tell the claque to cool the “pulitika,” so as not to embarrass Pacquiao, or Roque, or even the First Family? Well, no. Melvin Matibag, PDP-Laban deputy secretary general, claimed “consultative and participatory democracy” in defending the resolution, which he described as “staying alive on its own.” Yet another iron in the political fire is the Duterte-Duterte daughter-father ticket, which, pandemic or no, is being strongly pushed nationwide with tarps galore, motorcades (at least one with Beamers and Lamborghinis), and mass gatherings even in high-risk areas as Pasay City.
And there’s Pacquiao, Mr. Duterte’s friend and ally, whose moist eye on the presidency is most visible. The wealthy senator will represent continuity of Duterte programs and policies if he makes the cut, and his call for focus on the pandemic and not on politics at this critical time is KOd by the circulation of his slick campaign video that presents him as the savior of the impoverished (and takes outrageous liberties with the anthem of the resistance, “Bayan Ko”).
All these make Roque’s peroration about “pulitika” and government virtue mendacious and infuriating. Still, the people must put their shoulder to the wheel of fighting the pandemic. As they take the necessary personal measures to stay alive and strong, it’s eyes on the prize: a rejection of “all those identified with dictatorship and authoritarianism, responsible for or who abet extrajudicial killings and whose mantra is ‘kill, kill, kill,’ who violate human rights, who plundered the government, who refuse to defend and protect our national territory and sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea.”
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