Up for grabs
Just as we Filipinos like to compliment ourselves for trailblazing people power, we have taken in recent years to giving ourselves backhanded compliments, for anticipating the populism of Donald Trump, for example, and, it seems, for showing the way forward for the political “nepo” baby boom: it might have taken 36 years for Marcos II to rehabilitate Marcos I, but in doing so, Filipinos could claim to have paved the way for Hun Manet to replace his father Hun Sen in 2023; while in Indonesia, a mere 16 years after the death of ex-dictator Suharto, his (former) son-in-law, Gen. Prabowo Subianto, himself a controversial general in the past, is poised to be the next president.
His running mate is Gibran Rakabuming Raka, the eldest son of the current President, Joko Widodo: originally too young to qualify for office, the constitutional court of Indonesia ordered an exception to permit the President’s son to run. That the same court also happens to be headed by the uncle of the candidate, doesn’t seem to have caused the firestorm of controversy one might expect, with one academic commentator suggesting that for (some) young Indonesian voters, not only is Prabowo’s past record no longer an issue (“They answer that these kinds of issues are ‘your issues,’ these are the older generations’ issues”), but that the exception isn’t considered exceptional by the same voters (“that these kinds of practices actually are common — it’s not the special case”).
Mass audiences the world over, and by extension, the mass of voters, both of which happen to be young, seem comfortable with familiar names and keeping fame and money within the same familiar families. The formerly controversial can be repackaged by means of social media: attacks on the basis of the past lose their punch in the wake of a steady stream of TikTok videos featuring Prabowo posing with cuddly cats and making finger-heart signs like a harmless grandfather. Not so, however, for political parties, with established ones falling by the wayside as others formerly considered fringe groups excite new and old voters alike.
A December Pulse Asia survey looking at the names that might make it to the Senate if elections had been held then, allows us to look at ourselves in a kind of electoral mirror. The first 19 who have a strong chance of making it starts with Erwin Tulfo on top, followed by Tito Sotto, Bong Go, Pia Cayetano, Bato dela Rosa, Isko Moreno, Imee Marcos, Ping Lacson, Manny Pacquiao, Willie Revillame, Doc Willie Ong, Lito Lapid, Bam Aquino, Bong Revilla, Paolo Duterte, Kiko Pangilinan, Leni Robredo, Gibo Teodoro, and Francis Tolentino. A dozen of these are incumbent or past senators; Moreno, Ong, and Teodoro, are former senatorial candidates; and significantly, two (Go and Bato) may be joined at the hip with the former president, Duterte (three, if you include his son Pulong; his other son, Baste, comes in 20th right outside the “magic circle”), but an equal number are from the old middle forces he supposedly permanently supplanted: no less than an Aquino, plus Kiko and Leni.
Outside the “winningest” 19 come veteran names whose residual standing makes them viable candidates still: 21-23 are Dick Gordon, Mar Roxas, Sonny Trillanes, and Gringo Honasan; it might be more of a stretch for those who come last in the Dec. 3-7 list: Herbert Bautista, Ralph Recto, Frank Drilon, Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, Mike Defensor, and Abby Binay. But even here, the field among the still-viable, is dominated by former senators, and logically so: aside from people in media and entertainment, only senators have access to a national audience.
The question, as this year takes us closer to the 2025 midterms, is what the Marcos administration will do, now that it can arguably claim to represent the political center. We already know that, as the old center did, it is open to (and, in fact, has quietly and effectively concluded) an alliance of sorts with radicals in Congress. Now occupying a new center, does it now have more in common with the old center? If so, it can remain true to form (claiming to be devoted to national unity) while continuing to push its former coalition partners, the former presidents Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Rodrigo Duterte, further and further to the periphery of our mainstream politics. The language of development comes more naturally to unity candidates, for example, than it does to candidates who need to have law and order at the heart of their agenda — to justify their extremist language and behavior.
So make three columns: the Marcos coalition (the administration); the Duterte-Arroyo coalition (the new opposition); where does that leave, everyone else?