ON Tuesday, July 10, 2018, Philstar.com came up with a news item: “SWS: Duterte’s satisfaction rating plunges across all areas”

Wednesday, July 11, The Manila Times bannered on its front page, “SWS poll: Duterte’s rating suffers 11-point drop in Q2”

Friday, July 13, PhilStar has this on its front page: “Duterte still most approved, trusted gov’t official —Pulse Asia.”

Disparities are wide between the two pollsters’ figures. Apparently, the SWS survey was done from June 27 to 30, yielding a +45net satisfaction rating. SWS still considers this a “good rating” for the President. The Pulse Asia survey, done earlier, from June 15 to 21, registered approval and trust ratings of 88 percent and 87 percent, respectively, for Du30.

Rappler.com tried to explain the disparity in the figures: “The results of a Pulse Asia survey show President Rodrigo Duterte recording his highest approval rating yet — before his controversial remark on God that triggered a public backlash.”

True enough, upon checking, the President’s blasphemous speech was delivered on June 22, Friday, the last day that Pulse Asia conducted its survey. It is therefore probable that his declining numbers were captured by SWS, but not Pulse Asia. Rappler, despite its perceived bias against this regime, could be right after all. You just don’t mess with God!

The Deegong responded quite differently on the differing results. On SWS where the figures show a decline, he proclaimed: “I don’t care. Make it 15. Wala na ako dyan. (It does not matter to me anymore.) It does not interest me at all.” He shrugged off the results of the survey and even expressed readiness to step down from his post.

On the Pulse Asia positive results, presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said the Palace was grateful for the people’s “continuing vote of confidence” in the President, who remains “the most approved and most trusted top national official today with 88 percent approval and 87 percent trust, respectively.”

“The President views these latest survey results with all humility; however, he is not leading the country for the sake of high or good ratings. The Chief Executive is simply fulfilling his campaign promises with the best interest of Filipinos in mind,” Roque said.

These two conflicting statements are somewhat reflective of the chaotic state of affairs among the President’s coterie of friends and advisers, amidst a pervasive smell of fear induced by a singularly arbitrary president. The cabinet members and his close confidantes simply are incapable of reining in the President.

In the absence of sensible advice from the timid sycophants in Malacañang, we, the ordinary people must demonstrate to DU30 that he can’t just not care about surveys and ratings. These are indicators, albeit snapshots of the moment, of the perceptions not only of his loyalists but that of his greater constituency, the Filipino people. More importantly if only for the sake of the people who have been supportive of his agenda, putting their faith in him and now maybe quite reluctantly, he needs to internalize what’s at stake here. Marami tayong nakataya dito!

Nope! DU30 will not be allowed to cop out and leave things hanging. For one the Centrist Democratic Party (CDP), small that we are, became part of the 16 million that gave the president his mandate because of one paramount shared advocacy, federalism — a systemic reformatting of the political structures overarching most of the problems and perversions of our government and society. We reluctantly accepted a traditional politician possessing the political will to transform our cherished but dysfunctional democratic institutions; and even destroy the vestiges of his own kind. This is a paradox, a traditional politician dismantling traditional politics using traditional means. Parliamentary federalism through constitutional revisions was a battlecry we responded to, from the presidential candidate from the very start. We will hold the Deegong to this one single promise.

Its rabid opponents have always used as an excuse that this concept is alien to our culture. Accordingly, majority of Filipinos don’t understand federalism and the constitutional revisions it entails. But this was also true then for the 1987 Cory Constitution, 1971 Marcos Constitution and even the original 1935 Constitution. What we need to understand about the Filipino is that for 500 years of colonialism, they trust their patrons and put their faith in their leaders to do the right thing for them. They will take federalism and Charter change on faith. And you can’t sell them short. They are a magnificently discerning race.

No president ever ran on such drastic promises — not Cory, not FVR, not ERAP, not Gloria, and especially not PNoy. Only this foul-mouthed, irreverent DU30 had the effrontery and courage to push for a radical and systemic agenda. That’s why he needs to be mindful of his survey ratings. He needs the continued support of the citizenry.

We federalists know our priorities. We will try not to hold the Deegong to his populist campaign promises. We will not be drawn into discussions on the broken ones: the continued proliferation of endo; the non-distribution of the coco levy funds to the farmers; and even the rising prices of commodities and the stagnating wages. Furthermore, we will evade arguments of our peso being Asia’s worst performer, the widening trade deficits and the stock market in bear territory and the negative impact of the TRAIN law.

