After Duterte

Published June 5, 2021, 12:13 AM

by Rj Nieto


RJ Nieto
RJ Nieto

My column for this week is aimed not at the general public, but at those who may run in 2022.

You see, I’ve noticed that politicians have started making their moves, presumably in preparation for the 2022 national elections. One is just a press release away from splitting his party into two. Another seems to dislike the idea of running despite the incessant prodding of all the backup dancers. Another came back from the political afterlife. And most notably, another caused a significant commotion among the opposition after tacitly suggesting the possibility of an unbeatable pairing.

The erstwhile insurmountable Liberal Party (LP) is in its death throes. Despite the constant rebranding that could rival that of The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, LP, to put it lightly, is becoming a relic of the past. Rebaptized recently as “1Sambayan”, even its members acknowledge their negligible chances of winning next year.

With the Yellows out of the picture, 2022 will likely be an admin-versus-admin contest. With that said, I think that the presidential aspirants should learn from the case of Vice President Leni “Daang Matuwid” Robredo, being that she was the administration candidate in 2016.

We all know that the biggest challenge that any administration bet faces is balancing the need to (1) convince the electorate that continuing the outgoing administration’s policies is the way to go and (2) suggesting reforms while maintaining the support of administration stalwarts.

Balancing these two was a difficult task for Leni Robredo, who literally branded herself as the continuation of “Daang Matuwid.”

“Leni Daang Matuwid Robredo” on ballot connoted not just the aspirations of the Aquino Administration, but also all the bad things that came with it: the Quirino hostage crisis, the loss of Panatag Shoal, laglag-bala, the yolanda non-rehab, the Kidapawan carnage, etc.

Five years into her term and despite her long-winding stories in her radio show Biserbisyong Leni, I have yet to hear her criticize the Aquino Administration even in the least bit. With her overt lack of introspection, exacerbated by her palpable inarticulateness, Robredo squandered her chance to enter Malacañang.

The Duterte Administration is far from perfect, but I bet that most Filipinos will agree that it’s a drastic improvement from the last. Voters will likely support the continuance of anti-crime and pro-infrastructure policies, but being that discontentment is inherent in human beings, they will inevitably look for something more than just that: they will want an upgrade, if available.

Will there be a presidentiable who’s not only pragmatic, charismatic, and resolute, but also more diplomatic, more knowledgeable, more experienced, has greater gravitas in the international community, or has a lesser need for political accommodations?

As a voter, I think Mayor Rody Duterte is the president we needed in 2016, and he has largely succeeded in meeting my expectations. I am grateful for his largely successful scrambling of the political pecking order that was historically dominated by rent-seekers. While having another guy like him isn’t necessarily a bad idea, it wouldn’t hurt to dream of having a successor who can more effectively build on the gains of his administration.

Like I’ve already said, the actual presidential race will be among those who support this administration, so it’s a given that they’ll continue whatever successful policies this administration has instituted. Hence, the average Filipino’s next logical question is: “Who among these aspirants can make the most out of it?”

Over a year into the crisis, I believe that more and more voters will ask, “What’s in it for me?”.

Who among the presidentiables is in the best position to address pressing issues involving healthcare, foreign policy, economics, education, peace and order, and the like? More specifically, who among the candidates can best (1) create the most jobs, (2) exploit our newfound geopolitical influence, (3) ensure our energy supply, (4) develop the challenging education system, (5) improve telecommunications, and  (6) inspire the Filipino People to soldier on?

Watching political catfights has been my hobby for the past half-decade, and news of late are filled with precisely that. But then, I must admit that I yearn for something more than just the usual propaganda war that we’re all familiar with. I think that come 2022, the national conversation will genuinely focus on nation-building and not anymore on personality politics.

I believe that Duterte’s single biggest accomplishment is awakening the lumpenproletariat. No, I am not referring to the millennial petite bourgeois whose knowledge of the world is theoretical at best, or the co-opted intelligentsia who give primacy to vested interests.

Instead, I refer to the common tao who ceased to accept the status quo, who realized that diligence and hard work yields better results when exercised in a more egalitarian framework, a framework that he has the power to create.

Who among the candidates can best satiate the demands of the average Filipino? That remains to be seen. But with that said, I hope that the frontrunners will quit the petty squabbling and start focusing on what really matters: the Future of the Filipino people, as collectively defined by the Filipino people.