The 2019 midterm elections are over and whether we like the results or not, we will have to live with it for the next three years.
Young people, vocal on social media, were hoping for an Alexandra Ocasio Cortez-style election upset. Instead they were treated to a Hillary Clinton drubbing. But this is not the United States of America, where candidates debate marginal tax rates or affirmative action.
More on what happened in #Halalan2019:
While Filipino voters are drawn to traditional politicians who run on gut issues such as fighting poverty and crime, and who would do anything—even sing and dance—to court voters, there are no simple ways to explain their choices. What we have in the aftermath of the May 2019 midterms are realizations, harsh they may be for some segments of the population, particularly the young ones who wanted to upend the status quo.
One can now talk of “Duterte magic” having annihilated the “Cory magic” of old. All candidates who ran for the Senate on an explicitly anti-Duterte platform lost, and lost badly. Historically, at least since the post-Marcos era, voters have also rewarded sitting presidents with Senate majorities, with the notable exception of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, whose 2007 slate lost to the opposition.
The king’s touch
President Rodrigo Duterte has become the undisputed overlord of Philippine politics. The top political families and regional power brokers, led by the Marcoses and the Arroyos, are firmly on his side. Duterte thus easily converted his astronomical approval ratings into millions of votes for his chosen candidates.
So-called “command votes” produced Senate victories for Duterte’s two personal picks, his aide Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go and ex-police chief Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa. Apart from their Mindanao base, the two won heavily in the vote-rich provinces of Cavite, Bulacan, Pangasinan and Laguna in Luzon, and Cebu in the Visayas.
Many Senate hopefuls realized this early on and jockeyed for slots in the administration ticket. There were two overlapping pro-administation tickets, in fact: Duterte’s own 11-person slate under the ruling PDP-Laban party, and his daughter Sara Duterte’s list of 13 bets under the Hugpong ng Pagbabago regional party. The opposition, in contrast, had a hard time assembling a Senate ticket, coming up with only eight candidates under the “Otso Diretso” coalition.
In Taguig, there was a third list, that of the Nacionalista Party of the Villars and Cayetanos, who are staunch Duterte allies. In the battle of sample ballots, the local Nacionalista slate trounched the rival (but also pro-Duterte) PDP-Laban slate, from congressman all the way to councilor.
Save for a few holdouts, the Liberal Party (LP), like erstwhile ruling parties Lakas, Laban and KBL before it, is no more, the victim of the time-tested tradition of turncoatism in Philippine politics. Take a look at the results of Batanes, where an LP stalwart, Florencio “Butch” Abad, has lost in his bid to retake his old congressional district.
Something old, something new
Dynasties are not monolithic. They can even destroy themselves through infighting. That’s exactly what happened to the Estrada clan, whose members ultimately spread themselves too thin. Ex-president Joseph Estrada and granddaughter Janella lost the mayoral races in Manila and San Juan, respectively. Half-brothers Jinggoy Estrada and Joseph Victor Ejercito split their voter base, and the family’s political capital and resources, by insisting that they both run for senator in the same election cycle.
The Binay family fielded two feuding siblings for mayor of the Makati financial district—Abby and Junjun—bruising the two in a race that turned ugly. Both even lost their cool in a church debate. This messy fight cost their father, former vice president Jejomar Binay, a congressional seat.
Two youthful contenders dethroned their veteran opponents. Ex-vice mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso defeated Manila mayor Joseph Estrada and Councilor Vico Sotto dislodged the Eusebios of Pasig. They were not the most ideal candidates, however. Both capitalized on their show business roots and had to align with pro-Duterte forces. Vico, son of television host Vic Sotto with actress Coney Reyes and nephew of Senate President Vicente Sotto III, ran an underdog campaign and had little to show for a track record. The clincher: Duterte raised his hand on the eve of the polls.
Nonetheless, Vico, who went to the Ateneo School of Government and successfully shepherded a freedom of information ordinance, comes prepared for the job, bringing in a fresh mindset to old-school politics. The same seems true for Francis Zamora who defeated Janella Estrada for San Juan mayor. Two-term vice mayor Zamora, a former basketball player and son of long-time San Juan congressman Ronaldo Zamora, was schooled in public administration at UP and business at New York University. Both are willing to use their privileged backgrounds for good ends.
Elsewhere, it was business as usual: the Garcias and Remullas recovering the Cebu and Cavite provincial capitols, respectively, the Marcoses keeping control of Ilocos Norte, and the Gatchalians, Abaloses, Aguilars, Cayetanos, Oretas and Belmontes still well-entrenched in the city halls of Valenzuela, Mandaluyong, Las Piñas, Taguig, Malabon and Quezon City.
What of the idealistic youth voters, derided by the almighty cynics for living in their social media “bubbles”; their mock polls sneered at for not being reflective of the will of the people? It will take some time for them to process and accept defeat and the bitter lessons enumerated above. But they will grow up, wisen up, and hopefully not lose their idealism. Watch them attempt another collective rebellion in the next electoral battle in 2022.