We will give the President the benefit of the doubt as these are problems, urgent no doubt, but symptoms of the presidential-unitary system, which have been our bane for almost a century. The President has four more years up to 2022, his mandate, to look into these — provided, and only provided, that he uses once more his formidable political will to push through the revisions of the anomalous 1987 Constitution.

But we will continue to give him critical collaboration on the war on dangerous drugs that badly needs closure. This can’t just be passed on to the next administration. The president has to formulate clear plans to rehabilitate the infected ones and bring them back productively to society.

After almost three decades in public service, the man is almost burnt out, running on “empty” He wants out. But not yet. And many will agree with our Centrist position: push for the systemic changes and write a federal-parliamentary constitution and put it in place. Then by 2022, leave the presidency and go back to Davao. This is your legacy.
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.
In politics there’s no such thing as being too big to fail. Ruling coalitions become ruling parties, at which point being bloated often results in a party split, as factions lose out in the jockeying and sense an opportunity to strike out — and strike back — by forming rival coalitions to contest the next election. In regional terms, the Visayas (Cebu in particular, with Pusyon Bisaya) and Mindanao (with the Mindanao Alliance) have their own tradition of regional parties standing up to Marcos’ KBL: even PDP-Laban traces its origins to that era. Regional barons don’t take well to being bossed around, and if a boss gets too big for his britches, a revolt is inevitable. This is why everyone seems to be expecting Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez to fall, the beneficiary of his toppling being Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, but the cause being widely attributed to Davao Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio’s sharp-tongued confrontation with him.

The clash between the mayor of Davao and the representative from the first district of Davao del Norte has been framed as a battle royale between the Speaker’s machinery and everyone else, under the umbrella of the President’s daughter. The Speaker’s take-no-prisoners approach most famously took on the President’s former patron, Antonio Floirendo Jr., with the President weighing in on the Speaker’s side after Floirendo supposedly was too uppity in response to the President’s efforts to smooth things over. But if it was necessary to teach Floirendo a lesson, it seems the time has come to teach Alvarez one, too, not least because a Floirendo-led effort to defeat the Speaker in 2019 is widely expected to succeed. But it is bigger than that as the presence of Sen. JV Ejercito at the launching of Duterte-Carpio’s regional party demonstrated. The Estrada home turf of San Juan has been rocked by a confrontation between the Zamoras and Mayor Guia Gomez, yet PDP-Laban took in the Zamoras despite JV Ejercito’s support for the President. What sort of treatment is that? And so, for every ally denied the blessings of the ruling party, there now glitters the opportunity to be associated with Hugpong ng Pagbabago.

In the meantime, aside from publicly being humiliated by Duterte-Carpio, the Speaker came under attack within his own party from members unhappy with his recruitment methods and for supposedly giving the cold shoulder to party veterans. Creating the impression of a civil war within a party is a tried-and-tested method for taking down party bigwigs a peg or two, and what matters most here is the hands-off announcement from the Palace when it comes to party matters. Those with sensitive political antennae will take it as the absence of a ringing endorsement for the Speaker, at a time when he has been accused by no less than the President’s fiercely outspoken daughter for being disloyal and disruptive.

PDP-Laban and Hugpong ng Pagbabago trying to outdo each other in being more “Dutertista” than the other only increases the chances of keeping the overall ruling coalition intact, and tying all factions to the Palace’s apron strings. It’s also a pointed reminder to the Speaker, even if he survives, not to be too piggish in the company of piglets. It does not do well for a runt to act too convinced that he’s an undefeatable wild boar. While he leads a big chunk of last-term congressmen, he has been too pushy with his no-election-in-2019 agenda, leaving no room for those looking forward to replacing last-termers, and bruising the feelings of so many players — and the public, too, which otherwise might give the President’s Charter change scheme the benefit of the doubt if only it weren’t so obviously stacking the odds in favor of people like Alvarez. Now the Speaker’s scheme is running out of steam, just when the President’s collection of consultative commission mummies are showing signs of life.

Still, all the factions could reunite by the State of the Nation Address in July, where the President could make a pitch for a plebiscite on a new constitution by October — the deadline for filing candidacies for the 2019 midterms. It will be the
balancing act of a lifetime.