And The Winner Is …. Oh No!

The May 2016 elections are looking to be different.

Unlike in the past where the choice was effectively between two, barring the disqualification of a number of candidates, today we have four contenders all of whom are competitive in some fashion.

For once in a long time, we are not in a crisis. On the contrary we are in a state of relative (if not absolute) calm. This time the issues are not defining like dictatorship vs. democracy or corruption vs. integrity, they are about toughness vs. blandness and ideology vs. expediency.

The terms of engagement shifted with the entry of Mayor Duterte in the race. He has singly altered the nature of the national discourse in the process consuming most of the political oxygen. He raises questions about the value of due process, about the sanctity of liberal ideals like innocent until proven guilty, principles which are at the core of what we have long held to be true. He is the political maverick who wants to upend the system and the people do not necessarily disagree with him (The Duterte phenomenon is in fact not particular to us. Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen in France are behaving similarly with success).

The dissatisfaction of voters with the status quo is ironic given the Administration’s strides in fighting corruption, in the economy, in Daang Matuwid. Despite being anointed the Chosen One, Mar Roxas is fourth in the polls. Despite his personal popularity, the impact of PNoy’s endorsement has been muted. What is the hidden national malaise that the Administration does not get?

One answer is the nation’s economic progress has not proportionately benefitted the poor. Thus it is interesting that PNoy & Co. score least well in Metro Manila even as it is here that the economy has “performed” best: Our last 6 years’ so called economic prosperity has been almost entirely an urban affair.

More to the point, our economic growth has been a “ 1% phenomenon” where only the rich have benefitted while burdening the poor with the costs of growth -urban congestion, pollution and displacement. The average man who spends one fourth of his waking hours commuting to work could not care less that his country is the darling of the investment community.

So what is the new electoral landscape?

One, with three of the four contenders considered honest, corruption is not the burning issue it once was. This has benefitted Binay who is happy to fly under the radar while he quietly does his thing.

Two, with corruption off the table, unbeknownst to the Liberal Party, its beloved Daang Matuwid has become dated as a political brand. Like a worn pair of jeans, it is still a staple in the political wardrobe but it is last season’s fashion. Voters do not want a hand-me-down vision, they want change. Mar badly needs an upgrade, a Daang Matuwid 2.0

Three, voters are looking for populist solutions. The Administration has erred by refusing to endorse an income tax cut. It argues this will reduce revenues by P27 billion (less than 1% of the budget) while forgetting it will stimulate consumption and VAT as well encouraging more compliance. In a tight race it is issues like these that could spell the difference.

Four, the challenge is to be the toughest candidate in the group. So we have a farcical situation where Duterte cannot say enough about how many people he has murdered while LP Speaker Belmonte challenges him to name names. Meanwhile Mar and Digong are contesting who gets to slap whom. Excuse me, sirs, is there an adult in the room?

Five, voters are not passionate about any candidate or issue. Even the disqualification cases against leading contenders Poe and Duterte have surprisingly failed to generate a groundswell among their supporters. Nobody has taken to the streets. Knowing this, those who have the power to bully candidates have done so without fear of a public backlash.It also means the presidential outcome could hinge on a few key plays.

Lastly, the national conversation has become a race to the bottom. There is a premium to uttering the most outlandish pronouncements knowing these will become tomorrow’s headlines. The squeaky wheel gets the attention. Traditional and social media are at fault for encouraging this debasement of the discourse.

We are at the start of the campaign season but already it is shaping to be shallow and noisy. Yet there are serious issues to be addressed in this country – the growing inequality in wealth, the breakdown in our cities, El Nino and food and water security, peace and order- but nobody is listening. We would rather be entertained. So we should not be disappointed if we get a leader not to our liking but the one we deserve.

Scouting Report: Digong Duterte

Rodrigo “Digong or Rody” Roa Duterte

Born: March 28 1947, Aries

Astrological Traits: Adventurous, brave, confident, impulsive, quick-tempered

Life Partner(s): Elizabeth Zimmerman (separated), Honeylet Avancena at iba pa.

Children: Sara, Paolo, Sebastian, Veronica

Origins: Vicente Duterte (ex. Governor) and Soledad Roa (teacher)

Known means of livelihood: Mayor’s salary

Past Employment: Davao City Mayor

Current Employment: Davao City Mayor (7 terms since 1988)

Hobbies: Philandering, motorbikes, forcing smokers to eat their cigarette butts

Favorite Saying: “P***mo, make my day.




