Victory Joe

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - November 11, 2020 - 12:00am

The West Australian newspaper based in Perth summed up the global reaction to the US election result: “PHEW!”

It expressed relief over the victory of Joe Biden. But it also indicated a difficult struggle for the result.

The Democratic challenger garnered the largest number of votes in US history. But Donald Trump also won even more votes than he did in 2016, as a record high two-thirds of American voters cast their ballots. In several battlegrounds, the candidates edged out each other only by the skin of their teeth.

So Biden struck the right note in his victory speech, as he called for healing in the Divided States of America, with the Republicans controlling Congress.

Now that Biden’s victory can no longer be taken away from him, however, the world is sighing in relief and welcoming America back to the community of sane nations… we hope.

Certain quarters in the Philippines are hoping that Biden will be like Barack Obama in dealing with President Duterte. But if Biden puts weight in US alliances in Southeast Asia – a region dominated by strongmen – he would have learned his lesson from Obama’s experience and give Duterte the treatment as an equal that the Philippine President expects from fellow world leaders.

This won’t stop the Biden administration from promoting human rights and democratic values in the Philippines. If the promotion doesn’t use a megaphone, if it doesn’t seem like the US president is telling Duterte how to run the Philippines, I can believe they can get along with each other, as Malacañang keeps saying.

The battle cry of the Democratic campaign was a “return to decency” and a “stop to hate.” In our country, with general elections just 15 months away, one reaction to Biden’s win was – sana tayo rin.

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Meaning, people are hoping for an end to the current kalakaran in government come noon of June 30, 2022. The US election has inevitably turned Filipinos’ attention – even amid the COVID pandemic – to the general elections in May 2022.

If voting patterns since 1986 are sustained, the hope may be realized.

There is still no clear “presidentiable” emerging who will challenge President Duterte’s preferred successor. If you still haven’t noticed his “anointed” by now, jumping on every issue and screaming for public attention at every opportunity, you must be from another planet.

If we go by previous votes, we will see an antithesis of Rodrigo Duterte as his replacement. The qualifications will depend on the most pressing issues at around election time, and the perceived weaknesses of the incumbent.

Corazon Aquino was seen as too laid back as a manager, resulting in the crippling blackouts that lasted up to 12 hours on bad days even in Metro Manila in the final months of her term. Fidel Ramos, with his can-do persona, won by a plurality and brought back the lights, although the emergency deals led to long-term high power costs.

Ramos made peace with as many armed groups as he could, and presented himself as a unifier and cheerer-in-chief for “Team Philippines” – erasing the years when his predecessor (and endorser) was branded as vindictive for demanding justice first before reconciliation.

There was relative peace, there was prosperity under Ramos, until the Asian financial crisis in his final year. Voters must have been bored and wanted excitement, so FVR was replaced with a movie superstar.

But actor-turned-politician Joseph Estrada proved too exciting, and he was yanked out of office before he could finish even half of his term. People couldn’t wait to replace him with his vice president, who was seen as his antithesis, from personality to work ethic. For about  three years, the workaholic, humorless overachiever Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo did not disappoint.

And then the scandals began, from corruption to poll fraud and then more corruption. By the time GMA’s nine years drew to a close, Filipinos were tired and ready for drastic change.

When democracy icon Cory Aquino died, no one stood a chance against her only son Noynoy Aquino. GMA’s endorsement became a kiss of death.

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President Noynoy retained his high approval ratings until the end of his term. Pollsters, however, have noted that personal popularity is non-transferable in this country.

Rodrigo Duterte, whose personal style and views on many issues contrasted sharply with those of P-Noy, buried Aquino’s “anointed” by a landslide. Like P-Noy midway through his presidency, Duterte also led his congressional allies to overwhelming victory in last year’s elections.

After six years of Duterte, the betting is that people will again be ready for a significant leadership change.

At some point, Filipinos will tire of the impunity that underpins explanations of certain actions and decisions of this President: because he can.

Apart from preparing for the next elections, there are groups of legal professionals currently collating evidence for criminal charges that will be filed against those involved in stealing people’s money and violating civil liberties. They should set up hotlines for whistle-blowers, with anonymity guaranteed, just to get more leads.

Technology has made it easier to gather evidence of corruption and other abuses. Those who argue that they are just following orders from superiors should look at the persons who have actually been punished particularly for crimes related to corruption in this country: the underlings are in prison while the bosses have been cleared or are out on bail. Remember, folks, when cornered, your crooked bosses will throw you under the bus.

All things come to an end, and there can be a time of reckoning. It’s a message running strong in the victory of Joe Biden. It can happen anywhere.

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