As a former prosecutor, The Punisher of Davao City must be aware of Cicero’s story about a wise Roman judge who was in the habit of asking who stands to benefit from anything that takes place. Asking “Cui bono?”,the judge believed, was a surefire way of discovering who was motivated enough to cause something to happen beyond the obvious suspects, who may, in fact, be mere scapegoats.
For now, let’s assume that Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte is back in the presidential race and that he will not flake out anymore. As assumptions go, given Duterte’s record of shilly-shallying, that’s not a small one to make.
Even my friend Manny Pinol, one of the biggest boosters of Duterte, accepts that there is already a lot of ground that has been lost in between the mayor’s no-show at the Commission on Elections at the filing deadline and this weekend, when he once again declared - after a fashion - that he is indeed seeking the presidency. Of course, Pinol insists that those who have lost faith in Duterte will return to the fold— but that is by no means a sure thing this late in the day.
But for me, the question of whether Duterte can still gain traction and win is not as important as two others. And these are:
Who stands to benefit from a Duterte candidacy from among those who are already running? In addition, which candidate would suffer the most if Duterte runs?
In answer to the first question, I think it stands to reason that all of the other candidates would take hits when Duterte runs, for different reasons. As for the second, my guess is the candidate or candidates planning on buying or cheating their way to victory in Mindanao will be hurt the most.
It’s pretty obvious that a Duterte candidacy is going to cause all the four current candidates—Senator Grace Poe, Vice President Jejomar Binay, ex-Secretary Mar Roxas and Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago—to shed votes. But I also think that more than Binay or Roxas, who have pretty much identified their political bases, it is Poe and Santiago who will lose more votes to Duterte.
Duterte, after all, is expected to get a fair share of the so-called “reform” and “non-traditional” votes, which currently belong to the two women senators. And while Binay does have a following in many of same places where Duterte has a strong survey showing, as well, the Vice President already has his own solid vote base and would not lose as much to Duterte as either Poe or Santiago.
It helps to remember that Duterte has used as his reason for changing his mind his outrage at the recent ruling of the Senate Electoral Tribunal on the citizenship of Poe. To me, this only means that Duterte himself has identified Poe, the consistent leader in all credible political surveys, as his main opponent—and the most likely source of his own votes.
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As for who will suffer the most because of a Duterte run, my guess is it will be those candidates who are planning to pull a fast one in the traditional hotbeds of election cheating all over Mindanao. And because Roxas and his Liberal Party have invested so heavily in Mindanao through the legalized vote-buying scheme that the Aquino administration calls the Conditional Cash Transfer program, I’d like to think that the LP and its candidate is banking on Mindanao for the continuation of daang matuwid.
It also makes sense that, because Roxas is definitely lagging behind in Metro Manila, Luzon and the Visayas, he will pay special attention to Mindanao, especially if there is no strong Mindanaoan candidate like Duterte to contest the presidency. And because the LP has the biggest war chest of all the candidates, Roxas certainly has the motivation and the wherewithal to try to win by sewing up the South.
Of course, it’s perfectly possible that Duterte could pull off a victory because of his solid Mindanao base, where not even Poe can touch his lead. But I think the true value of a Duterte candidacy is that it will make the Mindanaoans themselves jealously guard their votes, in order to secure them for their hometown hero, the mayor of Davao City.
For the first time, because Mindanao has a strong homegrown presidential bet, voters there will be in a perfect position to discard their reputation as the playground of national election cheats. If Mindanao goes Duterte, it will prove that it is no longer the corrupt and violent St. Jude of national politicians, where cash and the barrel of the gun can snatch victory from the jaws of certain defeat on Election Day.
If only for that, I think Duterte should run. If he wins - and there are still many who are rooting for him—that will just be a bonus.
If Duterte wins back the supporters who have abandoned him because they have grown tired of his willy-nilly presidential quest, he could just pull it off. And then maybe, just maybe, it will be the whole country that will benefit from a national election this time.