UNDER normal circumstances, election fever sets in around this time of the year as a prelude to the campaign circus coming to town. But these are extraordinary times. Covid-19 cases are surging, people are dying and the economy is collapsing. Coming out from a year’s lockdown, perhaps the world’s longest, the National Capital Region (NCR or Metro Manila) reverted to a stricter one. Since early March, Covid-19 cases now average 10,000 to 15,000 daily from February’s 1,800 to 2,000. While waiting for the vaccine rollout, a pall of helplessness, fear and death hover.

On the other hand, there is no vaccine against the election virus ravaging the body politic, diverting us from what is important. For the opposition, this could be the perfect time to grab the political narrative focusing on the pandemic, providing the government some modicum of solution — if only it can get its act together.

Not this time around. The opposition has been so damaged and demonized that they are bereft of personalities within their ranks with the credibility to lead. The once formidable Liberal Party, now a caricature of itself, never was able to fashion any coherent alternative to the current regime except to take ineffective potshots.

Yet, oblivious to the contagion, only names of potential successors mostly from the majority alliance appear, all waiting for signals from the patron who people suspect may himself be in a political stupor of late. Watching Duterte’s IATF press briefing, he seemed to be unhinged, rambling and incoherent, jumping from one topic to the next, unable to complete a train of thought or a sentence (“PRRD addresses the nation,” March 24). I thought the President, who understandably is under tremendous stress, might, like the coronavirus, have mutated from a dominant alpha male to a lame duck.

Perceived leading actors
Two sets of names float around the outer perimeter of Duterte’s circle. Akin to centrifugal forces, Lacson and Gordon, relatively more independent-minded are playing too careful a game, unable to cut their apron strings from the President by thrashing him where he is so vulnerable – his handling of the pandemic. The other names could be those of Grace Poe and Bongbong Marcos, still popular but moribund after their respective 2016 presidential and vice-presidential runs. The centripetal forces drawn to the center are those closest to the President who could be the tools to extend his regime. The DDS or diehard Duterte supporters and their cohorts have woven the storyline that Covid’s interference somehow disrupted the country’s trajectory towards fulfilling the Deegong’s legacy. Thus, the need for time extension.

The blueprint for any regime to extend itself is to do either one of the three formulas. The first is obvious — run for reelection. This just happened recently in the United States election of 2020. President Trump lost his bid to do his “unfinished business,” but his rejection of his defeat with delusional arguments that his election was stolen from under him, despite evidence to the contrary, has marked the man as raving mad. In the Philippine scenario, the Deegong is neither delusional nor irrational. Presidential term limits prevent his reelection, and this alternative path is closed. He knows this.

The second track is one preferred by totalitarian regimes and the primary path of choice of the Duterte fanatics and those out to protect their sinecures and prerogatives. Declare a revolutionary government, which in effect is a coup against itself. But this involves the acquiescence of the military component, which is doubtful despite the two dozen or so former senior military personnel seconded by Duterte to this government. More importantly, the Filipino, at times seemingly accommodating, may not see this as an alternative worth espousing. Also, Duterte has lost the taste for such adventurism.

Election of surrogates
A third avenue is for the regime to skirt the constitutional term limits and go for election with some twist. Field the surrogates to the highest posts. In this case, Duterte allows his daughter Sara to run for the presidency with him as the vice president. This foolish idea seems to be the preferred solution of the presidential sycophants. This scenario rests on a presumption that the Filipino electorate is gullible and as ridiculous as those who advanced this idea. Despite the popularity of PRRD, the idea of a daughter or his gofer with him in the same ballot is idiotic. Even many of the people from Davao, loyal to the Duterte père et la fille will find this combination nauseous. Davao people are not that stupid. But this is gaining traction among the carpetbaggers of the PRRD’s nominal party — the PDP Laban.

Which suggests that this scenario is simply a red herring, a diversion concocted by the genius strategist himself preventing a lame-duck status. In the end Sara must be his choice as successor, feeding the fiction of supposedly preserving a legacy, a family’s unfinished business, but more importantly as protection against political retribution or even against possible repercussions of human right violations earning PRRD an indictment in the international courts.

Possible permutations
The President will not depart from traditional political practices. What better security than imposing a political dynasty with the unquestioned loyalty of the successors with a gofer for a spare tire. Sara may have to be paired perhaps with the moneyed progeny of the Villars or Marcoses as VP — not Bongbong but the smarter Imee, in keeping with the traditional Luzon or Visayas combination with Mindanao. And this woman-woman combination will be a first and a formidable one.