The candidate is the political gunslinger, the proverbial loose canon, bombastic and unabashed. He is a cross between Donald Trump, Dirty Harry and Erap, a media dream. He thrives on controversy. He speaks plainly and with expletive imagery to the insecurities of the public on crime and economic hardship. Voters are tired of the big policy pronouncements of the elitists and the educated, the lies of the crooked and the empty promises of the upstarts. They are ready to embrace a politics of disruption where criminals are summarily executed and politicians shut down. They are prepared to upend the system.


The candidate’s principal platform is peace and order. As President he has vowed to kill “100,000 criminals and apply the death penalty weekly”. He has been condemned by Amnesty International for human rights violations.


The candidate has been equally unsparing of traditional politicians. He has threatened to close down Congress should it obstruct his reforms. He favors a federal system which will devolve administrative and fiscal power to local government.


The candidate has earned Davao City worldwide recognition for its strong anti-smoking commitment.


The candidate occupies the political sweet spot much desired by voters, that of a tough and accomplished leader, the new sheriff in town. He is not known to be dishonest. He draws supporters from Binay as a successful big city mayor without the corruption baggage; from Mar for his decisiveness, authenticity and passion; and from Grace for his experience and accomplishments. Like Erap, he is unapologetic of his personal life. He is at the nexus of everything the public seeks.




The candidate is a political cowboy. However as President he will have to deal with issues which are nuanced, requiring thoughtfulness and study. For example, how would he deal with China? It is one thing to shoot a thief, it is another to gun down China for stealing the Spratlys.


In dispensing with due process the candidate risks throwing out the baby with the bathwater. When one replaces the law with vigilantism and instinct one undermines the institutions that are the bedrock of democracy and civil society. If the President is lawmaker, judge and executioner what happens to the constitutional balance of power? What if he is wrong? What happens after his term? Is the collateral damage worth the expediency of a Kangaroo court? What if absolute power corrupts absolutely?


A Rambo presidency is by definition unpredictable. Businessmen require stability and certainty to invest. How will private/public differences be reconciled when there is not a process? The candidate must walk a fine line between populism and the discipline of governance.


The candidate offers the vision of an enlightened despot. This is a very attractive notion but it brings with it a culture of unilaterism in Government. When that culture becomes ingrained, when the genie of omnipotence is released, it is extremely difficult to return it to the bottle.

The candidate still has limited name recall but that is rapidly changing.




The candidate claims he entered the race when the SET qualified Grace Poe to run. What he really saw was the three SC Justices unanimously voting against Grace: He figures the rest of the Supreme Court will do the same based on the law. This opens the door for him to replace Grace as the outlier.


The candidate speaks to the dissatisfaction of voters with an Executive that is disconnected, a Legislature that is corrupt and a Judiciary that is glacial and dishonest. Many Filipinos feel they are worse off than 6 years ago and the wealth gap has increased. They are ready to take a risk with a President who is unafraid to overturn the apple cart even if this means the apples can possibly never be returned to the cart again.


The candidate has a large voter base in the South. A combination with Sen. Marcos’ northern vote would be daunting.





Studies have shown voters are attracted to flashy candidates like Donald Trump in the early stages of a campaign but eventually move to a centrist, more conservative choice on election day. To consolidate his base and cast a wider net, the candidate must complement his image as a doer by deepening his national policy credentials and tempering his penchant for the outlandish sound bite. The raw cut must become the polished diamond.


The candidate has scared businessmen by announcing he will do away with contractual workers. This will strengthen labor unions. It will affect some big Chinese retailers whose campaign funding he needs.


As of date of writing, the COMELEC has not ruled on the candidate’s disqualification case.





The candidate responds to all the attributes voters are looking for, derring-do, home-spun talk and summary justice. They are prepared to forego the niceties of due process and its institutional implications in exchange for a disruption of the status quo ante. The candidate may be a political thug but he is the voters’ political thug – or so they believe. He may just pull it off.

Scouting Report: Grace Poe


Grace Poe Llamanzares

Born: Sept. 3 1968, Virgo

Astrological Traits: Independent, reliable, analytical, inflexible.

Husband: Neil Llamanzares, American about to become Filipino

Children: Brian, Hannah, Nikka; American

Origins: Unknown. Adopted by Fernando Poe, Jr. and Susan Roces

Means of livelihood: Senator salary

Past employment: Pre-school teacher; corporate manager; Chairperson, MTRCB

Current employment: Philippine Senator

Hobbies: Watching FPJ movies?

