Not just doublespeak

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

For the nth time, President Rodrigo Duterte declared anew he would stay “neutral” in the ongoing campaign of the ten aspirants vying to win in the May 9 elections. Even as the acknowledged nominal chieftain of the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Laban ng Bayan (PDP-Laban), President Duterte made it clear he won’t be stampeded by his partymates to endorse ex-senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., or BBM for short.

This, despite the President’s daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, is the vice presidential (VP) runningmate of BBM. Marcos is the presidential candidate of the Partido Federal ng Pilipinas while Mayor Sara is running under a coalition-led by the Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (CMD).

Half of the fractious PDP-Laban headed by Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi passed a Resolution last March 22 that endorsed BBM to be the administration-backed presidential standard-bearer. The other PDP-Laban bloc led by Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, originally wanted to field Sen. Manny Pacquiao as the party’s presidential candidate. The namesake son of the late Senate president Nene Pimentel Jr., one of the original founding fathers of the PDP-Laban, questioned before the Commission on Elections (Comelec) the party status of the breakaway Cusi bloc.

Unceremoniously dislodged as party chieftain of the PDP-Laban, Pacquiao filed his presidential bid under the Cebu-based Progressive Movement for the Devolution of Initiatives (PROMDI). Now headed by Saidaman Pangarungan as Comelec chairman, the newly completed seven-man poll body, however, have yet to resolve and rule on Pimentel’s petition.

Speaking of Cebu, President Duterte led the kick-off campaign of the senatorial line-up and local bets endorsed by the PDP-Laban-led coalition during a political rally held in Barangay Pajo, Lapu-Lapu City last March 31. President Duterte still dutifully did his role as party chieftain and rallied for the administration-backed senatorial candidates who included his four former Cabinet members. The President praised them highly during their previous Cabinet jobs, namely, Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Sec. Mark Villar; former chief presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo; ex-presidential spokesman Harry Roque; and, former Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission chairman Greco Belgica.

When he turned 77 years old last week, President Duterte felt fully accomplished in life and politics. All his three children, Mayor Sara, Congressman Paolo, and Vice Mayor Sebastian are all in government offices. But the Duterte patriarch insists his is not a political dynasty.

Hours before the campaign rally, President Duterte also had a long talk during an anti-insurgency meeting with national and local government officials and the police and military establishments in Region VII. “I am not supporting any presidential candidate. I am neutral,” the President told his audience. Talking interchangeably in Cebuano, Tagalog and in English, the Chief Executive hastily clarified: “This is not a campaign because I am not campaigning for a particular candidate.”

Shifting his talks back to security agenda of the meeting, President Duterte went on to claim he is also “neutral” in the war between Ukraine and Russia. Just last month in his public speeches, he assailed the Russian missile bombings that killed women and children in Ukraine. The Philippine government, in fact, earlier signed and joined the United Nations Resolution that condemned Russia’s invading Ukraine last Feb. 24.

President Duterte, this time, soft-pedalled on the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, whom he earlier described as a personal “friend” of his. President Duterte commiserated with Putin’s demand for Ukraine not to be annexed to the United States (US)-led military alliance of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Although taking a “neutral” stand in the Ukraine-Russia war, President Duterte conceded it may not sound congruous with his allowing the US armed forces to use the military airports and camps in the Philippines. The Commander-in-chief explained the Philippines has to respect its long standing military alliance with the Americans under the Mutual Defense Treaty.

It was a sly shift of outgoing President Duterte in his talking from local politics to geo-politics.

Except for former president Joseph Estrada who failed to complete his six-year term in office, Duterte’s predecessors in Malacañang – from the late president Corazon Aquino; Fidel Ramos, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and the late president Benigno Simeon “PNoy” Aquino III – all of them endorsed and campaigned hard for their respective presidential candidates. Still, however, their respective presidential bets lost. Ramos had former Speaker Jose de Venecia; Mrs. Arroyo had ex-Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro; and, PNoy had Interior Sec. Mar Roxas II.

Except for Mrs. Aquino, her “anointed” presidential bet – Ramos –won by a slim margin over the late Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago.

What behooves the rabid supporters and loyalists of President Duterte on what would be the “compelling” reason for him to endorse a presidential bet. As far as the diehard Duterte allies are concerned, it would be risking too much to rely on pre-election mock polls. The BBM-Sara UniTeam tandem have consistently been topping respectively the presidential and VP surveys. Both BBM and Mayor Sara have been getting around 50% as of the latest survey results showing them as the most preferred bets.

Methinks there is more to this than meets the eye. In the Cebu campaign rally, President Duterte lauded much his daughter despite their father-daughter spats over government policy issues. “Actually, this is the first time that I’m using my name as a father, for my daughter. It’s because we’ve had issues. Pero anak is anak is anak. So… Inday is very good, to be totally honest with you. Inday is very hard working,” the President cited.

In both geo-politics as well as in the Philippine politics, President Duterte’s “neutral” is not exactly the true meaning of not aligned or not engaged with a political or ideological grouping. Thus, it is not just doublespeak but multi-speak even.


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