The midterm ultimately was a referendum on Duterte whose approval rating is incredibly high at 79 percent in the first quarter of 2019, according to Social Weather Stations. For perspective, American presidents’ favorable ratings usually hover just under 60 percent, at their best moments.
Some voters like Annie Gobotero said she supports Duterte’s anti-drug campaign so much that she is willing to overlook his vulgarity toward women, his maligning of the Catholic Church.
Pollsters say Duterte’s tough on law governance is why his approval rating is so high.
But to say voters favored his allies for this singular reason alone is not entirely accurate.
In all elections there is an incumbency advantage because of the nature of pork-barrel politics. Money coming one’s direction has always been incentive to vote in the status quo.
Then there also are other reasons.
Abinales said, “Yes, Duterte’s popularity is extremely high, but is it simply because of the war on drugs? His free tuition program, not to mention his anti-imperial Manila pronouncements, his manner of talking, and the fact that he has not reverse the policy of sending Filipinos to work abroad that his predecessors had started are the other possible and viable reasons for this support.”
But if in fact Filipinos are supporting Duterte and his allies for other legitimate reasons, it also means that they are willing to overlook injustices abound.
Abinales explains, “This means that Filipinos are alright if someone else’s son, daughter, husband or wife is killed, as long as these are not their family members. This is a disturbing sentiment for it suggests the extent to which we have become apathetic towards those in need but also on how much we value our own self-interest over that of the larger society.”
The anti-Duterte opposition alliance, known as Otso Diretso (Straight Eight), also got shut out of the Senate for failures of their own, for being “disorganized,” “fragmented,” and for campaigning mostly on their own, critics say.
The loose-knit left is not unique to the Philippines as left-leaning political parties around the world tend to be broader with different central issues, compared with the cohesiveness of right-leaning alliances.
Political Dynasties, Violence, and Voting Irregularities
Electing political family dynasties continue to be popular among voters. Most notable is the election of Imee Marcos, the daughter of the late Ferdinand Marcos, to the Senate. She also happens to be one of Duterte’s staunchest supporters.
Duterte had publicly denounced political family dynasties because of their close association to the elite class and power (the Aquinos, Estradas, Marcoses, Ortegas, Roxas, and others). Whether his criticism was done for political gain at first by presenting himself as an outsider alternative is debatable. But his own family is starting a dynastic trend of their own.
Duterte’s daughter, Sara was reelected as Davao City Mayor; his sons are vice mayor and representative in Congress.
Abinales said, “Political dynasties now rule all parts of the country at all levels of government, including the barangay.”
One dynastic political family member lost in the midterm. Senator Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV, who was the opposition’s best chance to win a Senate seat, failed to make the Magic 12 circle (12 senate seats).
Like political dynasties, the ongoing culture of violence once again plagued the Philippines midterm. The police recorded 20 deaths and 24 injuries during the election season. But Police Chief Oscar Albayalde said violence had gone down compared to the last 2016 election.
The Philippines National Police deployed 160,000 officers at polling stations.
Additional security couldn’t prevent the numerous reports of voting irregularities. Polling station observers reported incidences of vote-buying, ballots running out, and exhaustive long lines.
The Philippines adopted an automated election system (AES) in the 2016 election. It was used for a second time this midterm election, but there were widespread reports of malfunctioning ballot-counting machines, even higher than in 2016.
COMELEC spokesperson James Jimenez, said there were 400–600 out of 85,000 vote counting machines (VCMs) across the country that encountered glitches compared to the 188 VCMs in 2016 election.
Voting irregularities in the Philippines has always been a problem, voters say.
Abinales recalls the first time he registered to vote in the Philippines. “I went to the precinct only to find out that another “Patricio Abinales” had voted for me. This was in 1974 when Marcos and the COMELEC manufactured votes and manipulated elections to make the dictatorship look like it had the overwhelming support of the Filipino people. I tried to do the same thing in 1975 and 1977 and again found out that “Patricio Abinales” had already voted for me. In 1986, when Cory Aquino challenged the ailing Marcos, my name was not even in the list anymore.”
No Pretense of Balance, Anymore
Professor Abinales explains what he believes is new about this midterm: “I’ve always regarded elections as being driven by money and the desire of voters to sell their votes to the highest bidder. Perhaps what is more worrisome in this election is that whereas in the past Filipinos may allow their votes to be bought but when it came to the Senate in particular, they always made sure that along with the mediocre (Paquiao) and the corrupt (Marcos and Enrile), they often insert an honorable candidate (Aquino, Pangilinan, Miriam Santiago) as it to make sure there is some balance (or perhaps to assuage their conscience for having sold their votes).
“But you do not see any of that anymore: plunderers (Marcos, Revilla, Estrada) and mediocrities (Paquiao) are back, and joined by the children of political dynasties (Cayetanos; Angara) and new mediocrities (Bato; Go).”
It could be said that a veil has been lifted, starting from the top. The president is notorious worldwide for breaking political norms – saying whatever offensive thought that comes to his mind (too many to mention); or implementing the harshest anti-drug campaign known today. He has done so without shame and hid nothing from the public, hid nothing from voters.
Filipino voters gifting more power to Duterte this midterm by electing his allies in a sweep in light of all that is already known about the president -- leaves at least Filipino-Americans wondering: Why? Is there something we’re missing?
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