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The Duterte bandwagon: Is it unstoppable?

(The Philippine Star) - April 16, 2016 - 10:00am

It would seem that anywhere we go – carpenters, waiters, plumbers, taxi drivers, maids, OFWs and a lot of office workers – they all say the same thing: “Duterte ako.” The dramatic rise in popularity of Mayor Duterte is simply phenomenal. A polls expert told me Joseph Estrada’s political career was remarkable, with Erap having a strong following from the CDE classes, but very little from the AB sector. With Duterte – he seems to have all classes. He’s beginning to be the political version of the AlDub phenomenon – mobbed almost anywhere he goes. Case in point: He was in a Makati building the other day and literally all the office workers came out to cheer him. I have never seen anything like it!

A well-written article by political science professor Richard Heydarian which was published in The Huffington Post pointed out that the Davao mayor’s phenomenal rise in popularity is fueled by “grievance politics,” with “democracy fatigue” setting in. “Filipinos have been promised freedom, prosperity and peace” – but 30 years after EDSA, these have remained largely unattained, with poverty and underemployment rates continuing to be high, and systematic corruption persisting on all levels of government.

The article noted that the country’s “cacique democracy” has made it difficult for people to feel the effects of recent economic inroads, as newly created wealth has not trickled down and farmers have yet to see the fulfillment of promises that they will have their own land. The article quotes Joe Studwell in How Asia Works, who wrote: “Nowhere in Asia has produced more plans for land reform than the Philippines. But equally no ruling elite in Asia has come up with as many ways to avoid implementing genuine land reform…” (both President Aquino and Mar Roxas come from landed wealthy families).

“The post-Marcos Philippines has been hobbled by a toxic combination of sheer incompetence, cynical neglect, and chronic corruption. And this has paved the way for strongman figures to regain momentum,” Heydarian wrote, which partly explains why more and more voters are tilting towards Rodrigo Duterte whom they see as someone “out-of-the-box,” representing the radical change they yearn for.

In other words, people are not happy with the current state of affairs. And it’s not just ordinary Filipinos that are drawn to Duterte. Young millennial Jan Albert Suing, whose article was also featured in The Huffington Post, started off by saying he made his decision while sitting in “a horrendous EDSA traffic.” While the rich can move around with little difficulty, ordinary commuters rely on the mass public transport that is inadequate.

The young millennial says that he always makes an effort to vote with his head and not with his heart but this time, his heart and head are in complete sync – he is voting for Duterte because he is “the most progressive presidential candidate that this country has ever had.”

“Duterte… connects with everyone – old and young equalists who dream of a free and equal society, men and women, the middle class, the idealists and pragmatists, like no other politician could.”

Both Heydarian’s and Suing’s articles reflect the growing impatience of Filipinos in a country where “a small oligarchy has been dominating the country’s political and economic landscape for more than a century.”

Obviously, Duterte’s call for change is reverberating. For some people, it is a welcome change; for others, it is a scary change because his position on several issues remains unclear. Many businessmen are unsure about his economic agenda, although many find merit in his proposal for “islands of business” and see it as refreshing. Nevertheless, he has strong supporters from the business sector like Sonny Dominguez, Ramon Jacinto, Tony Floirendo and the Alcantaras – people with businesses in Mindanao who will most likely advise him on economic matters.

A major issue against Duterte is human rights for which the international community (the most vocal being European countries) has expressed serious concern. The mayor may get away with the issue in a city like Davao but not when it comes to the national level.

Foreign policy experts are also unsure about his foreign policy platform. When I had an hour-long one-on-one meeting with the Mayor a couple of weeks ago, I was quite impressed by the grasp he had on several issues but he was unclear about our relationship with the United States. I asked him what he thought about the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, pointing out to him that 80 percent of Filipinos agreed with it. He was not very clear about it, saying the agreement is already there but that we should do it on our own. His readiness to cooperate with China with regard to our maritime dispute is also causing disquiet in many sectors.

Nevertheless, Duterte’s bandwagon seems to be on a roll. All his opponents’ guns are now pointed at him. He can expect more to come his way.

Whether these negative issues would be absorbed by voters with three weeks to go before the elections is a big question mark. Perhaps the tipping point will be after the last presidential debate on April 24. If Duterte gains another five to 10 points in the next two weeks, then his bandwagon would probably be unstoppable.

In all my years observing elections in this country, I have seen candidates who covet, even lust for the presidency – planning for it and working hard for it – but if it was not meant to be, it will not happen. “The presidency is a matter of destiny,” is what I always say.

Is Duterte destined to be president of our country? We will soon find out.

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Email: babeseyeview@gmail.com

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