Who’s Rody’s anointed?

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

Is the Bong versus Bongbong fight over even before it started?

Yesterday, Sen. Bong Go again did not show up at the Commission on Elections to formally withdraw his certificate of candidacy for president. The Comelec has said that unless the COC is personally withdrawn, the candidacy stands, and Go’s name will be printed in the 2022 ballot.

Meanwhile, Go supporters gathered outside the Comelec, pleading with him to reconsider his withdrawal, and threatening to form a human barricade to prevent him from formally dropping out of the race.

Some analysts think the announced withdrawal is nothing but the latest episode in the continuing Duterte-Daughterte election telenovela, and the clan’s real tandem from the start has always been one between Bongbong Marcos and Sara Duterte-Carpio.

These analysts believe President Duterte’s tirade against a wealthy cocaine-using presidential aspirant with a “weak character” unlike the famous father – leaving little doubt about who he was referring to – was meant to inoculate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. against allegations about his drug habit in the course of the campaign.

The question is whether President Duterte is capable of such elaborate play-acting. He has flip-flopped on many pronouncements and given unconvincing statements to defend some of his controversial policies. But he seems incapable of feigning profound displeasure, which he expresses by publicly heaping insults on the subject of his ire.

We’ve seen this in his insults directed at Sen. Richard Gordon, human rights advocates, and before them, Vice President Leni Robredo and Senators Leila de Lima and Antonio Trillanes.

Negative campaigning is clearly part of Duterte’s arsenal in pushing for the continuity of his national influence. Anyone who nipped at the heels of his daughter Sara in the surveys for president got in his crosshairs: Manila Mayor Isko Moreno and his briefs, Sen. Manny Pacquiao.

So Duterte’s tirade against Marcos, whom he identified in a subsequent speech, minus the reference to cocaine use, seems believable.

And just to sabotage Marcos’ chances, what better way to split the administration vote than for Duterte to field his loyal aide, Bong Go, as his endorsed successor?

With Duterte’s still high ratings, he has reason to believe there’s always the chance that he can muster enough votes for his niño bonito Go. And if the Duterte name allows Inday Sara to edge out Senate President Tito Sotto from the vice presidential race, it would be Rodrigo Duterte’s 2022 dream team come true: President Go and VP Sara.

*      *      *

Go’s foray into the races for the two highest posts, however, is reviving questions on whether President Duterte’s personal popularity is transferable to anyone who doesn’t bear his surname.

Duterte won the presidency by a landslide in 2016, but his running mate Alan Peter Cayetano landed at third place.

OK, maybe this was because the Dutertes’ real candidate for VP at the time, according to the rumor mill, was Bongbong Marcos, who lost by a slim margin to Robredo.

On the other hand, Duterte, in word and deed, has been pitching for Go at every opportunity, from his weekly pandemic briefings to his provincial trips and inauguration of big-ticket development projects. Go has virtually been given deed of ownership to the state-run Malasakit Centers.

Yet Go has languished in all surveys for president and vice president. What does this say about the endorsement power of his bossing the President?

It’s enough to make a presidential aspirant weep… and announce his withdrawal from the presidential race.

Until the withdrawal is formalized with Go’s personal appearance at the Comelec, however, the announcement will be seen merely as the latest installment in this telenovela.

*      *      *

When you’re aiming for the highest position in the land, this show of indecisiveness can be fatal.

If Go changes his mind again and pushes through with his bid, he will be a beneficiary of Duterte’s equity of the incumbent, which is now working for the President’s Senate run.

Our recent history, however, has shown that the administration machinery is no guarantee of victory for the sitting president’s “anointed” successor.

Noynoy Aquino, who also stepped down with high ratings, failed to propel his bet Mar Roxas to Malacañang. Neither did Fidel Ramos succeed with Joe de Venecia. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo not only could not propel her “anointed” Gilbert Teodoro to the presidency, her endorsement was seen as a kiss of death even by her supporters.

The Duterte die-hards point to the shutout of the opposition Otso Diretso slate in the 2019 Senate race as proof of his endorsement power. But PNoy achieved almost the same feat in 2013 with his bets. Except for Joseph Estrada, who couldn’t stay in power for even half of his term, presidents tend to enjoy high support midway through their tenure.

And there are those who snipe that the shutout of Otso Diretso had more to do with the weakness of the opposition campaign rather than the strength of the administration.

*      *      *

If Bong Go is truly out of the race, the question is who will be Duterte’s new anointed successor. Would he go against his own assessment of the “weak leadership” of Marcos (plus the cocaine use innuendo) and endorse the dictator’s son, as daughter Sara wishes?

Some quarters see Yorme Isko offering himself for Duterte’s endorsement.

Another speculation is that Go might hold off on his formal withdrawal from the race, just in case Marcos is disqualified or his COC invalidated by the Comelec. With Marcos out of the running, Go becomes the lone administration bet.

At this point, the political situation has become as unpredictable as the COVID virus mutations. All we can do is wait for the next episode.

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