CHICAGO (JGL) – Nobody, not even among his supporters, saw it coming.
Everybody was caught by surprise when Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte steamrolled his opponents, who promptly threw in the towel after the votes for Duterte from the quick count of the PPCRV (Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting) started barreling in like the second coming of super Typhoon Yolanda.
This is the first time after the election of President Joseph “Erap” Estrada in 1998 that I went home to the Philippines to observe a presidential election. In 2010, I was on board with U.S. Pinoys for Good Governance (USP4GG) global campaign of my town mate Atty. Loida Nicolas Lewis for “Noynoy-Mar.” This time, Ms. Lewis is for Mar-Leni.Two weeks before the May 9, 2016 elections, I was at home in Sorsogon City and stayed around there for three weeks and spent another three weeks in Metro Manila and San Pedro, Laguna before I headed back to Chicago to vote at the Philippine Consulate.
I just wanted to find out the pulse of the public towards the candidates, both national and local.
My nieces and nephews in Sorsogon City and in San Pedro, Laguna were all telling me that Duterte was their man to beat. But when I asked them why? They just smiled, telling me they loved Duterte’s signature program to wipe away the drug dealers and criminals, not mentioning other hot-button issues like corruption, social inequality, climate change, foreign policy, overseas Filipino workers and peace process.
But when I told them that violations of human rights could come into play if due process were not observed during “salvaging” (extra-judicial killings) operations, they stood their ground, insisting they still want to give the Davao strongman a chance.
Even taxi drivers and tricycle drivers were singing the praises for Mayor Duterte. But I was still in denial by the time I was heading to Chicago because I believed my handpicked candidate Sen. Grace Poe could give Hizzoner a run for his money despite numerous surveys putting Duterte ahead by leaps and bounds.
EMOTIONAL AND PAROCHIAL
I probably was too emotional and very parochial with my choice of candidates because my criteria for my choice was “to see is to believe” because I thought what I read on the Internet or watch on YouTube may not be a reflection of reality. Words alone may not convey the message of a candidate unless one sees his body language in person.
I believe politics is a contact sport and is always local. If I see a candidate and he shakes my hand, I will prefer him from someone who saw me and had a chance to shake my hand and shook my hand over someone who did not bother to shake my hand at all.
Since it was only Sen. Chiz Escudero whom I happened to meet during the height of the campaign season and he had shook my hand, then, I warmed up to Escudero.
When I saw and heard up close Senator Poe, campaigning in my hometown of Sorsogon City, then, I likewise gravitated towards voting Poe.
Despite Senator Escudero’s promise to grant me an interview only to change his mind without realizing that he could not fulfill his promise, I still voted for Escudero because his father stood as my wedding sponsor. And this is one reason, Chiz lost big — by Chiz’s youthful indiscretion of overconfidence that he could pull another “Noy-Bi” caper, he alienated himself from many supporters of his late father by not reaching out to them.
Chiz did not even reciprocate the support of one of Senator Poe’s avid supporters, Bobby M. Reyes, who initiated a movement on Facebook prodding then uncommitted Poe to run for president. Reyes later ran for governor of Sorsogon as an independent openly supporting the Poe-Escudero tandem. It was, however, the incumbent Sorsogon Gov. Raul R. Lee, not Reyes, who was invited by Chiz to join Senator Poe on the stage when he hosted Sen. Poe’s campaign in Sorsogon.
Governor Lee had no business supporting Poe because his wife, Sally Lee, who was running for re-election as Sorsogon City Mayor, and his son, Robert Ante Rodrigueza, who was running for Sorsogon governor, were both running under Mar Roxas and Leni Robredo’s Daang Matuwid Liberal Party.
Ever the political butterfly that he is, Governor Lee earlier raised the hand of Vice President Binay of the United Nationalist Alliance, making Governor Lee a “triple-crosser” if a double-crosser or balimbing (chameleon) applies to someone, who is namamangka sa dalawang ilog or a two-timer.
As a result, Reyes junked Escudero but not Poe and supported Leni Robredo on “purely a labor of love” (translation: no money changed hands) arrangement. If Robredo’s 24,000-vote margin holds over Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Reyes said his group with 60,000 members could claim to have delivered Leni’s “winning edge.”
But another reason that reinforced my support for Chiz was the pending cases filed by defeated candidate Atty. Nelly Villafuerte against my second choice for vice president – Rep. Leni Robredo.
