Stupid jokes

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - May 17, 2021 - 12:00am

Perhaps by now, all the “stupid” people have learned their lesson, and will not allow themselves to be fooled again.

Whoever President Duterte endorses as his successor will have to live down the impact of his denigration of the intellectual capabilities of his supporters.

The President described as “stupid” those who were unable to understand that he was just joking when he said he would jet-ski to the Spratlys and plant the Philippine flag on one of the features in the island group.

You have to be stupid to think people would be unable to see that the jet-skiing, promised during the presidential debate that was hosted in Cebu by TV5, The Philippine STAR and BusinessWorld, was not a joke. What people believed was the message that underpinned the joke: that candidate Duterte was prepared to strenuously defend the Philippines’ claims and sovereign rights in the South China Sea.

Undoubtedly, many of the 16.6 million Filipinos who voted for Duterte in 2016 believed the sincerity of his promise to uphold Philippine sovereignty.

That promise was broken early in his presidency, as soon as we won our case before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. After the news broke, the atmosphere at Malacañang was funereal.

Dismayed Filipinos thought a letter of apology might even be sent to Beijing, or a direct call made by Duterte to soothe the ruffled feathers of his overlord Xi Jinping, to promise the Chinese unrestricted access to Philippine fishing grounds within our 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.

People cynical about the nature of Philippine politics liken election campaigns in this country to sex: candidates profess undying love and promise the moon and the stars to voters at the height of intercourse, and then forget everything as soon as the act is over.

Duterte’s take on his jet-ski promise validates this.

Can Filipinos believe any campaign promise that will be made by his endorsed successor?

This insult to his own supporters, his embrace of everything Chinese including the COVID virus from Wuhan early in the pandemic, the consequent destruction of jobs and livelihoods and the loss of nearly 20,000 lives (and counting) because of the disastrous pandemic response – people should remember all of these as the 2022 leadership change approaches.

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There must be people still wringing their hands over what might have been, if the Aquino administration, in 2016, had managed to get Mar Roxas and Grace Poe to unite, with either one agreeing to slide down to the vice presidential race.

Instead Rodrigo Duterte, who declared his candidacy at the eleventh hour, won by a landslide, getting 16,601,997 votes or 39.2 percent.

Mar Roxas came in second, with 23.45 percent of the votes or 9,978,175. Poe followed closely with 9,100,991 or 21.39 percent. If they had united, they could have garnered over 19 million votes or 44.84 percent – more than enough to edge out candidate Duterte.

Jejomar Binay, while belonging to the opposition, in fact had a segment of Noynoy Aquino’s supporters behind him and also ate into the votes of the pro-administration bets at the time. Binay got 5,416,140 votes or 12.73 percent.

This time, with surveys showing the President still retaining his immense popularity, groups now preparing for the 2022 race see a common opposition candidate as the best chance to beat whoever Duterte picks as his preferred successor.

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Forging a united front is off to a rocky start, with the camp of Vice President Leni Robredo seeing the need to deny that she is preparing to run for provincial governor of Camarines Sur.

The scenario was announced by staunch Duterte critic Antonio Trillanes IV. The former senator told us on One News’ “The Chiefs” last week that he was informed about the VP camp’s preparations. So if the VP isn’t interested to be the presidential bet of the 1Sambayan movement, Trillanes said, he was offering himself as the alternative.

It must be noted that when 1Sambayan initiator Justice Antonio Carpio faced The Chiefs recently, he mentioned only two possible presidential bets: Robredo and Manila Mayor Isko Moreno.

But this, Trillanes told us, was why he was just an alternative presidential candidate – in case Robredo decided to seek another post in 2022.

We failed to ask Trillanes about his Plan B in case it’s “Yorme” Isko who is picked as the opposition standard bearer.

Malacañang’s reaction to Trillanes’ possible presidential run boiled down to: dream on. In this, the Palace was spot-on.

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Trillanes ran as an independent candidate for vice president in 2016. In a field of six, he landed in fifth place behind Robredo, Bongbong Marcos, Alan Peter Cayetano and Francis Escudero. Trillanes, who was ahead only of Gregorio Honasan, garnered 2.11 percent of the votes or 868,501.

In 2022, as in any race for the presidency, the opposition will need a candidate with strong winnability. Trillanes, whose main platform is putting Duterte behind bars, doesn’t have it.

But Trillanes has managed to draw national attention to the 2022 race, despite the still raging COVID surge and the spread of the more infectious Indian variant.

The filing of certificates of candidacy is just about five months away. We should begin considering who might be the best person to get the country out of this sinkhole we’re in.

Apart from Trillanes, Sen. Richard Gordon has also expressed openness to take a second stab at the presidency. Being chairman of the Philippine Red Cross, which has performed impressively well in this pandemic, has raised Gordon’s national profile.

Previously, 1Sambayan also mentioned Sen. Grace Poe. Mayor Isko, who earlier said he preferred to continue as Manila’s chief executive, is reportedly weighing his options.

As for the prospective candidates allied with the current dispensation, you can guess the mood from the pronouncements of PDP-Laban president Manny Pacquiao. The senator and boxing icon has been issuing so many statements critical of the administration lately that his own party seems poised to declare him persona non grata.

For the alternatives, you wonder if Filipinos are ready for a president with a Chinese surname, or want to have stupidity reaffirmed by picking another Duterte.

Rodrigo Duterte campaigned largely on a platform of killing to end the drug menace. Both the killing and the drug scourge persist. Later, he tossed in the jet-ski promise.

Joke only? The joke is on us. The buzz in the Tsinoy community is that in the halls of Beijing, Rodrigo Duterte is seen as a buffoon, and his foreign policy a big joke.

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