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Opinion

Substituted

FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

I write this early in the day of Nov. 15, the last day for filing candidate substitutions with the Comelec.

President Rodrigo Duterte gets up from bed later in the day and will probably turn up at the Comelec for his surprise du jour. No one really knows what that could be.

The other day, Duterte materialized at the Comelec offices with Bong Go in tow. Bato de la Rosa had withdrawn his candidacy for president and Go filed to amend his certificate of candidacy to seek the presidency. He filed under a party no one ever heard of before: the Pederalismo ng Dugong Dakilang Samahan (PDDS).

By the elder Duterte’s own account, he urged his erstwhile sidekick to upgrade his candidacy so that the latter would stop weeping over his political fate. It was obvious the President was piqued that things were spinning beyond his control. Later he would threaten to revive his candidacy for vice president, a move that would put him in competition with his daughter.

Through Sunday, however, a statement attributed to PDDS welcomed Go into its fold but insisted the party was supporting Sara Duterte’s vice presidential bid. The same statement welcomed the elder Duterte as its senatorial candidate.

There seems to be a gap in communications here – or the PDDS was politely trying to restrain the impulses of the elder Duterte.

It might seem, at the most superficial level, our electoral politics is in a flux. But that is only at the most superficial level.

In fact, clear patterns have already taken hold.

A survey leaked last week, supposedly commissioned by Leni-supporter Albert del Rosario and taken the week after the deadline for the filing of candidacies, gave Bongbong Marcos 47 percent share of voter preference. Leni Robredo comes second with 18 percent. This coheres with anecdotal information.

Voter preference surveys reflect what in the industry is called “market votes.” These are choices made freely by potential voters free from the intervention of powerbrokers and influential groups.

With the reentry of Sara Duterte into the national electoral game as Bongbong Marcos’ running mate, the trend in “market votes” will likely be reinforced rather than reversed by the factor of “command votes” coming into play. “Command votes” are those delivered by local political lords, influential groups and block-voting religious sects.

Sara reenters the electoral game with seven national political parties (and much of the political class) supporting her. This will boost rather than diminish BBM’s share of voter preference. If present trends hold, we could see the first majority president under the 1987 Constitution.

This should be good news to all who value political stability for the nation over and above the personalities engaged in this fray.

Antics

The larger trends will not be affected by whatever antics Rodrigo Duterte pulls.

The alliances that will matter have formed. The elder Duterte cannot undo them – certainly not with his diminished political base.

From his wild decisions and even wilder utterances, it is evident the President’s echo chamber has imploded severely. It is now nothing more than a two-person conversation between Rodrigo and his trusted aide. Everyone else is on a post-Rodrigo mode.

In physics, this is the equivalent of a black hole. It can gobble up stars but cannot produce a new universe. It is destructive but not creative.

The new electoral alliances that have formed will define the post-Rodrigo political arrangement. These alliances have hastened Rodrigo’s descent into lame duck status. What he does and what he says will only aggravate his irrelevance.

After cautioning his daughter about the perils and the pains of national politics, the elder Duterte now blames BBM for drawing Sara back into the game. He seems aggrieved that his daughter is now running for vice president and not for president.

But Sara’s loss of electoral momentum is entirely the elder Duterte’s fault. By posturing a run for the vice presidency, he forced Sara to merely seek reelection for mayor and abandon the broad alliance she had already formed.

In the vacuum, BBM’s candidacy prospered. The voter preference surveys show that. With a campaign that has gained traction beyond his own expectations, BBM is not about to yield the presidential role to a partner who momentarily stopped seeking it. A week, as one British statesman once said, is a very long time in politics.

Over the last few days, fictitious accounts of the supposed negotiations between the front-runners circulated in social media. They are conspiracy theories long on lies and short on facts, intending mainly to smear the new alliance emerging from the period of substitution.

The fact is the major players, like all of us, studied the preference surveys and formed alliances based on what works. They were not governed by wishful thinking or by political fantasy. All of modern political theory rewards competence and penalizes incompetence. The numbers bear that out.

Rodrigo Duterte, like the mythical King Canute, might imagine himself so powerful he orders the sea to be still. He might rant and rail, posture and threaten, but the currents will continue to run their course.

There is this tired old cliché about politics being the art of the possible. Leaders should not order their troops to march against a wall. By attempting to change the currents of electoral politics out of sheer pique, Rodrigo Duterte seems to be doing precisely that. But not all his soldiers have that admirably unquestioning obedience of Bato.

Now, if anything truly dramatic happens in the afternoon of Nov. 15, then even this brief essay becomes irrelevant.

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