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An election of images, a collection of tribes

C’mon, just a day after the elections: Who remembers the platforms of the five presidential candidates, the topics they discussed in three presidential debates, or even their campaign slogans?

The more than 15 million Filipinos who voted for Duterte were not really voting for this 71-year old man, who for 22 years has been Davao City mayor, who even boasted he was the patron of – or the brains? – behind the Davao Death Squads. Indeed, even reporters and editors scrambled to Google or ask their sources for some background about this mayor.

They voted for an image in their minds—to which they projected idealized qualities of goodness and courage of a man of the masses, the antithesis of the uncaring hacendero Benigno S. Aquino 3rd. The image etched in their minds was of this tough-looking guy in the kind of polo shirt and rubber sandals you could buy from a cheap store, with his fist raised up in the air, and saying: “I will fight for you.” Duterte was their avenging angel against a hated Aquino of the rich, who has made life difficult for them the past six years.

The image was so powerful that even values held dear by modern civilization and Christianity such as reverence for human life and due process – which Duterte disregards openly in his public speeches – have been tossed away like garbage.

Elections in this country are no longer a contest of the best and the brightest or who can most successfully portray himself as the best candidate.

Due to the tremendous power of media, including Facebook and other forms of social media – and especially because of their capability to disseminate photos and videos that form memes in people’s minds – Philippine presidential elections have become a contest of images.

Duterte’s inner circle? Clockwise, the brothers Carlos and Paul, former AFP chief of staff Esperon, former NFA head Banayo, former Press secretary Dureza, and former broadcaster and North Cotabato governor Piñol.
Duterte’s inner circle? Clockwise, the brothers Carlos and Paul, former AFP chief of staff Esperon, former NFA head Banayo, former Press secretary Dureza, and former broadcaster and North Cotabato governor Piñol.

While there is cause for considering that Leni Robredo’s tight race with Bongbong Marcos has been Aquino’s Plan B for recapturing power, her image as a comely widow with a captivating smile, even as one waiting alone for a bus to take her home to her province, pushed her candidacy forward. If another candidate such as former Justice Secretary Leila de Lima had, instead, been fielded by Aquino for the vice presidency, even Antonio Trillanes would have trounced her.

If there’s one thing the elections on Monday also proved, it is that political machinery is no longer important in presidential and vice presidential elections, because we have moved almost totally into the age of images. This might also be due to the fact that more voters are young, with little ties to community ward leaders.

Gripping image
Duterte has stumbled upon a means of creating the most gripping image of himself that resonated with the masses – as a leader of and from the masses (though he came from the upper class), who would kill for them, who is as angry as them at the Establishment. His strength was that he did not need to artificially create an image: his world has always been in Davao City, where even the elite dress like the ordinary man on the street. In metropolitan Manila, the elite speak Filipino only to their drivers and domestic help. In Davao and other areas in Mindanao and the Visayas, the elite speak the language of the common man, Bisaya.

Grace Poe Llamanzares, who contrived to project an image of herself as a virgin princess of sorts – which played on the masses’ confusion over movies and reality – still managed, of course, to fool a lot of people, but was no match to Duterte’s image.

I rooted for and voted for Vice President Jejomar Binay, as my reason told me he was the most qualified. But Philippine elections have never been a rational exercise.

Because of the two-year campaign by Aquino and Roxas to vilify Binay, the Makati city mayor had been unable to really shed his corruption-tainted image. Binay was also too decent to spit verbally at people, and he wanted to be a “healing President.” But the masses wanted somebody very angry, who spits at the Yellow Throne.

After all, how could a staunch defender of human rights, when he started out his law career, say that due process is an obstacle to fighting crime?

I’m sure if Aquino and Roxas had undertaken a similar two-year vilification campaign against Duterte, a huge sector of the masses’ image of him would also be of a corrupt mayor of a frontier town.

Duterte’s masa image siphoned off Binay’s political support, as he was the candidate who had projected himself as the masa candidate.

Roxas tried to project an image of a technocrat untainted by corruption. But the masses haven’t been looking for a technocrat. Their gut feel has been that, having been screwed alternatively by the rich and criminals all these years, therefore they need somebody able to fight for them.

As troubling, though, as the supremacy of images in determining who would lead us is that the recent elections have laid bare the fact that more than a century since we were established as a nation of “Filipinos,” we have remained a collection of tribes, with each individual member behaving as a blind loyal subject to his tribal leader.

