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.
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.
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?)