Column: The case against Binay, Duterte, Roxas

Published on April 12, 2016.

ON THE day the campaign period for national positions started, I wrote “The case against Grace,” an attempt to write about the presidential candidates “from the point of view of their vulnerabilities.”

I phrased the objective this way, optimistically: “How can a candidate lose the presidential race? That is to say, which of a candidate’s weaknesses are election issues? I would like to worry this question in a new series of columns.”

It has been two months since that burst of optimism, however, and I have yet to follow through on the plan. Now, with the elections in 27 days, I’m afraid there’s time only for one omnibus column on Vice President Jejomar Binay, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, and former interior secretary Mar Roxas. What is the one weakness, the one election issue, that presents the most serious threat to their candidacy? This issue can be summarized in a simple image, or phrased in a single question—a nagging, even unanswerable question.

In the case of Sen. Grace Poe, I zeroed in, not on the nature of her Filipino citizenship or the computation of her residency in the Philippines, but on her status as a former American citizen.

“In my view, the real election issue facing Senator Poe is her decision to acquire American citizenship, even if only for a few years. Isn’t it only fair, I asked her during the Meet Inquirer Multimedia forum the other week, to ask why she went down a path that the likes of Ninoy Aquino, Jovito Salonga and Raul Manglapus did not choose?”

In the case of Binay, the erstwhile frontrunner in the presidential race, the unanswerable question seems to me to be related to the corruption charges he, his son, and his allies are facing for the allegedly overpriced construction of Makati city government facilities. The Vice President has responded to the accusations with a sweeping statement about politicking, and from the looks of it this is a response that sortie audiences willingly accept. But if the question were more specific, even his supporters may have a hard time answering it.

Thus: Where are Baloloy and Limlingan? Regardless of what one thinks of former Makati vice mayor Ernesto Mercado’s testimony against Binay, his sensational accusation that Eduviges “Ebeng” Baloloy and Gerry Limlingan received millions of pesos in alleged kickbacks for Binay requires an answer from the two. But they have not been heard from at all. They have gone missing, or into hiding.

Many issues hound Duterte. His human rights record, criticized among many others by a UN Special Rapporteur; his inveterate womanizing, a character flaw he deliberately flaunts; his (often entertaining) use of often uncouth language, reaching its low point with the gratuitous cursing of/at Pope Francis; his talent for tough talk, which often and predictably results in simplified solutions involving violence; even his city’s own peace and order record, given Philippine National Police data on murder, rape and other index crimes.

I would have thought that the unanswerable question in Duterte’s case was the hundreds of lives, mostly from the city’s poor, claimed by the so-called Davao Death Squad. But—this is the surprise for me—it seems easier to accept the (reputation for) extrajudicial killings than it is to accept his reputation for crass sexism.

In one of the Inquirer Town Halls we conducted in Mindanao in the lead-up to the first presidential debate, one woman’s pained comment struck me. She was a responsible business person, a pillar-of-the-community type, who said she was a proud supporter of the presidential candidate who was a genuine son of Mindanao. But she also confessed that she found it difficult to accept the way Duterte treated women; it wasn’t so much the mayor’s womanizing (this is what I understood her to mean) as his generally sexualized approach to women. Almost every woman seems to be fair game for the exercise of his machismo.

The video of his casual narration of the “venial sin” of molesting a housemaid is disturbing not only in itself, but also because of the laughter (some of it nervous, perhaps, some more appreciative) that greeted the story and its telling.

As the candidate of continuity, Roxas has found himself moving slowly against currents of change. Despite the general good will that the Philippines under President Aquino has earned—for the economy’s vibrancy, the calibrated challenge to China in the South China Sea issue, the progress of the Mindanao peace process—public sentiment seems to have discounted all that.

It could be that Roxas’ unanswerable question involves his high-profile role in the “Yolanda” crisis; he has certainly taken a beating for it despite his attempts to set the record straight. But I actually think that the election issue facing Roxas, the President’s preferred successor and the face of administration continuity, is the other face of the Aquino brand of governance: Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya.

Abaya should have been fired long ago; the President’s failure to exact what is only the appropriate penalty on the person responsible for the ongoing tragedy on Metro Manila’s streets and the country’s airports is the specter haunting Roxas’ candidacy.

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