Duterte legacy: Clean and orderly elections

BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Ambassador B. Romualdez - The Philippine Star

There is absolutely no doubt that tomorrow’s election will be the most consequential ever in our country’s history. The whole world will be watching who we will choose as the next president of the Philippines.

More than 67.5 million have registered for the May 2022 elections, with over seven million of them new voters. The number of registered voters for this year’s elections is much higher than the 54.3 million who registered in 2016 and the 61.8 million in 2019. According to the Commission on Elections (Comelec), over 84,000 are local absentee voters, while sadly there are only 1.67 million registered overseas absentee voters.

There are 10 candidates for president, nine running for vice president, 64 senatorial aspirants, 178 party-lists as well as local positions from congressman down to councilors. One can only imagine the kind of challenge this year’s elections – described as “historic” by Comelec Commissioner George Garcia – will pose, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic still around.

In my meeting with President Duterte last month, he expressed his deep concern in making sure the elections are conducted in a peaceful and orderly manner, which was one of the reasons why he opted to decline President Biden’s invitation for the ASEAN heads of state summit in Washington this week.

President Duterte has deliberately not endorsed any presidential candidate to show the people that he remains neutral – which is going to be one of the biggest pluses in tomorrow’s elections. In all my years, I cannot recall a time when any outgoing president has not openly declared his support for a presidential candidate – his preferred successor – which is why the neutral stance of President Duterte is welcomed and appreciated by so many Filipinos.

By declaring that he is not endorsing any presidential candidate, it only goes to show that he respects the people’s freedom of choice and their sovereign right to vote. The President had said that “attaining clean and honest elections is the reason why I am not supporting any candidate, by inference or implied or direct,” stressing that people should stop guessing or making assumptions.

Knowing the President, he is the type who will really make sure that nothing subverts the will of the people. Ensuring orderly, clean and honest elections will be a great legacy of President Duterte.

“As President, I guarantee… that we will do everything to ensure that the election is free from violence and that people are not intimidated in any way from exercising their right to vote and choose,” he had said.

This was the same commitment he made during the Summit for Democracy convened by President Joe Biden last December.

“The Philippines was the first republic in Asia and the inspiration of all Asian struggles for independence. Today, we have a vibrant democracy and an open and diverse society. Freedom of expression and of the press are fully enjoyed and the regular transfer of power is guaranteed through free and honest elections.

“My administration will ensure an honest, peaceful, credible and free elections in May. It will be my highest honor to turn over the reins of power to my successor knowing that in the exercise of my mandate, I did my best to serve the Filipino nation,” President Duterte said in his intervention during the summit.

Everybody knows the President – should he choose to do so – can use his still very considerable political capital to influence the mindset of the people in choosing the country’s next leader. After all, he continues to remain popular among a large majority of Filipinos as seen in the very high approval and trust ratings he continues to enjoy even as his term is coming to a close.

In the recent survey released by Publicus Asia last April, he obtained a 67.2 approval rating and a trust rating of 61.2 percent – prompting Publicus executive director Aureli Sinsuat to remark that “the longevity of President Duterte’s popularity is a rarity in Philippine presidential politics,” and set to be the first president in history to end his term with above 50 percent approval and trust ratings.

The Cabinet secretaries who know him well tell me they have always known the President to be totally transparent – “Hindi plastic, what you see is what you get.” He will tell you what he thinks of you to your face. He can also get emotional about our hardworking OFWs. This is evident in the passage of the law creating the Department of Migrant Workers last December and, just recently, the creation of the OFW Center in Las Piñas and the construction of a hospital in Pampanga specifically for OFWs and their dependents.

Social media has been flooded lately with “Thank you PRRD” posts and tributes from people expressing their gratitude to the President, even from those who admitted that they did not vote for him in 2016.

Whatever your political color is, what is important is for you to vote because this will strengthen our country’s democratic system, and that whatever the outcome may be, it is our duty as citizens to accept it.

It is sad to note that there are people who have been saying that if their candidate loses, they might as well migrate. Maybe it might be the right decision for them to leave if they feel that way. But for those who really love this country, they should continue to criticize and oppose the new administration if they do something wrong because that is what democracy is all about. We are all Filipinos – we’re all in this together.

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