COVID as 2022 kingmaker?

At the rate we are going, the virus will most likely still be around by the time we vote for the next president in May next year. Will the virus turn out to be a kingmaker?

It is easy to think that something as catastrophic as this pandemic should work against the incumbent administration. More so because the Duterte/Duque response had been rather clumsy, making the public suffer more than it should have.

But survey after survey is showing that the people are not blaming the Duterte administration for the hunger and poverty that reached horribly inhuman levels. They seem to write everything off as something like the miseries from a typhoon or an earthquake that isn’t anybody’s fault.

Nearly half of the people interviewed in one survey now consider themselves poor, but that sentiment does not translate to dissatisfaction with Duterte. He may just be able to transfer this positive sentiment to his daughter Sara, who is now leading all polls.

The way it looks, most people consider poverty as fate, a chronic condition that the poor have learned to ignore. Even increasing unemployment is nothing new to the underclass. Many of them just stop looking for a job.

Another view I have heard is that most Filipinos never had that much to lose. That explains why, despite overall economic dislocation being very bad, it has not become dangerous for the administration.

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It is not surprising that Sara Duterte is still leading presidential preference surveys, keeping the 30 percent segment of the voters who brought her father to Malacañang. Her 60 percent support base in Mindanao has enabled her to lead a fragmented field of candidates.

Isko Moreno, a first term Manila mayor, is turning out to be the most viable of the presidential hopefuls. He leads Sara in NCR and balance Luzon, a good second in other regions except Mindanao.

But it is early days. Once the field is narrowed down to three or four, we can get a better picture. But COVID could be in Sara’s corner.

With another tough lockdown starting today that may turn out to be indefinite, the government will be forced to borrow more funds for ayuda. Beneficiaries at the CDE classes will likely credit Duterte for whatever meager assistance they can get.

The COVID lockdowns have also empowered the barangay captains tremendously. They distribute the ayuda and have the power to issue passes to allow people to go out of their houses. Even now, the nationwide network of barangay captains are already being utilized to campaign for Sara.

Campaign fund sources, guided by preference surveys, will start placing early bets on Sara. This will enable her to jumpstart her campaign even as the other hopefuls are still thinking if they will run or not.

Because the pandemic will restrict the ability of candidates to do the traditional campaign style of barnstorming the country, 2022 will probably be the first election campaign largely conducted on social media. Sara has the advantage of the experienced Duterte trolls on her side.

It is also becoming apparent that Sara has scored some major supporters from the intellectual and business elite. I have heard that even some independent economists are starting to wonder if a Duterte 2.0 under Sara is something they can honestly support.

By promising a more pro business stance than her father, Sara may succeed in getting some credible names behind her campaign. She is said to have a better track record than her father on business and economic matters as mayor of Davao.

The main proposition I have been hearing is that Sara is not Digong… has a better understanding of economic issues… is surrounded by much younger advisers than her father… and is more open to drastic economic reforms than any past president, including her father.

The other interesting thing I have heard is that Sara is not likely to select BBM nor Imee as running mate. Neither does she want to run with her father. She is thinking more of young senators who are experienced and not strongly identified with controversial family histories.

The rumors are strong about Sen. Win Gatchalian wanting to be her VP running mate. The first term senator comes from a wealthy family that will help fund the campaign. The senator and his brother, the mayor of Valenzuela, also have a good reputation in public governance.

The other name that I have heard is Sen. Sonny Angara. This young senator has also managed to keep his nose clean through his years as congressman and senator. The good reputation of his late father is also another asset he can claim.

Gatchalian or Angara will provide Sara’s campaign a fresher image, some say, a deodorizer, that they hope will blunt the negative impact of the cruder aspects of Duterte 1.0. With a younger team behind her, Duterte 2.0 promises to be a lot more proactive than the senior citizens in the inner circles of Duterte 1.0.

Interestingly, Sara allowed Congressman Joey Salceda to announce her strong interest in running for president some weeks ago. It is presumed she shares Cong Joey’s economic advocacies and will likely give him a key role in her administration.

The other VP hopeful is Martin Romualdez, current House majority leader. President Duterte all but endorsed him when he said he will not run for vice president if Martin runs.

A disunited opposition will almost guarantee a Duterte 2.0. It doesn’t look like they will be able to agree on a common candidate. From the latest numbers, even Manny Pacquiao will not be able to divide the solid Mindanao votes for Sara.

If the pandemic continues, the next question is how many people will risk their lives to vote next year? There has never been social distancing in past elections. Don’t expect one next year.

The most number of voters who will risk infection will be those shepherded by their barangay captains who will give them ayuda. That’s another advantage for Duterte 2.0 made possible by the virus.

 

 

Boo Chanco’s email address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter

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