I thought if Robredo lost in the cases, I would just be wasting my vote away. Robredo was accused by her former political rival (Villafuerte) of accepting campaign donations from U.S. citizens and non-Filipino corporations and Filipino American dual citizens when she ran for Congress in 2013.
When Mayor Duterte was in San Pedro, my nephew, Dr. Ruben Lariosa Lasala, a city government doctor, suggested to me, “Why don’t you cover the campaign sortie of Mayor Duterte in San Pedro today?” Because I had a prior appointment that day, I passed up the opportunity, which I now regret.
ADVANCED PAYMENT BEFORE LOAN RELEASE
I could have observed up close and personal what makes Duterte a charismatic candidate.
On the other hand, my other nephew, Emmanuel (Manning) Lariosa Villamor, was not only a supporter of Duterte but he is also a candidate for provincial board in the first district of Sorsogon under the PDP-Laban.
Manning told me he wants Duterte because he needs the support of Duterte to investigate the graft and corruptions committed by outgoing Sorsogon Gov. Raul R. Lee, who is facing numerous cases before the Ombudsman.
In among these graft cases he is facing, Governor Lee and majority members of the Sorsogon provincial board and the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) had been charged with plunder before the Ombudsman for dishonesty and grave misconduct for securing a P350-M loan (US$7.7-M) on behalf of the province from the LBP with interest rate that is not “advantageous to the Provincial Government.” What makes the loan disgusting is that the Sorsogon provincial government had doled out P72.9-M (US$1.6-M) advanced payments to various contractors even before the loan was approved and even if there was no project to speak of, according to the complaint filed by former Sorsogon provincial board member Vladimir Frivaldo before the Ombudsman.
Although, he is a penniless candidate like Duterte, Manning was not able to hold on to the coattails of Duterte long enough to win. Manning only managed to get 13,884 votes, placing ninth in the field of 16 candidates for the provincial board, which only needs the top five vote getters to be elected.
CROWD ATTENDANCE BAROMETER IF CANDIDATE WILL WIN OR LOSE
When I arrived in Chicago, my friend, Carlos A. Cortes, Jr., told me that Duterte had only a handful of supporters in Naga City compared to Rep. Leni Robredo, who is running as vice president under the administration Liberal Party.
But Caloy, a former Philippine public prosecutor, noticed that his LP friends in Naga City were listening on radio to Duterte’s speech by posting their comments on Facebook. They even counted the number of times that the Davao mayor cursed in his speech. And it turned out that tens of thousands turned up to listen to Duterte’s speech. The Duterte crowd was bigger than Mar-Leni’s crowd in Naga.
Another friend, Marlon L. Pecson, told me that Mayor Duterte’s “miting de avance” (election-eve campaign) in Luneta drew over a million supporters while Poe’s last campaign stop in front of Quiapo church drew a miserably small crowd in comparison. This Duterte phenomenon of drawing big crowds reminded me of the crowds drawn by presidential candidate Barack Obama, which should have been a wake-up call for Poe to agree to the entreaties of Mar Roxas to join forces against Duterte in the dying days of the campaign. But Poe and Roxas did not field scouts in the miting de avance of their opponents, which is unlike what major sports teams do when they are looking for prospective free agents. They would surely field one now. They should try to anticipate what lies ahead. They should remember “the handwriting on the wall” in the Book of Daniel Chapter 5, where God numbered the days of the King, whose reign was “weighed on the scale and found wanting.”
But despite the humongous crowds that attended Duterte in Naga and Luneta and in other parts of the country, they did not sway me to switch my vote from Poe to Duterte. This is something, which will now guide me.
I thought all the profanities and invectives that Duterte spewed out during the campaign such as curses on the Pope, his confession that he killed 1,700 and even fried or grilled some of them inside a car; his promise to kill criminals by the thousands to end the perennial peace and order problem in six months or his government will resign, according to his vice presidential candidate (Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano), admission that he had two wives and two mistresses; his kissing lips to lips with his supporters in public, his fantasy that he wanted to be the first to rape a beautiful Australian woman who was a victim of gang-rape; and allegations he raped his domestic helper should have outraged the voters and reject Duterte.
But lo and behold, majority of Filipino voters who elected Duterte president treated these obscenities as sweet nothings but should make the criminals uneasy and trembling and keep everybody in line.
All the talk that the military and police will not follow Duterte’s illegal orders and that the U.S. CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) will topple him because he is coddling Communists suddenly disappeared.
For whatever it is, let’s give Duterte the benefit of doubt by giving him our full support and a honeymoon period for the next 100 days.