That leaves the PDP Laban president and popular billionaire boxing hero an odd man out as the potential spoiler. The tragedy of politics in this country is that these entertainers run on their popularity counting on name recall for votes, not so much on what they stand for and a clear articulation of their vision. Pacquiao intuitively understood this coyly releasing a tastelessly done “poor- man- from-the-masa-who-did-good-and-can-go-further” video.

The rest of the gang will just have to mill around reacting simply to the vicissitudes of the regime. Lacson, Gordon, Poe, Marcos and even the reluctant and qualified businessman, Ramon Ang.

Minimums the Deegong can do
I wrote two columns on “Duterte’s time running out — monumental failures” and “A case for repairing his legacy”(The Manila Times, Feb 10 and 17, 2021). It is too late for people to still hold him accountable for his promises prior to his ascendancy when he pompously declared “Change is coming — ‘Ang Pagbabago’ — war on illegal drugs, elimination of corruption in government, and federalism and Charter change.” On this, he has already shown himself a monumental failure. While not detracting from his triumphs and some peripheral successes, he can still do two things — seriously repair a tattered legacy and be judged kindly by history.

“He needs to decouple from the ugly maelstrom of politics now engulfing his presidency; for one, the singular ego-driven thought that he alone can finish what he started.” If he is compelled to name a successor, he needs to choose beyond his kin and coterie.

But more importantly and immediately, he must solve this biggest anomaly — the pandemic!

The Senate President crowed yesterday that the party he nominally coheads, PDP-Laban, has a “pleasant problem” — too many potential senatorial candidates. Koko Pimentel’s estimate is they have up to 20 possible choices for the 12-person slate for the 2019 senatorial race. But his list includes the five administration-affiliated senatorial incumbents up for reelection next year. This is a group that has made noises that, much as it prefers to remain in the administration camp, it is unhappy with the way PDP-Laban has been designating its local leaders and candidates, and therefore prefers to strike out on its own, perhaps in alliance with the other administration (regional) party, Hugpong ng Pagbabago, headed by the President’s daughter and current Davao City mayor, Sara Duterte.

Setting aside, then, the five-person “Force,” the administration-oriented but not PDP-friendly reelectionists (Nancy Binay, Sonny Angara, Cynthia Villar, Grace Poe, and JV Ejercito), what Koko’s crowing over is a mixed bag. Some of them have been floated by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez (with whom Mayor Duterte clashed in recent months): six representatives (Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who is in her last term in the House of Representatives; Albee Benitez, Karlo Nograles, Rey Umali, Geraldine Roman, and Zajid Mangudadatu), three Cabinet members (Bong Go, Harry Roque, and Francis Tolentino), and two other officials (Mocha Uson and Ronald dela Rosa), which still only adds up to 11 possible candidates (who are the missing three?).

Of all of these, the “Force” reelectionists are only fair-weather allies of the present dispensation; their setting themselves apart is about much more than the mess PDP-Laban made in, say, San Juan where support for the Zamoras makes it extremely unattractive for JV Ejercito to consider being in the same slate. Their cohesion is about thinking ahead: Creating the nucleus for the main coalition to beat in the 2022 presidential election. The contingent of congressmen and congresswomen who could become candidates for the Senate, however, seems more a means to kick the Speaker’s rivals upstairs (at least in the case of Benitez and Arroyo) and pad the candidates’ list with token but sacrificial candidates, a similar situation to the executive officials being mentioned as possible candidates (of the executive officials, only Go seems viable, but making him run would deprive the President of the man who actually runs the executive department, and would be a clear signal that the administration is shifting to a post-term protection attitude instead of the more ambitious system-change mode it’s been on, so far).

Vice President Leni Robredo has been more circumspect, saying she’s not sure the Liberal Party can even muster a full slate. The party chair, Kiko Pangilinan, denied that a list circulating online (incumbent Bam Aquino, former senators Mar Roxas, Jun Magsaysay, TG Guingona, current and former representatives Jose Christopher Belmonte, Kaka Bag-ao, Edcel Lagman, Raul Daza, Gary Alejano and Erin Tañada, former governor Eddie Panlilio and Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña) had any basis in fact.

What both lists have in common is they could be surveys-on-the-cheap, trial balloons to get the public pulse. Until the 17th Congress reconvenes briefly from May 14 to June 1 for the tail end of its second regular session (only to adjourn sine die until the third regular session begins on July 23), it has nothing much to do. Except, that is, for the barangay elections in May, after a last-ditch effort by the House to postpone them yet again to October failed.

