With only one more year to go, Duterte and his tyranny will finally end. This leaves the country’s democracy in a precarious position in the next 2022 elections. Will the country vote to regain democracy? Or will the country vote for Duterte version 2.0?
On May 9, 2022, the country will be voting for its new President and Duterte’s successor. After six years of Duterte tyranny and authoritarian rule, the country now has its chance to bring back democracy. While others breathe a sigh of relief, one must understand that Duterte’s rule is far from over. The President and his party, Partido Demokratiko Pilipino Lakas ng Bayan (PDP – Laban), are already placing into position as campaign season approaches.
Reports state that the party will be choosing from two “Preferred Presidential Candidates”: Duterte’s daughter, Mayor Sara Duterte, and Duterte’s former aid, Senator Christopher “Bong” Go. Some members of the party are also calling Duterte to run for Vice – President, which Malacañang Palace believes to be “Constitutional”. If all of these were to happen, Duterte will be able to extend his term, continue his authoritarian legacy, and consolidate further power.
As observed by Corrales and Penfold (2014), Presidents who relax and extend their term limits only erode their country’s democracy. This extension not only continues authoritarian rule but also leaves the transfer of powers uncertain. If the country were to defeat Duterte’s extension of authority and all-together defend democracy, there must be a few things in place.
For one, there must be a united opposition against Duterte and his party. Levitsky and Ziblatt (2018) note how successful gatekeeping will be able to keep authoritarians and populists off the ballots and entirely out of the elections. This is evident in the country’s recently launched “1Sambayan” pro-democracy coalition. The coalition seeks to unify the opposition and other political parties (both left and right-wing), at the same time unify different sectors of the country. The coalition also pledges to gatekeep their membership over politicians “identified with authoritarianism and responsible for extrajudicial killings”.
The coalition should also think beyond gatekeeping. Unlike the previous elitist “Otso Diretso” (Straight Eight) Senatorial bid, the coalition should build their campaigns to be able to reach and resonate with the people in the margins. Moreover, they need to show that they are a contender to Duterte and that they are different from the previous parties that use “democracy” as a front to their campaign strategies.
Informing the Voters
Next, there must be clear and factual information available to the public. Persily and Stamos (2019) reiterate the importance of “consistency, credibility, and clarity” of campaigns in deterring the spread of disinformation and fake news. It is expected that Duterte and his party will employ fake news sites, pages, and troll accounts to confuse the public. The coalition can counter this by pursuing better digital campaigning, engaging the public through online debates and discussions, and correcting any misinformation about themselves and their platforms.
The coalition should also “think outside the box” and innovate their campaigns now that we have a pandemic. Much like what US President Biden did in his campaigns, the coalition can embrace virtual fundraisers, use phone banking or calling to inform voters, and even do “drive-in” campaign rallies to keep with social distancing and other COVID-19 restrictions.
Getting the Voters to Vote
Finally, there must be initiatives and incentives to get the people to vote. Ellis (2021) states that populists will use the pandemic as an opportunity to make voting difficult for the public. They can either impose strict lockdowns, restrict the “Immunocompromised” (elderly, pregnant, and the sick) from voting at the polls, and more. The coalition can respond by launching innovative voter-education and registration campaigns across social media and other media platforms. This is exemplified in the U.S. “#TokTheVote” challenge, wherein TikTok creators would dance and encourage viewers to vote. The participants would then be rewarded with views or “points” redeemable to gifts.
The coalition should also think about giving out groceries and other essential goods to encourage people to vote. Like how Vice President Leni Robredo’s “Swab Cab” initiative was able to get more and more people to line up and get tested for COVID-19. Once they finish the tests, these people would get incentives such as food packs (rice, canned goods, etc.), care kits (face masks and shields), and even access to free-Wifi. Those who tested positive would also be incentivized with a greater food and family package. Not only does this strategy effectively increase COVID-19 tests, but also effectively attracts participation from the poor.
Overall, there’s still much to be done to regain democracy in the Philippines. The points presented in the paper only serve as strategies that the united opposition/coalition can do come campaign and election season. There’s also no guarantee that these strategies will work against Duterte and his party. Nevertheless, these strategies present a glimmer of hope as to what the nation can achieve by uniting, informing, and voting together in the next 2022 Presidential elections. Ultimately, it is the people who will decide the future of the country. Now the question remains, will the country vote for democracy or Duterte 2.0?
Photo: “Philippine flag at ‘Isang Milyong Martsa’ sa Luneta” by James Sarmiento is licensed under CC BY 2.0