Vote the right way
Is a vote for presidential frontrunner Rodrigo Duterte a protest vote? No question. As observers have noted, six years of failures and frustrations generated by the incumbent administration have made a large part of the electorate predisposed to a radical prospect: a tough-talking mayor from outside Imperial Manila who appears to have no patience for the usual political niceties, and has vowed to smash the fraying conventions and institutions of the old guard—from shuttering Congress should it prove obstructionist to bringing back public executions to instill fear in criminals—to enable him to overhaul the system.
To a public weary of living in a country that seems to be falling apart by the day despite economic progress, the proposition is tantalizing. A public, however, with considerably longer memory than what the Filipino throng is accustomed to would also recall that the phenomenal rise of Duterte on the back of the people’s disdain for the status quo is somehow a case of Joseph Estrada redux. As journalist Alan Robles noted, “A mayor runs for President, gaining support on the basis of being a rough-edged two-fisted goon with a heart of gold, one who’ll exterminate crime, shoot crooks, crush poverty and stand up for the poor. Sorry I’ve seen this movie before: it was called ‘The Erap Estrada Story’ and it sucked.”
That gloomy verdict, of course, remains to be seen in Duterte, who might prove to be the shock to the system the Philippines needs. And, in any case, no patriotic soul would wish, for the sake of the country, a repeat of the disastrous Erap presidency. The larger point is to recall that the protest vote underlining the Davao mayor’s ascendancy has had previous iterations in recent history; in fact, every national election since the Ramos presidency appears to be, in one form or another, a rejection of the status quo.
At the end of his term, Fidel Ramos backed Jose de Venecia for president—a man denounced as the embodiment of the rotten “trapo” system that had blighted what was otherwise seen as a progressive administration under Ramos. De Venecia was soundly rejected by the public in a landslide win for his populist opponent, Estrada. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo would eventually replace Estrada, then run herself for president in an election marred by the “Hello, Garci” fraud. After nine years of widely perceived mendacity and corruption, the Arroyo administration pushed a highly capable candidate, Gilbert Teodoro, as successor. But the electorate had had enough of the Arroyo era, and so picked a perceived corrective—Benigno Aquino III, a congressman with a lackluster record yet one who raised hopes that he carried the ideals of, and would do right by, his heroic family name, of which the public had been recently reminded with the death of his mother, Cory Aquino.
That the Aquino scion would also become a disappointment, enough to birth another protest election that would see his own legacy repudiated by the electorate, might be seen, on one hand, as distressing evidence of a country unable to get out of a rut, doomed to repeat the cycle ad nauseam.
Then again, elections are also, at the very least, opportunities for renewal—the people in their wisdom, or folly as may well be, exercising the right to throw out the leaders they have grown tired of, and opting for a new set in whom they believe they have reason to hope anew. Done correctly—the voters are able to discern well and judge their candidates in the most transparent light—elections are crucial to regularly rinsing and recharging the body politic, and keeping the country moving.
Will this presidential election do it right? This campaign has been vicious and polarizing. But, if for nothing else, the extraordinary passion and commitment shown by the electorate this season should augur well for a more engaged citizenry (but, one hopes, minus the bashing and bullying that have become routine on social media—a function that, at its worst, has only amplified divisiveness and unreason). Because elections are not the end, of course. The hard work begins after the elections, when a new administration starts looking to coming onboard, and whose six-year tenure would determine whether Filipinos could at last relax their guard—to see their country in a good enough state such that they can lay off the protest vote for a change.
“That we have the vote means nothing,” reminded Lou Henry Hoover. “That we use it in the right way means everything.” Vote wisely.
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