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The Manila Times
Rep. Edcel C. Lagman’s
Weekly Thursday Column

THE first time a candidate of note has withdrawn from a presidential race was 23 years ago. Thirteen days before election day, on April 29, 1998, former first lady Imelda Marcos, the widow of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, withdrew from the May 11, 1998 presidential contest with the contrived reason to “save the Filipino people from the ultimate injustice of a possible bloody election.” She did not explain how her withdrawal would save the country from electoral violence or why her continued candidacy could spark a bloody election. She was then far behind in the surveys and had appealed her conviction for graft.

At least Imelda in her patented flair had a more dramatic, albeit inexplicable, reason for abandoning her bid. In the case of Sen. Bong Go, his reason for bowing out of the presidential derby was completely mundane, even as it appeared candid. He said that “my family really doesn't like me joining the presidential race and that made me think that it is not yet the right time for me. Only God knows when that time will be. I do not also want to give President Rodrigo Duterte a headache because he is more than a father to me.” Of course, it is no secret that he ran upon the bidding of President Duterte and he dropped out at the behest of his benefactor.

The charade of substitutions and withdrawals of candidates transforms the election into a petty game. It makes a mockery of the electoral process which is the bedrock of a republican democracy. It demeans and insults the intelligence and tolerance of the Filipino electorate who constitute the fountainhead of governmental authority and deserve candidness and seriousness from those who seek their mandate.

       The crucial role of the enfranchised citizen in a republican government must never be trivialized by political jesters. In People vs. San Juan, the Supreme Court held, through Justice Fred Ruiz Castro, who later became Chief Justice, that the “exercise of the right of suffrage is the bedrock of all republican institutions Indeed, each time the enfranchised citizen goes to the polls to assert his sovereign will, that abiding credo of republicanism, is translated into living reality.” In her concurring opinion in Chavez vs. Gonzales, Justice Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez pronounced that, “Election is a sacred instrument of democracy. Through it, we choose the people who will govern us. We entrust to them our businesses, our welfare, our children, our lives.”

In the language of Justice Jose P. Laurel, “Republicanism, insofar as it implies the adoption of a representative type of government, necessarily points to the enfranchised citizen as a particle of popular sovereignty and as the ultimate source of the established authority.”

The chaos and confusion from the withdrawals and substitutions of candidates clearly show these contenders’ disdain of the sacrosanct electoral process and make a travesty of the people’s right to elect sincere and competent leaders, which is the essence of democracy. 

Bong Go’s joining the circus also projects in bold relief the miserable absence of direction of the Dutertes and the complete disarray of the ruling PDP-Laban. Temporizing his official withdrawal adds more confusion and uncertainty.

Duterte cannot make up his mind if he wants to be kingmaker or puppet master. He is obviously neither. Sara Duterte-Carpio, Duterte’s daughter, agonized in deciding whether she would run for president or mayor of Davao City, and finally opted to vie for vice president, a rebuke of her father’s wish that she should succeed him.

       For the first time in Philippine history, the ruling political party has no official candidates for president and vice president after a rigodon of substitutions and withdrawals. This reveals Duterte’s failed stewardship as the real head of the party. It is not only Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. who is a weak leader, but Duterte as well.

       The failure of PDP-Laban to launch its own presidential tandem is a clear admission of its inability to defend the flawed policies and ineffective governance of Duterte. It fears to take up the cudgels for Duterte’s a) massive failure to adequately protect the people’s lives and health from the Covid-19 pandemic and seasonably rescue and revive the economy which was devastated by the contagion; b) horrific and bloody war on drugs resulting to the extrajudicial killings of thousands of poor and disadvantaged victims, which Duterte himself encouraged, tolerated, and condoned; c) the unpatriotic and servile surrender of the West Philippine Sea to China despite the final decision of the UN Arbitral Tribunal upholding Philippine sovereignty over the disputed resource-rich Philippine territorial waters; d) the repressive policies, like red-tagging, terror-baiting, summary execution of human rights defenders, and the enactment of the controversial and currently judicially challenged 2020 Anti-Terror Act, all of which derogate human rights and fundamental freedoms; and e) the uncontrolled corruption at all levels, which Duterte himself has repeatedly admitted.

       It is extreme folly and a tragic reality for Isko Moreno to entice Duterte’s endorsement. He is just showing his true colors as a Duterte diehard. This explains his hesitance and resistance to Vice President Leni Robredo’s repeated calls for a united opposition against Duterte. Like Marcos, Jr., he begs for Duterte’s anointment like a mendicant in distress.

The eventual alliance of forces between the Marcoses and Dutertes with the support of former presidents Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Joseph Estrada has merged the political oligarchs who have long ruled and ruined the country.

This convergence for convenience has bolstered the people’s resolve to fight for Leni Robredo’s victory. This malevolent confluence makes the objects of the people’s wrath lined up as a common target for an easier campaign trajectory. Now, the political adversaries are not dispersed. They have fused together into a single range of fire.

This devious merger makes more attainable the popular crusade of Leni Robredo, the authentic opposition’s presidential candidate, to secure Malacañang for the Filipino people, particularly the impoverished and marginalized masses, against those who exercise power without accountability, who misrule without restraint, and who amass fortunes without remorse.