POSTSCRIPT / November 6, 2018 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Midterm election a Du30 referendum

THE NATIONAL election in May 2019 will be a referendum on the three-year-old regime of President Rodrigo Duterte, whose persona as a strongman will carry or crush his candidates for the two houses of the Congress.

Duterte’s name will not be on the ballot, but his brand will be etched on the administration candidates, especially on its 14 senatorial bets some of whom may have to be dropped in the race for the 12 seats in the Senate.

The President has said he would campaign for the administration nominees. That would mark them proxies in what looms as a midterm test of Duterte’s drawing power and of the satisfaction level of the masses awaiting the change (“pagbabago”) he promised in 2016.

Another way of looking at the election is as a tipping point, a hump on the way to 2022, after which will be either smooth cruising or a bumpy downhill ride both for Duterte and the 100-million-plus passengers in his care.

Duterte’s rating and endorsement value depend largely on how the people — including the 16 million who voted in 2016 for the promising Davao city mayor — now regard him after they installed him as president.

The people’s approval rating of the President’s performance — and his rough, oppressive style — will be known in the May polls, not in the table surveys created to burnish some clients’ narcissist view of themselves. How the people regard Duterte will impact on the standing of his candidates.

An early subject of speculation is how Duterte would carry the overload of 14 candidates vying for 12 Senate seats. Some others clinging to the bandwagon had been offloaded and given “consuelo de bobo” appointments to sinecures or made to run for other posts.

The mayor has been shown to be unprepared for the awesome demands of the presidency. That shortcoming, however, could have been solved by his organizing a high-powered team of the best and the brightest men and women that tax money could buy.

The frequent turnover of members of his official family and the failure of several of them to deliver indicate some shortcomings of the President himself. That has forced him at times to resort to pressure or legal shortcuts to gain desired results in the least time.

The inadequacy of improvising from crisis to crisis, or of playing the blame game, has become too obvious to hide, especially with the people growing impatient for economic uplift.

The President’s support will boost chosen candidates for district representatives, governors and mayors, but local elections are largely won or lost on local issues regardless of the blessings from high up.

Some candidates could still falter despite their endorser’s supposed drawing power as indicated in table surveys.

The coming May midterm election is the only conclusive survey that will show if Duterte, whose populist style took the country by storm in 2016, still has the masses behind him.

 Joke only – a worn-out Palace excuse

MALACAÑANG made a bad PR situation worse by reporting that the people laughed at it as a joke when President Duterte said Thursday that Catholics were crazy observing two feast days for their saints whom he described as “gago” (fools) and “lasenggo” (drunkards).

The President was in Cauayan, Isabela, reporting on the typhoon damage before a group of officials and local folk when he took the occasion (All Saints’ Day) to lambaste again the Catholic church.

Criticism rained on Duterte for attacking the Church, something he does now and then for no apparent reason – feeding speculation that he is very sick and probably needs not only prayers but also treatment.

That sensitive point is no laughing matter. It is no joke having a sick leader dragging down with him a nation of more than 100 million, some 85 percent of whom are Catholics.

Right on cue, Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo explained that the President was just joking, as shown by the fact, he said, that the people were laughing. He must have forgotten that hours ago the President asked Filipinos to “emulate” the same saints.

Panelo, who was not in the Cauayan pictures we saw, did not say if the people were laughing at the President or his alleged “joke”. Neither did he say if the crowd laughed as a matter of courtesy to the highest official of the land trying his hand at being a comedian.

If it is too late to pass the mayor through a finishing school for presidents, maybe his handlers could press into service an expert hypnotist who, early each morning, would tell Rodrigo Roa Duterte again and again that he is the presidenti and must talk and behave as one.

As backup, Duterte could tell Bong Go to withdraw his candidacy for senator and stay as his all-purpose valet to remind him of the million-and-one things the boss must remember. Go would be more useful looking after Tatay Digong than pretending to be senatorial.

And, we keep going back to our pending motion that any statements of the President must be, by default, regarded as a mere joke (even if it is not funny) unless prefaced by an official sworn statement that he is not joking.

After all, when some 45 million Filipinos (out of 55 million registered voters of whom 46 million are Catholics) trooped to the polls in 2016, they had in mind electing a President, not an aspiring comedian or one who would keep denigrating their faith for no sane reason.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 6, 2018)

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