An embarrassment of riches
It took the resignation of Kiko Pangilinan as Liberal Party (LP) head (on the principle of command responsibility) for the desiccated coconut known as the presidential spokesperson to bounce with joy over the administration’s victory. Sadly, the Vice President’s refusal to accept Pangilinan’s resignation, while charitable in its intention, deprived the party and the people of what would have been a perfect teaching moment: not only about party leaders taking responsibility for the success or failure of the campaigns they lead, but also to throw the question of whether to accept or decline the resignation to the party itself, instead of it just being yet another top-heavy ritual.
But back to the real surprise: Why has it taken so long for the chest-thumping and crowing to take place in the Palace? Despite being able to prove he can hold up a newspaper long enough to have a photo taken, the prime beneficiary of the midterms, the President, has been unusually quiet, even apparently unwilling to take credit where everyone else has already given it to him as his due. Why such official modesty?
The answer may lie in the numbers when you start to dissect what we already know so far. Getting back to near-peak levels of popularity doesn’t seem to have translated into a rush to the polls to give a ringing endorsement to the administration. Overall turnout, midterm-to-midterm, was lower (77 percent in 2013 versus 75 percent in 2019; 81 percent voted in 2016 but that was a presidential election year). Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) seemed content to proclaim devotion only online; only 21,368 OFWs (20.66 percent out of 1,822,739 registered voters overseas) bothered to vote.
The Comelec said the barangay elections led to a spike in voter registrations for people below 39 years of age (30.5 million in 2016, 33 million in 2019). But did they show up? Two demographics did not get turned on enough to turn out to vote: millennials and Gen Z (Comelec says there are almost 23 million voters ages 25-39, and 10 million voters ages 18-24). Early on, the Comelec said it was the older 31-59 demographic that had the biggest turnout.
Overall, administration control of the House of Representatives is unchanged. But beneath the surface, something seems not right. At present, the handiest number-crunching is in Wikipedia stats on the midterms, which suggests that the biggest losers were: the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban), which lost 11 seats; and the National Unity Party (NUP) and the LP, which lost three seats each.
As for gainers, the Lakas–Christian Muslim Democrats led with six seats gained, the Nationalist People’s Coalition gained five, the Nacionalista Party and the Federal Party gained four each, and Hugpong ng Pagbabago gained three. In other words, in a case of intra-administration cannibalism, Hugpong gained little from PDP’s losses, and it was the least loyal coalition partners that did best. While this may blunt a Pantaleon Alvarez comeback bid, it also suggests the best-positioned are less-president-dependent candidates like Martin Romualdez.
And there are symbolic defeats that should trouble the President. Close associates such as Jun Evasco lost; so did Tonyboy Floirendo and the Del Rosarios. Imagine, Hugpong was trounced in Davao del Norte where whatever Her Honor Sara Duterte wants, she should be able to get.
Still, the referendum part of a midterm is how the administration senatorial slate does. The problem was, there were so many claiming administration bonafides that when some of them lost, it was embarrassing. The first candidate to literally cry foul was Glenn Chong, beloved of the truly personally loyal to the President, followed by other candidates like Mocha Uson, who tweeted about computerized fraud. Larry Gadon, another loyalist icon, likewise bellowed fraud. Not only did they have their own constituencies, but theirs are people so loyal to the President that they mistrust the establishment figures who they strongly believe are only fair-weather allies.
Indeed, aside from Bato dela Rosa and Bong Go, of the winning administration senators, everyone else can be identified as not really the President’s loyal follower, but someone else’s. Or in it for themselves. Worse, if you look at voting results on the precinct level, enough bastions of the middle and upper classes voted strongly opposition (Magallanes, Forbes Park, San Lorenzo, Bel-Air, Greenhills, Loyola Heights, UP Village, New Alabang Village, to cite a few) to suggest: The loyalty to the President that had endured even when his ratings slid in other sectors is going, suggesting the Church’s growing criticism has had some effect.
These places do not elect presidents, but remove them, as one politician told me a long time ago. A colossal victory on a mountain of sand.