POSTSCRIPT / April 7, 2022 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Duterte is neutral on presidential bets

One month before the nation goes to the polls to elect who will lead it in the next six years out of the economic and moral morass it is in, President Duterte pledged on Tuesday to stay strictly neutral in the electoral fight for the presidency.

The President announced in clearer terms in his “Talk to the People” TV show that he is not supporting or endorsing any of the 10 presidential candidates on the ballot that voters will mark in the May 9 national elections.

President Duterte staying neutral in May polls. Photo: PHILSTAR/ Alfred Frias

Prior statements suggesting his neutrality have not been taken seriously because his daughter Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio is running for vice president on a mixed ticket with former Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who is seeking the presidency.

Adding to the skepticism was the endorsement of Marcos by Duterte’s faction of the PDP-Laban Party that he used in 2016 to capture the presidency. The party’s clarification that the endorsement did not mean Duterte himself supported Marcos failed to end speculations.

Duterte watchers can be expected also to keep checking until he leaves office on June 30 if his hands and eyes match the movement of his lips vowing neutrality.

But to this weary observer, Duterte’s latest announcement on TV came through clearer than his previous attempts to evince neutrality in the coming elections. He said:

Ako, wala akong kandidato. Hindi ako namumulitika, I’m just announcing. Wala akong kandidato ni sino man sa pagka-presidente. I remain neutral. Ang akin kasi, presidente ako tapos magkampi ako ng isa, magduda ‘yung (iba), ginagamit ko ‘yung resources ng gobyerno. Magulo na.

(I don’t have a candidate. I’m not politicking, I’m just announcing. I won’t support any candidate for president. I remain neutral. For me, I’m the President and if I support a candidate, people will think I’m using government resources. Then there will be problems.)

“If you’re the president and you have the resources, nasa beck and call mo, ano man ang gawin mo, magsuspetsa ang tao na ginagamit mo para sa isang kandidato, even if it’s not true.”

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In an earlier speech Monday at an evacuation center in Mataas na Kahoy, Batangas, which houses villagers displaced by the restiveness of Taal volcano, Duterte also said he would not meddle in the presidential contest.

Duterte, a lame-duck, was reported saying: “Ako wala na, tapos na ako. (I am done.) I am not supporting any candidate, except, of course, my daughter. Ako, boboto talaga ako sa anak ko. (I will really vote for my daughter.)”

[Btw, on the status yesterday of Taal volcano, the DOST-Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said:

[Alert Level 3 (Magmatic Unrest) prevails over Taal volcano. This means there is a magmatic intrusion at the main crater that may further drive succeeding eruptions. DOST-PHIVOLCS strongly recommends Taal volcano island and high-risk barangays of Bilibinwang and Banyaga, Agoncillo and Boso-boso, Gulod and eastern Bugaan East, Laurel, Batangas, be evacuated because of possible hazards of pyroclastic density currents and volcanic tsunami should stronger eruptions occur.

[The public is reminded that the entire Taal volcano island is a permanent danger zone, and entry into the island as well as high-risk barangays of Agoncillo and Laurel must be prohibited. All activities on Taal lake should not be allowed at this time.]

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If Duterte wants to be replaced by a president willing and able to protect him when his supposed victims and detractors pursue him for his alleged crimes and misdeeds, he has to make sure that his would-be benefactor gets elected.

His avowal of neutrality looks odd, however, for somebody needing protection, including from complaints filed with the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity in connection with alleged extrajudicial killings and human rights violations.

Duterte and Marcos met privately on March 20, but no details were announced. Responding to queries if Duterte agreed to endorse Marcos, the Palace said the President merely gave campaign “advice” to him.

Neither have there been reports of talks, directly or through intermediaries, between Duterte and Vice President Leni Robredo, the closest rival of Marcos who has been leading in surveys on presidential preferences.

In the latest Pulse Asia survey conducted March 17-21, meanwhile, Marcos dropped from 60 percent in February to 56, while Robredo surged from 15 percent to 24.

If Duterte were banking instead on his daughter Sara, a VP candidate with Marcos and a possible mixed VP partner of Robredo, to ultimately become president, that would be taking a long and uncertain route.

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For one who had been reportedly “helped” by the Marcoses in his 2016 presidential campaign, Duterte may look ungrateful criticizing Marcos occasionally when he could just keep quiet – if he were indeed neutral.

In an interview on March 11 with his friend Pastor Apollo Quiboloy, Duterte said whoever succeeds him should be compassionate, decisive, a good judge of character, and preferably a lawyer. Many people noted that Marcos is not a lawyer, while Robredo is.

During his address at a meeting last November of the PDP-Laban in Calapan City, Duterte was asked if the Pederalismo ng Dugong Dakilang Samahan (of Sen. Bong Go), PDP-Laban (of Duterte) and Lakas-CMD (of Sara) would form an alliance.

He replied: “No. No, I cannot. Because andiyan si Marcos, e. (Marcos is there.)

Hindi ako bilib (I don’t trust his ability). He is a weak leader. Totoo yan, di ako naninira ng tao. Talagang weak kasi spoiled child, only son. (It’s true, I’m not disparaging anybody. He’s a weak and spoiled child, an only son).”

He added: “Pero sabihin mong may crisis, he is a weak leader. At saka may bagahe siya. Iyan ‘yang sinasabi ko sa inyo, totoo ‘yan. I’m not, hindi ako nag… I do not foist lies. Masisira ka. Pero bantay ka diyan, magkamali ang Pilipinas.”

(And he has baggage. I’m telling you, that’s the truth. I’m not, I don’t… I don’t tell lies. Our reputation will be ruined. Watch out. The Philippines might make a mistake.)

(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 7, 2022)

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