Where the President, his backers and the non-opposition are united, is in ensuring a permanent end to the dilemma they, as a group, have faced time and again: reform-minded interruptions to business-as-usual that run the risk of their going to jail. This has to stop permanently.
That, ultimately, is what’s at stake both in 2019 and in 2022. What’s always made it easier is what I mentioned early on — the one thing that will not change in 2019 is who controls the House of Representatives or local governments from governors to barangay chairs. In that sense, regardless of whether there’s a Senate inclined to play ball or investigate the current President, the House and local governments are thoroughly and permanently in the hands of people just like the President. And who can keep future presidents tied down in having to make deals with them.
Except for the same thing that showed the current President his limits, just as it did all his predecessors: public opinion. The 20-point drop from Kian’s killing to the opening of the campaign required a lot of movement to recover, which tired out the President and also, along the way, encouraged his allies to act more independently than in any presidency before. Example? Gloria Macapagal Arroyo being the first Speaker in our history who became such without the blessing or permission of the sitting President. And the way the House treated the President’s economic team.
Killings and inflation were a double whammy that took out steam from the administration when it was geared up to steamroll its way to a new Constitution, among other things. But the President and his people reclaimed popularity and thus clout in time for the midterms, which meant critics faced a public too frightened or, worse, that had recovered its formerly shaken blood-lust significantly enough that the President’s blasting the opposition directly had an effect despite various non-opposition slates being too in it for themselves to do it.
Still, as the President becomes a lame duck, the fear factor he relied on to keep local officials in line will start to evaporate. But there is one semipermanent legacy the President’s indifference to most of the usual requirements of his job will have. It can be seen in what replaced his formal ruling party, Partido Demokratiko Pilipino–Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban): Hugpong ng Pagbabago, which is not a party but a coalition of provincial and urban barons united to achieve what I pointed out earlier. They’re used to carving things up between them, and not putting together something national in scope.
In fact, there was a down-and-dirty fight for what sort of political landscape would be the legacy of this President, and it was fought between Bong Go, representing the traditional provincial warlord point of view, and Leoncio Evasco Jr., who represented an equally sinister but national one.
Evasco proposed a national movement, with an ideology, structure and the use of government agencies committed to making this movement a permanent national force, with agents in all government departments. Go systematically opposed this, representing the existing local leaders.
Of course, no one paid attention to this fight because, except for occasional public showdowns like rice, it was fought through presidential issuances: the signing and revoking of executive orders, etc., representing the seesaw of influence at any given time. Evasco lost. Totally.
Which means that Go’s victory and graduation to the Senate is not just as the last “patakbuhin” of the standing President, but also the candidate of the local barons who want nothing more and nothing less than to be left to their own devices, which is the extraction of fees.
The top two vote-getters for the Senate, if the surveys are to be believed (and why not?) tells us why the President’s indifference, even hostility, to a national perspective is significant in its aftereffects. Grace Poe is a personality without a party, while the much-despised Liberal Party or PDP (which remains the ghostly survivors of when parties were primarily political vehicles), the communists and all the other major parties are actually subsidiaries of the large corporations or their owners (Ramon Ang’s Nationalist People’s Coalition, Manny Villar’s Nacionalista Party, Enrique Razon’s National Unity Party, etc.)
Arroyo found the PDP so worthless she preferred to work through and with, and be part of, Hugpong, which is setting itself up as the future: one that puts the local ahead of the national, viewing the national whole as a pie to simply subdivide among its leaders. The future!