By Philippine Daily Inquirer
Asia News network
As election contests go, it was a rout, a sweep, or, as George W Bush put it when his administration suffered in the 2006 midterms, “a thumpin’”.
But “massacre” is a good description, not only given the penchant of our current president for “kill, kill, kill” and violent imagery, but also because of the total annihilation by the administration’s Senate slate of the opposition: 12-0.
The electoral bloodbath no doubt warmed the heart of President Rodrigo Duterte. Pundits, opposition candidates and citizens had framed the midterms as a referendum on his tumultuous rule over the last three years, and now the verdict is in: Duterte is still the man to beat.
The people are still fascinated with their strongman, whose tremendous popularity carried the day. The opinion surveys were accurate in their gauging of that sky-high popularity and its halo effect on Duterte’s preferred candidates, who dominated the surveys from the get-go or else rapidly climbed the rungs on the back of the president’s coveted endorsement.
Only that potent presidential benediction can account for the triumph of two of Duterte’s staunchest factotums, lifelong yes-men who will now be addressed with the honorific “Mr Senator”.
The president’s long-time assistant, Bong Go, a man who had held no previous elected office or was ever heard to voice out any opinion on the issues of the day, was the envy of other candidates with his spectacular final showing – No 3 in the Magic 12.
Bato dela Rosa, who oversaw the administration’s brutal war on drugs and acted the genial buffoon during campaigning, did just as well for himself, landing at No 5.
Duterte’s followers stood silent as the administration mobilised hefty government resources and machinery to assure victory for these two presidential favourites. Just three years’ ago the same followers raised a mighty ruckus when actress Kris Aquino was seen riding a government chopper to a campaign sortie in 2016, during the administration of her brother Benigno Aquino.
Senate under his thumb
But that was then, and this is now. All that matters is that Duterte gets the most pliable, cooperative Senate he can get to bulldoze his agenda through in the last three years of his term, and with Go and Dela Rosa in the house to swell the ranks of other loyalists such as Senator Manny Pacquiao, Senate president Tito Sotto and Koko Pimentel – whose once anti-Marcos PDP-Laban Party is now formally allied with the dictator’s daughter, Imee Marcos – the president is assured of a solid core.
One can also add to that clique the returning Lito Lapid, who still managed an impressive No 7 showing despite a near-catatonic previous performance in the Senate (“a senator who could otherwise have been mistaken for a toadstool, so silent was he during his incumbency”, said an earlier Inquirer editorial).
But, lest we forget, Lapid has that rare weapon – a show-biz name, the same talisman that has apparently also worked wonders for the plunder-tainted Bong Revilla (No 10).
Revilla’s buddy, Jinggoy Estrada, must be tearing his hair out wondering what he failed to do, that Revilla would succeed in regaining his Senate seat while he languished at No 15.
In any case, Revilla, too, having owed his political resurrection to the administration, will now be expected to play nice with the Palace, along with such other moist-eyed beneficiaries of Duterte’s pixie dust as Imee Marcos, Francis Tolentino, the faux feminist Pia Cayetano (who, as usual, had nothing to say about the latest off-colour presidential “joke”, about holding on to a lady mayor’s panties until they snap).
Top-notchers Cynthia Villar and Grace Poe, and Nancy Binay (surprisingly a tail-ender at No 12) are pragmatic workers, so they may end up useful, but not indispensable, allies for Duterte.
The wholesale entry into the chamber of his senatorial vanguard means the president now stands unopposed, a situation dangerous to the democratic project.
The Infinity Stones, as it were, are virtually complete on his iron hand. If the Senate now fails to check the snapping fingers of that hand, it may not be long before the republic turns to dust and democracy is massacred.