"Substitution shall be the weapon of choice in the forthcoming jousts."
Way back January of 2015, after getting then Mayor Rodrigo Duterte’s agreement to do a “listening tour” and preach the virtues of federalism, a handful of initial supporters wondered which political party Duterte should run under.
The mayor waxed sentimental about the Nacionalista Party. It was the party of his late father Vicente Duterte, who was once governor of the then undivided Davao. (Through several gerrymandering moves, Davao is now officially divided into Davao de Oro, Davao del Norte, Davao Oriental, Davao del Sur, and Davao Occidental, but all roads lead to the financial and commercial capital, Davao City, which the Dutertes have ruled since 1988.)
Since some in our group were friends of the Villar family who “own” the Nacionalista Party, queries were made. The first reaction was whether our candidate was serious about running, as his pronouncements always disdained candidacy for the top post. There was a second hurdle: the NP had its own stable of moist-eyed presidentiables —Alan Cayetano, Bongbong Marcos, even Antonio Trillanes.
So the movements to draft Duterte had to plod on without mention of any political flag. The person, the candidate himself was after all, a stand-out amongst the competition. Although a politician of three decades sired by another political family, Duterte’s style of leadership was non-traditional vis-à-vis Mar Roxas or Jojo Binay, in early 2015 the major presidential contenders.
But then came Grace Poe, a three-year senator whose political strength derived from the legendary FPJ, the man who was to be president had not GMA prevailed in 2004, with not-so-little help from Hello Garci.
She was a more formidable enemy as far as we were concerned. She had the political capital of FPJ and his strong emotional tug with the “masa,” and the only issues against her would be her relative inexperience and her citizenship qualifications.
Through it all, the matter of political standard was never an issue for Duterte, just as people do not remember what Grace Poe’s political party really was. Only because of the last-minute “hesitation” to run was Duterte accidentally drafted by the PDP-Laban, through the Martin Diño subterfuge, followed by substitution in late November 2015.
The Duterte campaign was hardly run by the PDP, even if it was the party flag for the official candidacy. In fact, the PDP had no say in who eventually became Duterte’s running-mate, Alan Cayetano of the Nacionalista Party, even as some other supporters put up a splinter group called Al-Dub, an acronym for Alyansa Duterte-Bongbong.
Throughout the past five years, Pres. Duterte was inactive on party matters, although he accepted to be the party chairman, which is more traditional and ceremonial than anything else. Party matters were left to then Speaker Bebot Alvarez as secretary-general, and his friend Al Cusi, the vice-chairman.
Like many others, Sen. Manny Pacquiao turned coat upon the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) led by VP Binay, under whose standards he ran, and won, a senatorial seat in 2016. Legions of trapos lined up to fill the formerly rag-tag PDP. It has been the bane of all transfers of presidential power since the 1987 Constitution. Parties have become mere flags of convenience for political personalities and their ambitions.
But in 2018, with the support of Mayor Inday Sara Duterte-Carpio, Speaker Alvarez was dethroned, and in his stead, the former president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo stepped up to the dais. She too converted from Lakas and swore in to the supposed party-in-power, PDP.
Now, as 2022 nears, and despite the ongoing viral pandemic, knives have to be sharpened and unsheathed for the prize political plum which is the presidency beyond Duterte pere.
The wealthy Pacman in 2019 became the vaca lechera of the PDP, as President Duterte disdained being involved in the financial burdens of the midterm elections. Of course, as has been the wont, senatorial and even local candidates had to fend for themselves when it comes to humongous financial requirements of a political candidacy. But Pacman’s money provided the stage, the events management, the rally coordination. That must have cost quite a sum.
Seeing the Pacman as an interested presidentiable with money to spend, the old guard of PDP, which meant Koko Pimentel and his sub-alterns, virtually gave him the run of the party, proclaiming him “acting” president in lieu of Pimentel himself. But they did this without a by-your-leave from the party chairman, the President, nor his loyal senators who ran and won under the PDP banner, namely Bong Go, Bato de la Rosa, and Francis Tolentino.
Early this year, the president made an attempt to dissuade the Pacman from gunning for the presidency, and run instead for senatorial re-election, but the determined pugilist would not accede.
That was when the knives were sharpened and finally unsheathed by Vice-Chair Al Cusi, in Cebu last May 31. And to wave the sharpened knife against all possible enemies, the assembly adopted a resolution asking the president, mismo! to run for vice-president in 2022, with the right to name his presidential candidate.
That the resolution was a queer first in our political history mattered little. It simply rested on the popularity of the incumbent president, whose numbers Pulse Asia in November of 2020 measured as 91% public approbation. Even if those numbers have undoubtedly dipped, the trust and approval ratings remain high for the 76 year old president in his last year in office.
But the constitutional curtains are about to close the stage, and the show must go on, whether for the PDP or the legion of present supporters. By positing a Rodrigo Duterte vice-presidency, his sub-alterns preserve political clout and presidential relevance in the 2022 elections.
In effect, Duterte is once again the “disruptor,” a role he played successfully in 2015 leading to his victory in 2016.
But who will the disruptor choose? The daughter disdains the PDP as a flag, and would rather cobble a coalition with GMA and her Lakas, plus virtually hollowed-out parties as the late Miriam Santiago’s People’s Reform Party.
The loyal assistant meanwhile is likewise being egged upon to run for president, even if he seems truly reluctant, and may accept a secondary role, as vice-president.
It looks like a replay of 2015. Substitution shall be the weapon of choice in the forthcoming jousts.
Who, how, when, what—all of these are in the fertile mind of only one man, the disruptor.