Favorite saying: I have been a Filipino most of the time.


The candidate is the romantic choice for President. She is the quintessential political Cinderella, a baby abandoned at birth, adopted by the most popular Filipino action star, the perfect child raised in modesty, a neophyte who topped the 2013 Senate race and now the leading contender for President of 100 million Filipinos. A movie cannot be far behind.

Until she became a threat, her presidential opponents were really nice to her. She ran for Senate as a guest candidate in Team Pnoy and Binay’s UNA. She was heavily courted for Vice-President but declined, preferring to run for President.

The candidate’s political resume is limited but she is a quick learner. She is smart enough to know she does not know so she studies and she listens. She wisely chose to stay under the radar in her first Senatorial years. She chaired the Senate Committee investigating the Mamasapano massacre. The Committee concluded that the President was accountable for the bungle which gained her national respect while not endearing her to Malacanang.

The candidate was not tainted by the pork barrel scandal.

The candidate resonates with the public for her freshness, passion, humility, and honesty. Her appeal is broad based. She is the youngest presidentiable and only non-trapo in the bunch. She scores well with the 20 million youth who represent 37% of votes. As heir to the FPJ legacy she connects to the rural voters and those old enough to remember her father.

The candidate’s advocacies are poverty alleviation, opportunities for the youth, children’s feeding programs and electoral reform.


Voters are looking for an honest, strong and decisive leader. Many are not convinced a woman can be all of these in one. President Cory was loved and morally strong but never projected decisiveness. GMA was strong and decisive but not considered honest.

The candidate’s main weakness is her sparse CV. Her detractors say she will rely on Senator Chiz to run her Administration. He is a seasoned politician who has however alienated a number of potential allies.

In fact the candidate’s experience is no less than Pnoy’s when he ran for President. The bigger question is her judgment on people and issues. For example, people ask why Chiz? The candidate is indebted to him for helping her Senatorial campaign and for mentoring her in the Senate: He allegedly advised her against using her PDAF which spared her the consequent flak. He was her father’s Presidential campaign manager. She has assembled a credible economic team but will they have a say in the gut issues and distribution of influence that collectively define a Government?

The candidate may have over-reached when she declined the VP slot in favor of the Presidency. She would have been a slam-dunk for the former. She would not have to worry about the various threats to her candidacy. She would have been the presumptive President in 2022. She could have learnt the ropes. She could have just gone for the ride.

She rejected the offer, swayed by her poll numbers. She may have been convinced by Chiz to run for President so he could run for the Vice-Presidency. A two term Senator who is not eligible for re-election, he needs a platform to stay in the political game.

The candidate has committed some rookie mistakes. Her awkward response to the Iglesia affair returned to bite her. By and large, however, she has remained centered and continues to do well in the polls.


As the frontrunner, the candidate is into diminishing returns. She shares the honesty space with two other candidates so not much left there. To grow she must deepen her policy credentials and strengthen her image as a strong and decisive leader, a territory now owned by Duterte.

Otherwise, the challenge lies in translating her popularity into actual votes in May. This means money, logistics, and mobilizing her ground troops, stuff which as an independent without a party machinery; is difficult.


The candidate’s biggest threat is of disqualification. She won the Senatorial Election Tribunal vote by a political 5-4 with the 3 SC Justices and Nancy Binay voting against. However she was disqualified by the 3-person COMELEC Second Division. She can appeal to the 7-person Commission but she would have to garner all 4 remaining votes, a tough proposition.

She could appeal to the 15-member Supreme Court minus the three SET Justices who must recluse themselves. That the latter unanimously voted against her does not augur well especially since, unlike in the SET, the case will now be determined purely on the legal merits. She could lose her Senate seat if disqualified based on natural-borness.

With the clock running down, the candidate’s other threat will be her ability to financially and logistically sustain her campaign with the uncertainties of her case.

The entry of Duterte will take from her support. He represents another option for those unhappy with Binay and Mar.


If the candidate was a stock she would be rated as worthy but fully valued. There is not much more room for growth. On the other hand, the risks of disqualification have risen. The candidate could take her case to the people hoping to influence the SC.

She will remain a force even if disqualified. If she cannot be Queen she still would be a powerful king-maker. With Nancy having voted against her at the SET and Duterte objecting to her candidacy, she could well endorse Mar unless she believes the LP instigated her ouster. Her opponents might want to again be nice to her.