Estrada, Duterte, Arroyo, Marcos
Joseph Estrada, Rodrigo Duterte, Gloria Arroyo, and Imelda Marcos (Toto Lozano/PCOO)

Duterte aide and  Senator Christopher “Bong” Go’s withdrawal as the candidate for President of a group no one had previously heard of will  be to the advantage of the Marcos Junior-Sara Duterte team. And should that pair win in 2022, it will also mean the continuing dominance in government, and worse, of the axis of power behind it.

With Go presumably out of the running (he was yet to withdraw officially as of December 8), President Rodrigo Duterte urged voters to support his daughter and her running mate whom he had previously refused to endorse. Sara Duterte then declared that Go’s withdrawal would unite the Duterte camp and its allies. Within hours they indeed declared their support for the Marcos Junior-Sara Duterte combine.

If all this smells like another bad comedy of horrors and deception, it probably is. But there is also some basis to believe that initially at least Mr.  Duterte was really looking for someone else other than Marcos to support.

The clash of ambitions, personalities and political agenda was evident in Mr. Duterte’s pushing his former police chief to file a Certificate of Candidacy for the post he’s leaving soon, and when he withdrew, his then  making Go his candidate despite the latter’s unlikely chances of winning the Presidency in fair and honest elections. It was a desperate attempt to have someone at his beck and call in the country’s highest office. Apparently he had grave  reservations over whether he could trust enough the son of his model Ferdinand Marcos Senior  to support his candidacy.

Mr. Duterte wants his daughter — or at least someone he is a hundred percent certain would look after his interests once he leaves office — to be President. Despite his admiration for Marcos Senior and the Marcos family’s support for his candidacy in 2016 and for his regime after, he apparently bristled at Marcos Junior’s refusal to give way to his own daughter’s ambitions, and in addition doesn’t think much of either his capacity to govern or of his moral scruples. Before anyone says anything about the pot calling the kettle black, however, one should note that Marcos Junior’s being so regarded by someone of Mr. Duterte’s limitations in either area makes that critique specially credible. 

In any event, Mr. Duterte seems to have finally realized that more than what divides him and the Marcos clique are the ties that bind his own camp to those of the Marcoses, the Macapagal-Arroyos, and the Estradas, and that they should first focus on winning in 2022. His having his own candidate while his daughter partners with Marcos Junior was confusing and dividing his base, and that would have cost his camp the elections. 

Without Go to muddy the political waters, the Arroyo and Estrada political parties declared their support for the Marcos Junior-Sara Duterte team together with Marcos’ party and Sara Duterte’s own. Apparently these families have come together in recognition of  their common interests and shared ideology. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo opposed the older Marcos’ dictatorial rule, and  supported Joseph Estrada’s removal from office and replaced him as President in 2001. Mr. Duterte was only a few weeks ago fulminating against Marcos Junior. And yet here they all are, figuratively in bed together in affirmation of the cliche that there are no permanent friends (or enemies) in politics; only permanent interests.

Those interests include, above everything else, remaining in power, if not by directly exercising it, at least indirectly by having the capacity to influence the policies that would be to their benefit of the individuals they helped elect through their money, organization, political clout or whatever. It also includes, should their chosen candidates win, the appointment of someone from their ranks or of themselves to whatever posts would be to their personal, familial and class  interests. 

Mr. Duterte’s own interests are no less as vast than the economic and political interests of his allies, and are  even more compelling. In addition to retaining access to public funds and the other perks of office, he also  needs to win as a senator so he can be Senate President. Ensconced in that by now less than exalted post, he can avoid, so he hopes, prosecution by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, as he in fact admitted in a moment of candor to explain why he was earlier gunning for the Vice Presidency. 

But as Senate President he would also be only two heart beats away from the Presidency — and never mind the Constitution, which in his mind is probably just another “piece of paper” like the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea  Arbitral Trobunal’s decision recognizing  Philippines rights in the West Philippine Sea that he once  described in those terms.

Beyond those interests, however, are the ideological ties that bind the Duterte-Marcos-Arroyo-Estrada Axis. The most fundamental precept of all in that ideology is its opposition to anything that will change the dominant political, economic and social order that has so amply benefitted the handful of families that has monopolized political power in this country for decades. 

From that perspective flows the consequent demand for everyone to conform and think alike.  Rather than depart from such medieval ideas as that government is sacrosanct and should be supported for the sake of that convenient buzz word “unity,” or to be informed enough to dissent, question policies that cause more harm than good, hold accountable and be critical of those officials who serve no one but themselves, unthinking approval is what the ideology of acquiescence expects of the citizenry.

It is on coercion and the use of force that this primal assumption depends. Hence the harassment, the threats, the violations of human rights, the assaults on, and even the assassination of critics, dissenters, social and political activists, independent journalists and anyone else who dares exercise their civil, political and human rights.The political expression of this ideology is either open tyranny and one-man rule, or the rule of a few dynasties united  in their common adherence to the use of  State coercion as policy. 

Contrary to the conventional view that Philippine political parties have no ideology, the reality is that while they are hardly conscious of it, they do — and that ideology is neither more nor less than that of gaining and keeping power through whatever means and whatever its cost to the Filipino people. Only briefly has it been recognized as the primary threat to progress and  the well-being and future of the Filipino millions. But it has always been the core ideology of the political class, and it is today poised not only to continue driving Philippine governance, but to  also perpetuate authoritarian rule a la the Marcos Senior kleptocracy.  

Even more distressing than that contingency is that while it is humanly possible to prevent it, it can happen because the individuals, groups and forces committed to the restoration of the democratic space that has so obviously shrunk since 2016 have yet to unite despite their common interest in halting the country’s descent into the bottomless pit of another tyranny. 

Divided by their differing views on how best to achieve that aim, and  suspicious of each other’s motives, the centrist and left-of-center groups have yet to forge the unity needed for their candidates to prevail in next year’s elections.  Their political and ideological foes have done  better, united as they are this election season in the single-minded enterprise of winning power and keeping it.

First published in BusinessWorld. Photo from Philippine News Agency/PCOO.

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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