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Magic or Curse? Philippine Presidents' Endorsement, Explained

Next year's elections will test 'Duterte Magic'.
by Arianne Merez
Jun 17, 2021
FILE PHOTO: President Rodrigo Duterte gestures during the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-LakasBayan (PDP-LABAN) meeting in Manila on May 11, 2019
Photo/s: Presidential Photo

In all but one election since the restoration of democracy, only Corazon Aquino got her anointed candidate, Fidel Ramos, elected to succeed her. Since then, all presidential candidates who relied on the advantage of the administration fell short or suffered the political kiss of death.

Of course, that's not counting the 2004 elections, when Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who served the later half of the Estrada presidency, sought a fresh six-year term and won in a vote that was hounded by unprecedented allegations of fraud.

When "Cory Magic" worked for Ramos and for her own son, Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III, in 2010, will President Rodrigo Duterte's enduring popularity help propel his preferred successor to Malacañang?

It's a classic double-edged sword according to University of Santo Tomas Department of Political Science Chair Dennis Coronacion. When it comes to capitalizing on the incumbent president's support, it's a popularity game, he said.

"Whether adversely or favorably, the popularity or unpopularity of a sitting president rubs off on his or her anointed one," Coronacion told reportr.

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"We have seen this. While it's not the sole factor for the win or loss of a candidate, it has a certain impact," he said.


Gibo and Mar failed to ride the machinery to victory

Arroyo's preferred successor in 2010, her defense secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr., placed fourth. For political analysts at that time, Teodoro sealed his defeat the moment Arroyo endorsed him officially.

"What happened is that her anointed one, Gibo Teodoro, became a victim of her unpopularity, and the candidate himself is not so popular as well so you'd expect a dismal outcome," Coronacion said.

Six years later, it was former senator and transportation secretary Mar Roxas' turn to seek the presidency by pledging continuity. He pitched six more years of Aquino's "Daang Matuwid". Roxas lost to Duterte.

"There was a lack of what I call the 'endgame' on the part of Aquino. He came in strong but during the last part of his presidency, he already had so many issues that it rubbed off on Roxas," Coronacion said.

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Roxas also came off as too gimmicky to voters, compared to Duterte. "People can see through his gimmicks. Instead of making him more appealing, he looked more of a trapo," Coronacion said.

The deep war chest still matters

Despite the uncertainty of the benefits that a candidate could gain from an incumbent president's support, Coronacion said it pays to be an administration candidate to gain access to a deep war chest.

Historically, the ruling party has more resources than the opposition during elections--something that candidates run after.

"If the sitting president raises your fist or arm, you already gain access to resources and the political machinery for your campaign. That's the main benefit," Coronacion said. "It's not so much as being the 'anointed one,' but rather being part of the administration's party."

'Duterte Magic' to be tested in 2022

Presidential Photo
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Presidential elections are a whole different ballgame from midterm elections which are usually won in favor of administration candidates, according to the analyst.

Personalities are "more highlighted" during presidential elections, Coronacion said, noting that this is due to the looming idea of change fed to the public.

"Our system works in a way that you need to be popular on your own to win the elections," he said, citing the case of Duterte's 2016 running mate Alan Peter Cayetano who lost to Vice President Leni Robredo.

"It's not enough that you're endorsed by someone popular, you need to be popular on your own too," he said.

Duterte's midterm polls however were unlike any other.

It was a reckoning for the opposition, that saw its entire senatorial lineup decimated, a feat for the administration that called it "Duterte magic."

Will it translate to a victory for his candidates in the 2022 elections? Coronacion said it would be "highly likely" that the so-called "Duterte magic" would benefit his anointed one.

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"There's only so much time left" for Duterte to commit missteps, Coronacion said. "It's safe to say that his anointed one--whoever he or she may be--would benefit from whatever popularity he will have left. Until now, he remains a popular leader."

It will take more than an endorsement

President Duterte has said that he sees no one "deserving" so far to succeed him in 2022. Malacañang however has named five "options" of Duterte for his successor, all of whom have been linked to a possible presidential bid: Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, Senators Manny Pacquiao and Bong Go, and former Sen. Bongbong Marcos.

"His (Duterte) endorsement will carry weight but it's not the sole factor," Coronacion said.

But like all elections, the support of an incumbent president is only one voice in a game decided by the majority.

"Getting the president's blessing is a factor. But people should remember, it's not the president who decides the outcome of the elections," Coronacion said.

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