Names can be floated but the real signal will come in July, when the President mounts the rostrum and calls for the big push for a new constitution—or not. Connected to this would be whether the Supreme Court disposes of its own chief, which would spare the Senate—and thus, free up the legislative calendar—to consider Charter change instead of an impeachment trial. In the meantime, what congressmen do seem abuzz over is an unrefusable invitation to the Palace tomorrow — to mark Arroyo’s birthday. An event possibly pregnant with meaning.
“Then I fall to my knees, shake a rattle at the skies and I’m afraid that I’ll be taken, abandoned, forsaken in her cold coffee eyes.” – A quote from the song, “She moves on” by Paul Simon, singer/songwriter

THE recent tremors affecting the central provinces of Mindanao caused by a series of seismic waves radiating to the northern and southern parts of the island, were like nature shaking a rattle, emitting sharp sounds and unnerving motions from the underground, both frightening and bewildering as to the intensity and confusion they generated.

The successive earthquakes and aftershocks were rattling the nerves not only of residents close to the epicenter but also those living along the active fault planes who were not used to strong earth movements. Some reported dizziness, anxiety, depression and other post-traumatic stress symptoms after experiencing continuous shaking and periodic vibrations.

As this article was written, less frequent but perceptible tremors were felt on the affected areas although everyone is reportedly bracing for aftershocks which many hope and pray, would not turn out to be the dreaded “big one,” as some irresponsible persons are falsely posting on social media. Shake a rattle drum to this latter blokes.

According to Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs), since the 1900s, Mindanao has been rocked by at least 35 earthquakes, three of which, felt at “Intensity 7” or worse, were deemed destructive: the 1976 Moro Gulf earthquake which caused a tsunami reaching up to nine meters that killed about 8,000 people including the unaccounted ones; the 1999 series of earthquakes in Agusan del Sur damaging roads, and poorly constructed schools and infrastructure; and the Sultan Kudarat earthquake in 2002, killing eight people with 41 others injured and affecting over seven thousand families in the provinces of Sarangani, North and South Cotabato (Rappler 2019). Shake a rattle of prayers for all who perished in these tragedies.

The series of earthquakes in October of this year, just weeks apart, with magnitudes of over 6 hitting many provinces, again, in Cotabato and southern parts of Davao accounted for the death toll of 22, damaging homes, school buildings and many infrastructure, shaking and sending chills to many residents who have to deal with continuing albeit smaller tremors which can be felt as far up the city of Cagayan de Oro and down the southern province of Sarangani.

Some local officials reported residents having developed “earthquake phobia” keeping watch on their clock hanging inside their tents in evacuation sites, losing sleep with anxiety awaiting when the next tremor would be coming. With frayed nerves, some would panic over even slight ground shakings.

But this is not about the temblor as much as the response of people and the country’s leaders and responsible officials. Except for the government of China which donated P22 million in aid and support for relief efforts in Mindanao, hurray for China, other foreign countries just expressed condolences and messages of sympathy to families of victims. No pledges, no assistance. Perhaps, they can’t trust our government agencies to do the job for them anymore. To them, a shake of the baby rattle.

To the initial bunch of donors who immediately come with their financial assistance such as Yorme Isko Moreno of Manila with his P5 million personal money, Mayor Vico Sotto with relief goods and P14 million coming from the people of Pasig City, Mayor Marcy Teodoro of Marikina with 100 modular tents, movie star Angel Locsin who moved about sans fanfare for her charity work offering food and other assistance to victims in Davao and North Cotabato, to Mayor Inday Duterte for relief distribution, Cebu provincial government for disaster relief campaign and to the many nameless others who came with their relief aids, shake a rattle of joy and thankfulness for their kindness and generosity.

To our government officials and politicians goes our appeal to set aside politics, distribute the relief items according to the wishes of their donors and not allow goods to rot because of political colors as was shown in the previous administration’s handling of donated goods. To them, shake a rattle of enlightenment and peace.

In whatever disaster or crisis that befalls the country, trust Filipinos’ resiliency and coping mechanisms such as resorting to prayers and humor to come to their succor.

Social media become a natural venue for memes, practical jokes and bantering such as the ones which came after Pastor Apollo C. Quiboloy reportedly claimed that he caused to stop the earthquakes so they can no longer create damage. To everyone, shake a rattle of laughter and fun while we help provide for the needs of our less fortunate brethren in Cotabato and Davao provinces.