An admin riding high; now what?

Dindo Manhit, President of the Stratbase ADR Institute

The recently concluded elections involved more than 18,000 government positions at the senatorial, subnational and local levels. Among other electoral strategies, what made this electoral battle different from the 2013 and 2016 elections was the potency of political endorsement—especially that of President Duterte.

The President personally endorsed administration candidates and those whom he has worked with when he was mayor of Davao City. The endorsements facilitated the success of these candidates and were carried out by the President himself, who accompanied his preferred candidates to strategic areas, speaking for them and raising their hands.

The potency of the presidential endorsement was anchored on the public’s continuing high regard for Mr. Duterte’s performance in office. A year ago, the first quarter 2018 Social Weather Stations survey (SWS) conducted from March 23 to 27 gave the President a gross satisfaction rating of +70 percent. In the last quarter (Dec. 16-19) his rating went up to 74 percent; that represented three successive quarters of increase from 65 percent (second quarter) to 70 percent (third quarter). And the latest SWS survey (March 2019) revealed a gross satisfaction rating of 79 percent, increasing that streak to four.

On May 3, the SWS published its latest survey on the government’s net satisfaction rating for the first quarter of this year, showing that gross satisfaction with the general performance of the Duterte

administration had soared to 81 percent. It was further perceived to be “helping the poor,” with an 81-percent approval rating in this regard. Hence the sweeping power of the presidential endorsement in these elections.

Beyond the 2019 midterms, and given his outstanding perception ratings, President Duterte will likely continue his controversial brand of populist governance. Once the scuffling and clangor that usually accompany election results have subsided, a clearer picture of the new dynamics in the reconstituted Senate, and how this will figure into the Duterte administration’s strategies, will emerge.

As of this writing, unofficial results show that nine candidates endorsed by President Duterte are in the Magic 12. But it should be kept in mind that three—Grace Poe and Nancy Binay, both reelectionists; and Lito Lapid—were not backed by the administration.

There is widespread fear that the emerging new majority allied with Malacañang will become administration puppets, but this may not necessarily be so. The three “independent” candidates, for instance, may set themselves apart from Mr. Duterte in the runoff to the next presidential election in 2022. The same possibility exists for other senators out, at the very least, to maintain their political viability beyond the close of the Duterte term.

The big challenge for the new members of the Senate and the House of Representatives is how to pursue important economic legislation that will sustain higher productivity growth. This is imperative if the Philippines is to become a prosperous middle-class country free from poverty by 2040.

During the campaign, many national candidates focused on gut issues such as food, health and education to drum up support anchored on populist appeal. These issues appealed to the emotions, even if some of the proposed solutions were not rational and sustainable.

But the nitty-gritty of legislative work, backed by research, should provide a more accurate picture of what the country needs. The Senate, for one, must heed the urgent concerns of controlling inflation, improving the pay of workers, creating more jobs, fighting criminality, reducing poverty, fighting corruption and enhancing national security.

Now that the Duterte administration has accumulated even greater power by virtue of its landslide victory in the polls and the rout of the political opposition, citizens must demand only the highest level of service and excellence from it. With great power, it’s been said, comes great responsibility.



This article was originally published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Image Source: Philippine Star.

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