Mass de­fec­tions make it easy for Duterte to rule

Manila Bulletin - - Front Page - By BLOOMBERG

Davao City Mayor Ro­drigo Duterte won the pres­i­dency in a blaze of hard­line rhetoric – an out­sider who will stamp out crime and cor­rup­tion. But his power base is tied to the na­tion’s old­est po­lit­i­cal camps, in­clud­ing that of ex-dic­ta­tor Ferdinand Mar­cos.

Duterte’s PDP-La­ban party won only three of the 297 seats in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives while party pres­i­dent Koko Pi­mentel is its lone mem­ber in the 24-seat Se­nate. That made PDP-La­ban what Filipinos call a

“mo­tor­cy­cle party.” Yet within days of Duterte’s May 9 win, politi­cians from all sides rushed to join him.

That’s how it goes in Philip­pine pol­i­tics. Law­mak­ers did the same in 2010, aban­don­ing Glo­ria Ar­royo’s party in fa­vor of then newly elected pres­i­dent Benigno Aquino’s Lib­eral Party.

“Real po­lit­i­cal par­ties don’t ex­ist be­cause what we have are car­i­ca­tures,” said Ra­mon Casi­ple, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor at the In­sti­tute for Po­lit­i­cal and Elec­toral Re­form in Manila. “Par­ties don’t get to de­cide any­thing. Per­son­al­i­ties and po­lit­i­cal fam­i­lies make the de­ci­sions, in the same way that it was Duterte him­self, not any party, who chose that he should run for pres­i­dent.”

Lit­tle re­strain

While fam­ily dy­nas­ties have been the foun­da­tion of pol­i­tics across much of post­colo­nial Asia, the re­cent vic­to­ries of out­siders in In­dia, In­done­sia and the Philip­pines may be shifting the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum. Nowhere is that more ap­par­ent than the Philip­pines, where the mass de­fec­tions mean there is lit­tle re­strain­ing in­flu­ence in Congress from the op­po­si­tion.

That makes it eas­ier for Duterte to carry out his am­bi­tious plans, in­clud­ing re­in­stat­ing the death penalty, crack­ing down on smug­gling, eas­ing for­eign own­er­ship lim­its and shifting to a fed­eral gov­ern­ment sys­tem. It could also mean he has enough sup­port in Congress to avoid the kinds of pit­falls some pre­de­ces­sors faced, in­clud­ing im­peach­ment at­tempts for graft or vi­o­lat­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion.

‘Rad­i­cal Pro­pos­als’

“The pres­i­dent has some rad­i­cal pro­pos­als, some out-of-the-box so­lu­tions so it’s very im­por­tant that the lead­er­ship in both Houses can con­vince the ma­jor­ity to sup­port these mea­sures,” said Pi­mentel, who’s gun­ning for the Se­nate lead­er­ship.

Those who aren’t aligned with the new leader can be shut out. In a sep­a­rate elec­tion in May for vice pres­i­dent, Aquino-backed Leni Ro­bredo won by a hair against Mar­cos’ only son, Bong­bong Mar­cos. Yet Duterte has not of­fered Ro­bredo a cab­i­net post, say­ing he doesn’t want to of­fend his friend Mar­cos.

Ev­ery pres­i­dent since Co­ra­zon Aquino three decades ago has been elected with less than 50 per­cent of the vote. Duterte got 39 per­cent, even less than Aquino’s 42 per­cent in 2010.

The ef­fect of the 1987 Con­sti­tu­tion has been to en­cour­age politi­cians to switch al­le­giance to who­ever wins and holds the purse strings. Those who don’t risk be­ing marginal­ized both in the new gov­ern­ment and in Congress, and that means los­ing money for projects in their home­town.

“If you’re with the pres­i­dent’s party, you get more funds for your con­stituents,” said Con­gress­man Teddy Baguilat, who’s been with the Lib­eral Party since 2001. “If you fail, your district will suf­fer and so will your po­lit­i­cal mileage.”

Baguilat said he’d like to sup­port the mi­nor­ity op­po­si­tion but he needs to ask party chiefs if that would be OK be­cause they all agreed last month, in­clud­ing Aquino, to al­low mem­bers to align them­selves with 71-year-old Duterte in a bid to stem an ex­o­dus from the party.

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