Two days after the national election in the Philippines, I received messages from weary millennials. One wrote: “I cannot tolerate the Filipinos who sing the national anthem but their loyalty is on Duterte, instead of the people. They are traitors! I want to get out of this country!”
Another one said: “Are there any job openings there [Thailand]?”
They are just two of the millions of Filipinos who cast their ballots on May 13 in the hope of changing the political landscape. They were hoping for a better Philippines. They had hoped for an independent Senate that would not be bullied by President Rodrigo Duterte. Unfortunately, the election result failed them – or rather, we failed them.
The midterm election was the first held under Duterte’s administration. Early on, political analysts believed that this election would decide the next three years of Duterte’s rule and wondered if it would pave the way for Sara Duterte’s ambitions. Apparently, it might. As of the latest result, the administration-backed candidates and allies are leading. Duterte’s hatchet man Ronald de la Rosa and his personal assistant Bong Go lead the senatorial race. No one from the opposition made it to the top 12.
On election day, various incidents that could be related to electoral fraud and unlawful electioneering were reported. Non-functioning voting machines were reported across the country.
Commission on Elections (Comelec) spokesman James Jimenez admitted that 400 to 600 of the 85,000 vote-counting machines encountered glitches.
Additionally, red-baiting among the progressive candidates and party-list groups by the Philippine National Police (PNP) was rampant. On election day, police officers in uniform were seen distributing copies of Pulis Serbis (Police Service), a tabloid publication of the PNP, demonizing Bayan Muna, Gabriela, Kabataan, and Anak Pawis as communist-front organizations, while Neri Colmenares, a senatorial candidate for the Makabayan Party, was a “communist.”
“Red-baiting is a different level of negative campaigning. It poses risks to those who are red-tagged and might result in extrajudicial killings,” Professor Danilo Arao said in an interview by Bulatlat. Arao, a journalism professor at the University of the Philippines, is also the convener of Kontra Daya (Against Fraud), an election watchdog.
In my interview of National Democratic Front chairman Jose Maria Sison on February 14, he categorically posed these questions to Duterte:
“The most pertinent person to whom questions should be addressed is Duterte himself. Will martial law nationwide be proclaimed and/or the congressional bill on cha-cha [charter change] for the bogus federalism and extension of terms be enacted, thus making the mid-May election unnecessary. If it shall be held, will you not rig it because you have complete control of the Comelec and you order the AFP and PNP to assist the Comelec, as you have done in the plebiscite on Bangsamoro Organic Law in Mindanao?”
Sison claimed that the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) or Republic Act 11054 created on January 21 through a plebiscite was a dry-run on rigging the national poll.
“The ultimate key in Duterte’s rigging of the crucial senatorial race is his control and manipulation of the Comelec computers. The senatorial race is crucial to him in as much as he wants to obtain the two-thirds majority in the Senate in order to make a full-blown fascist dictatorship under the pretext of charter change to bogus federalism as well as in order to counter his possible arrest and prosecution for mass murder and other human-rights violations before the International Criminal Court,” Sison explained.
Vox populi or vox Duterte?
As Filipinos and foreign observers watched worldwide during the canvassing of votes, Comelec servers stopped sending unofficial results for at least 10-15 minutes, creating speculations of dagdag-bawas, or vote shaving/padding.
The succeeding 48 hours showed no changes. The results remained unchanged. President Duterte prominently put himself in power through his allies in the Senate.
The situation overseas is different. Voting and canvassing are manually done. Ballots are either sent by post or Filipinos overseas can go to a Philippine embassy to cast their vote.
In Thailand, 2,352 of 8,351 registered Filipino voters cast their votes. The results showed that they supported Duterte-backed candidates. In Cambodia, out of 2,082 registered Filipino voters, around 800 or 40% cast their votes. The results also showed whom they favored. Ronald Bato Dela Rosa is No 1, while Bong Go was No 2. Imee Marcos, the daughter of the late dictator and deposed president Ferdinand Marcos, got the No 4 slot. The top five are De la Rosa, Go, Ong, Marcos, and Cayetano.
At the Philippine Consulate in Jeddah, a Saudi city with a large concentration of Filipino workers, the result is also consistent with Dela Rosa as the leading senator.
In Italy, there are 62,920 Filipino registered overseas voters, but only 13,006 actually voted. There are no records available on the actual number of Filipino voters in Spain, Ireland, or the UK. But the results are the same. Duterte’s candidates swept the election.
While some opposition candidates conceded, Neri Colmenares remains firm in his fight. In a Facebook post, he said: “This year’s elections were hardly fair or honest. Besides, this is no longer about me but about giving our people a fair chance to exercise their constitutional right to suffrage.”
Colmenares served three terms in the Philippine Congress under the Bayan Muna party list. During his tenure, he filed resolutions to investigate election fraud in automated elections.
But for some voters, the battle is over – for now.
Beth Erlano, a worker in an international non-government organization in Thailand, said: “It doesn’t matter if there was cheating or what. This particular battle ends. But it does not mean we will stop. It’s time to gather troops and gear up for the next battle.”
For Jerico Tavera, a teacher at Batasan Hills National High School in Quezon City, the election is not the end. But the question is how the likes of De la Rosa, who has confessed to being ignorant of the responsibilities of a lawmaker, and former presidential assistant Bong Go, who admits that his loyalty to the president is his only asset, would be able to create laws.
“Filipinos should be the real winners, not the politicians. We are more powerful than their words and stronger than their position and power. We can do more, we can do great things for this country better than them,” Tavera said.
On Tuesday, students from the University of the Philippines and from progressive organizations held a rally in front of the Comelec office in Manila to protest what they believed were election irregularities. As of this writing, the Kontra Daya is calling on the people to go to the Philippine International Convention Center this Friday to protest the “worst automated election” ever in a Philippine election.
Meanwhile, Google trends showed that the search for “migrate” and “migrating” in the Philippines spiked on Monday.
What went wrong?
The Filipino people have decided who they want to rule them for the next three years. It’s a democratic process. However, the current administration shows no sign of slowing down its bid to discredit its critics to the point of silencing them. Senator Leila de Lima has been in jail since 2017. Maria Ressa of Rappler is facing multiple charges. Former chief justice Lourdes Sereno was impeached.
On the other hand, the Liberal Party (Yellow), identified with former president Benigno Aquino, was given ample time to lead the Filipino people. Yet it was not able to contain the growing unrest against corruption and poverty. Despite the improved economic condition during Aquino’s time, his administration failed miserably to reach out to the marginalized sector.
And so, the masses revolted. It has become the “elite and the decent” versus the “uncouth and the poor.” Duterte embodies the latter, while the former symbolizes the Liberal Party. In between these factions are the media, the progressive organizations and intellectuals, and the middle class.
This election has become Duterte’s weapon against the perceived enemies – the Yellows and the progressives.
In the end, we are both at the losing ends.