If Duterte’s image was dominant in his popularity in metropolitan Manila, it was tribalism that won for him the presidency. I don’t remember any instance of a province such as Davao del Sur (of which Davao City had been provincial capital in the 1950s) voting 96 percent for their province-mate. Mindanao, it seems, had voted 60 percent for Duterte.

Bisaya for Duterte, Ilonggos for Roxas
Those who speak Bisaya actually constitute one big tribe, and Visayan-speaking provinces and cities (such as Cebu City) overwhelmingly voted for Duterte. Was it because reason told them he was the best candidate?

Similarly, the Ilonggo speakers voted overwhelmingly for Manuel Roxas, and seemed to have forgotten he stands for the hated status quo. Also similarly, the Ilocano speakers went overwhelmingly for Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. and the Bicolanos for Leni Robredo. Unfortunately for Binay, he does not really have a “home” region or a province (except, of course, for the tiny Makati) to call on his tribesmen to rally behind him.

We are stuck with Duterte, though, and we really can’t afford another People Power uprising similar to that which toppled a previous President who had also won the elections because the image he created had drawn the masses so strongly to him – Erap “para sa mahirap.”

I hope that his fiery rhetoric such as, among them, that he would fill Manila Bay with the corpses of 100,000 criminals and fatten the fish there, that due process only lets criminals get away with their evil deeds, are just that – rhetoric that helped him create the image the masses love, and not serious beliefs he adheres to. Or he won’t last two years in his new post.

Duterte’s inner circle
One thing going for Duterte is that his advisers (or backers), whom I presume would be his inner circle in Malacañang, have had extensive experience in the country’s labyrinthine corridors of powers. For the sake of the country, I hope that old adage isn’t always true – “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

One of his close allies, Davao businessman and corporate executive Carlos Dominguez, had served Corazon Aquino’s government as agriculture secretary for two years, as PAL chairman from 1992 to 1995 (until Lucio Tan fired him, after taking over the firm), and an informal but close adviser of Fidel Ramos.

Carlos’ younger brother, Paul Dominguez, was officially Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s presidential adviser for Mindanao, but was also her trusted adviser, being a member of Arroyo’s core team of advisers who reported for meetings with her almost every morning during her first two years in office. Jesus Dureza, also from Davao, was a trusted Arroyo official during her nine years in office in various capacities, from being head of the talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to press secretary. He would, therefore, have a keen grasp of how Malacañang works.

Former Armed Forces Chief of Staff (2006 to 2008), Hermogenes Esperon, was also Arroyo’s 2009 to 2010 head of the Presidential Management Staff, a low-key but powerful unit in Malacañang. I bet Esperon would be Duterte’s defense secretary.

Angelito Banayo, said to have been Duterte’s campaign manager, seems to have a knack for correctly betting on who the next President would be before they get into power. He worked under three Presidents: as postmaster general under Cory Aquino, as Philippine tourism authority head and presidential political adviser under Joseph Estrada, and National Food Authority administrator under President Aquino. In the 1990s he was with Nationalist People’s Coalition big boss Eduardo Cojuangco, and after that, with Senator Orlando Mercado.

Manny Piñol, a former radio broadcaster and North Cotabato governor, has been a de facto spokesman for Duterte, and with his background, could be his press secretary.

I don’t think these Davao guys would be able to work with the Senator from Taguig, Alan Cayetano, and I bet they’d lobby for him to be as far away from Malacanang as possible, perhaps as foreign affairs secretary, as Duterte has once mentioned.

I do hope, though, that these very competent and experienced people won’t hear from Duterte what Estrada told his inner circle, when after a year in office, he got tired with their unsolicited advice: “Mag presidente muna kaya kayo?” (Why don’t you become President first?)


This Post Has 29 Comments

  1. Andres Luna

    The ideology,Communism, is dead!
    Both Russia and China are the leading capitalists in Europe and Asia now.

    I n the Philippines , communism is a thing of the past.
    The former leaders are now the “spies” or “assets” of the State D epartment of the
    The Members of the New People’s Army (NPA) are robbers and extortionists,not having visible means of support!

  2. JBL Isip

    Idol Bobi Tiglao, you are one of the few best opinion writers with impact to the readers due to your integrity and credibility. I always follow your articles even during your PDInquirer days.
    I like you when you defended President GMA from various level of political attacks coming from unreasonable personalities and groups. This is because of the so called rule of law!
    Having said that, the majority of people have spoken in this election, and we have chosen Mayor Duterte. Please try again to be credible this time by giving the benefit of the doubt on capabilities of the Duterte presidency. We are all aiming to see the major reforms in the government policies that will deliver changes in the lives of our people. I am optimistic that me, you and all of us will benefit significantly from the leadership of President-elect Duterte. Be one of, this time, the reasonable personalities and groups that will give respect and support to President Duterte. Thank you and more power to you!

