POSTSCRIPT / May 13, 2021 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Election issues: Jabs, jobs, jokes, Jinping

THE ELECTION Season that will peak on May 9 next year is already upon us, with the key issues revolving around four points: delayed COVID-19 jabs, dwindling jobs, unpresidential jokes, and China’s undue influence on the Duterte administration.

Church bells were rung several times at noon last Sunday in many parishes across the country, signaling the start of the countdown to the May 2022 elections. Their clangor also sought to rouse the citizens to come out in greater number and to cast patriotic votes.

People are restless, looking impatient for genuine change. The elections are still a year away, yet most of the 60 million-plus voters expected to be registered are already scrutinizing the presumptive candidates, dissecting the issues, and picking their early favorites.

Citizens are organizing groups to help educate voters and serve as watchdogs to ensure clean and honest elections. Can they police the process and protect the vote in May next year? If they put their hearts and minds to it, an aroused citizenry can.

While in the past many people delayed deciding whom to vote for, actually waiting for the vote-buyers, this time more of them appear to be making up their minds earlier – as if in a hurry to hand down a resounding verdict, or a rebuke.

Hunger and unemployment in the generally hard times are now more widespread in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Being victims of the mismanaged campaign to contain the scourge, many people appear unwilling to let those who had failed them get away in the May elections.

The delayed procurement of COVID-19 vaccines from the West gave a head start to brands being pushed by China President Xi Jinping, sweeping aside people’s reluctance to take Chinese drugs. Some vaccinees said they accepted the injection only because they had no choice.

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THE DRIFT and the substance of the debate, much of it in social media, indicate that the people’s vote in May will be influenced by public perception of Duterte’s handling of the pandemic, his moves to revive the faltering economy, and his reactions to Chinese incursions into the West Philippine Sea.

People now see the dishonesty in his campaign promise in 2016 to clear the country of the problems of narcotics, crime, corruption, and other socio-economic blights that have persisted instead of going away.

What makes his failure to keep his promise galling is that he is now telling the people they were stupid to fall for his campaign jokes such as that on his riding a “jet ski” to one of the Spratly islands to claim it.

It looks like the people have had enough of the dishonest claims (that are passed off as “joke only” when exposed as not truthful) and resorting to blaming others to cover up for the incompetence and negligence.

Although disqualified from running for a second term, Duterte is not restrained from endorsing a candidate for president and other elective high officials who have to be strategically positioned to protect him when he steps aside or exits.

We can only speculate about a Duterte exit strategy and a possible Plan B. But whatever move he makes before or after the May elections, he will find assurance in what he disclosed sometime back about his friend Xi Jinping’s promise to help him stay in power.

With what Xi Jinping has invested in Duterte, China’s paramount leader must keep him in power, and not allow him to vanish from the scene without paying his “utang na loob” (debt of gratitude), whatever that is.

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WE’RE assuming here that there will be national elections on the second Monday of May in 2022, as ordained by the Constitution.

But considering how Duterte’s mind works, the Constitution itself – like the 2016 Arbitral Award at The Hague that the Philippines won against China but which he dismissed as scrap paper to be thrown into the wastebasket – could be similarly pushed aside if it gets in the way.

As we said in this space on April 6, 2021, “There is this theory going around, and gaining currency among onlookers bracing for the unseen virus possibly hitting them, that Duterte is in no hurry to tame the raging COVID-19 pandemic before the 2022 election fever is in the air.

“The No-El (no elections) scenario was resurrected after (a Palace factotum) was quoted in social media saying: ‘If we don’t solve this pandemic, there will be no elections.’”

“From our email inbox we got this reaction to complaints of potential COVID victims airing their fears and frustrations over the inept handling of the mass vaccination and the stalling economy:

“’Government is not confused or incompetent. It is just sticking to a logical plan. It does not want to solve the pandemic now, because it is timing the peak of vaccination and the subsequent recovery of the economy by early next year, for impact on the 2022 elections.

“’By the 3rd quarter of 2021, vaccine prices will start to dive. By the 4th quarter, the government will step up vaccinations and probably release in December funds for relief, stimulus, subsidies, etc., in time for Christmas. Mobility and business will pick up fast in January through March 2022.

“’The presidential campaign begins March 2022. Government will start distributing cash by then (from the budget it has been hoarding) towards a climax of happiness and excitement by Election Day in May 2022.

“’The biggest problem for the government is how to dribble the ball from now till December while hoarding funds for its war chest. It will have to entertain, divert and distract the public for seven months. This is what is happening.’” https://tinyurl.com/h46ut2d5

(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 13, 2021)

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