The Dutertes’ political theater

By Fidel Feria

The Dutertes have played around with the electoral process

as though they owned the franchise. The rules never stopped

persons who had no intention of actually running for the position

but these were little known personalities who simply wanted

a brief moment on the political stage.

THE RUN-UP to elections usually renders the incumbent as a lame duck president. To counter this, Rodrigo Duterte and his allies staged unabashed theatrics around their intent to run for various national posts in the May 2022 elections.

2021 saw the President, together with Davao Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio and key administration allies, mount an elaborate political drama — stringing along the public and media in a bid to preserve their hold on power. Indeed, in the same year that the daughter had told Rappler that only one Duterte will run for national office in 2022, the father declared a run for the vice presidency — only to change his mind and vie instead for a Senate seat shortly thereafter.

Other key players were Senators Bong Go and Bato dela Rosa, allies who go back with the President since his days as a Davao Mayor. Like Duterte-Carpio, the two pulled tricks out of the Duterte repertoire of political showmanship.

Such actions clearly recalled Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign in 2016. But media seemed oblivious to the recycling, reporting every declaration without critical comment. 

Timeline of maneuvers

As early as February 2021, campaign paraphernalia for Davao City and presidential daughter Sara Duterte-Carpio were on display — huge posters, banners on buildings, an array of t-shirts, and other accessories declaring support.

Keeping close to the 2016 script, Duterte-Carpio continued to deny any intent to run for the presidency in 2022. But, in June 2021, the Mayor did admit in an interview with ANC that she had not ruled out a presidential bid. 

A CMFR monitor pointed out how media reports failed to point to the sudden change-of-mind as something out of her father’s 2016 playbook, which succeeded to keep media attention on him when as a newbie in national politics, Duterte needed to keep his brand in the public mind.  Duterte-Carpio was following her father’s trail of tricks to national public office.  And media proved to be compliant with uncritical coverage. 

Cast of allies

October 8, 2021 was the end of the filing of certificates of candidacy, but substitutions were allowed until after November 15. 

Senator and longtime Duterte aide Bong Go filed his certificate of candidacy for Vice President under ruling party PDP-Laban on October 2. But less than a month prior, it was President Duterte who accepted the party’s nomination for the vice presidency, with Go proclaimed standard-bearer. 

Go’s October filing occasioned Duterte’s announcement of his supposed retirement from politics.

For his part, Senator Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa, former top cop and enforcer to Duterte in his roles as Davao Mayor and President, filed on October 8 a most unlikely candidacy for president, also under PDP-Laban. When prodded with questions by the media, Dela Rosa admitted the surprise move was a mere strategy. When he showed his irritation at media’s questions, headlines highlighted his reaction. 

News reports recorded critical commentary about how Dela Rosa was making a mockery of the electoral process. Yet in October 12, the space-holder candidate said he would step aside should Duterte-Caprio decide to run under his party.

Events shifted to high gear on November 9, when the Mayor withdrew her bid for reelection in Davao City. Media’s sustained coverage of the decision effectively retained public attention on her political maneuvering. Accounts however did little to include her qualifications and experience, or lack thereof, for national office. Calling attention to the theatrics, Manila Bulletin did dub the events a “Saranovela.

On November 13, Duterte-Carpio allayed further speculation when she formalized her candidacy for the vice presidency under Lakas-CMD, substituting for Lyle Uy, the party’s original nominee. On cue, Dela Rosa promptly withdrew his presidential bid on the same day. 

It was also the signal for Bong Go to drop out of the vice-presidential race.  But on the same day, Go filed his candidacy for President on the ticket of the previously unheard of Pederalismo ng Dugong Dakilang Samahan (PDDS), substituting for the little known candidate, Grepor Belgica.  

Shortly, President Duterte followed with his change of plan, formalizing on November 15 a bid for a senatorial seat under PDDS and flatly backtracking on his retirement claim. The President substituted for Mona Lisa Visorde, the party’s original candidate.

Abuse of substitution 

Opinion writers and talk show pundits discussed the political moves, describing it all as a political circus. 

The substitution mechanism is supposed to be an emergency alternative for candidates, not a tool for politicians to create more leeway for political negotiations, wrote Carmel Abao in a Rappler opinion piece in November 2021. Abao observed how the orchestrated moves normalized deceit. 

The Dutertes have played around with the electoral process as though they owned the franchise. The rules never stopped persons who had no intention of actually running for the position but these were little known personalities who simply wanted a brief moment on the political stage.

But in 2021, the actions of the President showed him as a sitting President, pulling strings like a puppet master over his minions, including his daughter. The public should have been offended and outraged. The media should have reported each statement and action for what it was — a theatrical piece designed to deceive and dominate the political stage. The Dutertes have all played the public as an audience of fools; the media reduced to following their stage directions.