  3. Carvelo

    And the image projected by your preferred candidate and that of being corrupt and a thief, Binay, whom you think is the most qualified is one of the reason that catapulted Rody Duterte to the presidency. Is it image, or is it because it is Duterte who came across to the people who have been too sick and tired from being sick and tired of the status quo of corruption and criminality as the most sincere to change the direction of the country?

  4. edmundo cejar

    We had 6 years of the “best and the brightest” and what have we got? Do I need to elaborate what is painfully obvious? So why don’t we try this foul-mouthed, irreverent hillbilly from Mindanao who made Davao City the envy of ALL cities in the country. Who knows he can be (most likely) better than the “best and the brightest” up there.

  5. Felisa Gil

    Hahaha, Bobi, how do the elites in Manila speak to the drivers and domestic helpers? Snobs, that’s what you wrs!

  6. Joseph

    A Sour-graping Rigoberto. Ever since the candidacy of Duterte was put in line I have never saw and read in your column praising Duterte as a person or as a leader. Anyway, Duterte is apparently a winner and soon be officially elected the 16th president of the republic.

    Do not attribute solely to Cebuano speaking people as Bisaya because Ilonggos, Warays living in Visayas are all Bisaya. The Davaoeños are mostly Cebuano speaking people that is why predominantly they are also called bisaya.

    Do not compare Duterte to Erap Estrada because their leadership is just like North & South. They differ in so many ways when it comes to governance. Digong is NO Erap. Their competence will tell you a million words. Digong brought good results and implement laws at par. In a few days he will name his secretaries and I’m sure only those who are really qualified and whose business is only to serve the people with excellence.

  7. Jay R

    Mr Tiglao, move on. Panalo na c Duterte at Talo yung manok mo na c Binay. You feel bad because your dream of having a cabinet post will no longer happen! better luck next time.

  8. Jay R

    Idol!may bago ka nanaman na subject for the next 6 years. Im sure puro negative at tira gagawin mo kay Duterte, gaya ng ginawa mo sa Aquino administration. Try mo naman kahit minsan pumuri at maging positive para umunlad naman tayo.



    1. Andres Luna

      U must be close also to DUTERTE to know all these personalities. From these groups we will emerge small,medium large judases,who may even destroy his administration!
      Ex-Generals ESPERON and SANTIAGO , both PMA A luminous, served under FVR, ERAP and GMA ;both involved in graft and corruption.
      LITO BANAYO, was likewise corrupt in the administrations of PCORY,FVR,ERAP,PGMA and PNOY.


  10. polpolitics

    the plan of duterte to run as president was forged way back in 2013-2014, and his handlers are former presidents ramos and arroyo that is why his inner circles were once connected to these former presidents. GMA will be released in no time. Better watch out!

    1. carlitos

      I’m not for any politician. But, they haven’t really substantiated anything on GMA. As it appears at this time, GMA’s in jail because pnoy/abnoy’s family had been hurt from some reason…did it have anything to do with hacienda luisita? i don’t know. But, I’d like our society to be really fair to be everybody, and not just buy any sort of propaganda bullshit perpetrated by a media that’s prodded by the interests of the ultra rich in the country. Let’s jail everybody who’s guilty. But, they have to be guilty, not victims of narratives of wolves in sheep’s clothing – like this aquino.
      de lima did not even respect the supreme court on this one…

  11. Marky

    Most of the common factor for those people who are against Duterte are those who have not stayed in Davao. Do an Immersion in Davao. You will feel and see what he has built. If you happen to stumble upon a negative info, please don’t stop there. All of us never really ran out of BAD THINGS to say to every Mayor or every person for that matter. For all you who still has doubts About my PreSIDENT, immerse yourself. Most of the things that Duterte said were all magnified and blown out of proportion mix with wild imaginations and paranoia. Talk to WOMEN and CHILDREN and see for yourself…

    1. jr

      Jaypee Larosa and the Alia brothers, i’m sure, would have had something to say. but they’re gone. the rest were either blinded by all the glitter or cowered into silence.

  12. Joseph gabriel

    Akala kasi ninyo kayo lang ang magagaling at yong taga probinsya ay tagasunod lang sa inyo. Baguhin nyo ng pag-iisip nyo. Talo yong manok nyo sa manok nming probinsyano. Lets move on na guys…

  13. Amnata Pundit

    The fact that the western press is already starting to attack him even before he has taken his oath, to me, is a clear indication that he is not a western puppet like Boy Sayad and is therefore good for the country. Lets pray for him.

