Mass defections make it easy for Duterte to rule
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.”
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.
“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.