"President Duterte will hold the trump card in 2021."
So many who have written about the fast-approaching midterm elections have predicted, largely on the basis of pre-election surveys, that President Rodrigo Duterte will have a co-opted Senate.
In most surveys, it would seem that only one or two of the Ocho Diretso have a chance of making it to the Magic 12. But that narrowly and mistakenly defines the opposition in terms of the Gang of Eight.
The post-May 13 Senate will be composed of the following senators who will seek either re-election or another office come 2022: Senate President Tito Sotto, Senators Ralph Recto, Migs Zubiri, Ping Lacson, Dick Gordon, Joel Villanueva, Sherwin Gatchalian, Manny Pacquiao, Frank Drilon, Risa Hontiveros, Kiko Pangilinan and Leila de Lima.
The last four ran (and remain) under the Liberal Party, with De Lima unable to attend sessions due to detention, and the three others classified with the opposition. For the remainder of President Duterte’s term, they are likely to remain oppositionist, in varying degrees of ferocity. Senator Drilon is serving the second term of his second round in the Senate, having served from 1995-2007, thence from 2010, reelected in 2016. He, therefore, will not qualify for reelection in 2022. Senators Pangilinan and Hontiveros, even De Lima qualify for reelection three years hence.
All the others can seek reelection for another term, except for Manny Pacquiao, who is likely to toe the administration line whenever for the next three years. The rest however are basically “free agents” in a polity where there are no real political parties. Their support for the Duterte legislative agenda will depend on One, their 2022 personal ambition; Two, their assessment of political opportunity versus political risk (dependent on Duterte’s approval and trust ratings); Three, their principled stand on issues.
Not necessarily in said order. Some will put a premium on one or the other raison politique in defining their stand on legislation.
Assume that only one or two from Ocho Diretso will make it. Whether it is Bam or Mar, they are likely to remain oppositionist.
The clear survey leaders are a mixed bag: Cynthia Villar, Grace Poe, Sonny Angara, Pia Cayetano and Bong Go. The last will be Duterte’s alter ego in the Senate, and is proud of being so. Pia Cayetano and Cynthia Villar will likely be very supportive of the President, until the last months of 2021 when the presidential elections draw near, and they will have to be drawn to their presidential candidates. Grace Poe, if she tops the election, might try for a second time to be president come 2022. Sonny Angara would probably see if he has chances for the presidency or vice presidency come 2022.
Bato de la Rosa and Francis Tolentino will remain very supportive of the President to whom they will largely owe their election. Lito Lapid, like Manny Pacquiao will sit on the sidelines and be supportive most if not all of the time. Nancy Binay will be independently constructive, except on issues close to her heart which may or may not coincide with the administration. Koko Pimentel, though head of the PDP-Laban, cannot be expected to toe the administration line all of the time, this time around.
Imee Marcos, Jinggoy Estrada, JV Ejercito and Bong Revilla are likely to be more supportive than not of the administration, for personal reasons or even future ambitions.
If Serge Osmeña makes it, he will be independent, as usual. So too Juan Ponce Enrile. And if a last-minute blitzkrieg gets Dong Mangudadatu squeaking in to the magic 12, he is expected to toe the administration line.
So the oft-written and oft-said conclusion that President Duterte will “control” the Senate of the 18th Congress is not cast in stone.
First, there is the tradition of 24 senators being 24 independent republics. That was so before martial law, and even in the first few Congresses after 1987. Not necessarily so after our people elected entertainers and celebrities who are seen less often in the halls of the “august” and heard almost never.
Second, political positioning for the all-crucial 2022 elections.
And Third, how the Duterte administration is able to perform in the last three years, and the legislative agenda it will pursue in earnest.
Whether the president will preside over a “lameduck” period or a “legacy” period matters most. Which means whatever the results come May 13, pursuit of his vision, his “legacy” and political adroitness especially in determining succession three years hence will be most important.
Remember also that the Senate has traditionally been the spawning ground of future presidents from Quezon to Marcos to Aquino III. As we write, speculation swirls around senators like Senate President Sotto, Senators Ping Lacson, Cynthia Villar, Grace Poe, Dick Gordon, even the less veteran Sonny Angara, Joel Villanueva, Sherwin Gatchalian, Manny Pacquiao, who may have longing eyes for higher positions, either for themselves or their family.
The political Sphinx looming larger than usual as speculations over 2022 have begun is Mayor Inday Sara Duterte, who has zoomed into the national consciousness especially when she chose candidates to endorse under her “regional” Hugpong ng Pagbabago.
All these however will be mere speculations and grist for observers keenly interested in political events and developments.
Still and all, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, unlike his predecessors Benigno Simeon Aquino III and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, even Fidel Valdez Ramos, at this stage of his term, will hold the trump card by 2021, when the politics of this nation goes into the usual ululations over supreme leadership.