  14. Johnny Randal

    All bad elements in the society must go….dead…….all corrupt must go or rest in jail..I wished all member of the fat fig will be thrown in the oven with two balls and a chain….

  15. tony de leon

    Federalism is the way to go.. Lets do it President Duterte!

  16. Rudi Miranda

    Thank you! I like the article!

  17. jack reacher

    Elections in this country are no longer a contest of the best and the brightest or who can most successfully portray himself as the best candidate.

    Sad .. very sad
    So what now .. Duterte will surround himself with technocrats and as you’ve stated ..”extensive experience in the country’s labyrinthine corridors of powers” but at the end of the day it is still the President who should have the VISION and set forth the milestones to be achieved as he assumes the highest executive position.

    Don’t forget tao rin yang mga nakapaligid sa kanya .. they have their own agenda .. It has to be a strong leader KNOWLEDGEABLE of the what really ails this nation to make the right decisions — my prayers for the sake of this very young nation ..

    The signs of a leader who does not have a firm grasp of the whole picture is one who will say one thing on an impromptu interview and then corrects it on another or an adviser clarifying or rectifying the initial statement in a manner that is totally different from what was earlier stated.

    Let’s see.. ABANGAN

    1. carlitos

      “No longer…about the best and brightest?” Oh, c’mon. It’s been like that for a long time now. Consider this: Erap, Jinggoy, Pacquiao, Lapid, etc, etc…Even Tupas the lawyer looked dumb!
      It’s the Philippines!
      and, it’s a circus in the hallways of gov’t. Comics, fraudsters and empties playing with taxpayer monies!
      Stupid pinoys!
      But, I still like the grimy, smelly philippines that i’ve gotten accustomed to.

  18. Julian

    All i know is that, I did not waste my vote for I voted the persons whom I believed in. Qualified and experienced, that’s senator Miriam and senator Bongbong.

  19. Maria Kapra

    I think it was a calculated risk by Duterte’s handler in delaying his candidacy. Binay and Poe’s early entry to the ring was their biggest mistakes. Duterte was the one that s/b disqualified because of, he was just a substitute candidate for Dino who change his mind and instead run for mayor of Pasay city, second his admittance of the brain of Davao death squad. All the President’s men concentrated on Binay and Poe thinking that Duterte is no threat.

  20. Mohr Naga

    Mr Tiglao, you are damn right! You cannot teach old dogs new tricks. Of course, you must be among them. You seem to believe that only you is right! Anyways, watch these Gentlemen from Davao and find out how they will handle the affairs of the State.

  21. Anthony

    Well written. I live in the U.S. but want to see Filipino’s have a government that caters to the citizens instead of keeping them down. Maybe, just maybe, Duterte will be able to change a corrupt governmental system by having the right people in the right places.

  22. witwit

    I’m really feeling bad vibes with Duterte.

    I feel like he’s some evil entity purposefully installed by evil forces for communism.

    His campaign had the influence or manifestations of communism around it. From the fake endorsements to the fake news and awards, almost everything in the Duterte campaign smacks of communist propaganda.

    And the people are falling for everything. I can’t believe they just ignored the 2.4B bank account transactions accusation after they were shown balances. Who in their sane state of mind would believe that bank balances are enough to belie millions of transactions in the bank? This was even after Duterte himself denied the existence of the accounts only to be forced to acknowledge their existence after proofs of the accounts’ existence were shown?

    I feel like Duterte’s call for a shift to federalism is only aimed at pleasing his commie and islamic terrorist friends.

    1. nestor

      commie is dead. namatay na yan ng matapos ang cold war. naghahanap lang ng relevance si joma. so if you still believe about the commie bogeyman ni trillanes and the rest of the yellow pack, wake up, witwit.

    2. pedro somoroy


      The filipinos do not anymore entertain accusations like bank accounts transaction that are denied by the bank involved. Federalism is for all of us, if you are scared you can go to amerika or australia, those are great countries. China is communist but very prosperous, dont go there.

    3. jr

      dear nestor. definitely, communism internationally is dead. but communism continues to kill in the Philippines. joma and his gang may still continue to indulge themselves in some morbid fantasy of initially “sharing power” with the incoming admin and later subverting and dominating it. and their organization still kills and will continue to kill. the cold war is over? certainly. but the death of the cold war has no permanent bearing on local politics. illusions do. that is reality.

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