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Tatay Digong, Mama Leni: Why Filipinos Vote for 'Family'

Before, there was Apo Ferdie and Tita Cory.
by Pia Regalado
Oct 19, 2021

If the pink movement succeeds, Mama Leni will replace Tatay Digong in Malacanang, proving that for Filipino voters, their leader should be close like family, with a life story that plays out like a teleserye.

Past presidents include Apo Ferdie, Tita Cory and Erap, a wordplay on pare or the godfather of one's child. When they're not family, they're given initials like FVR, GMA and PNoy.

Filipinos are known for putting family first in everything, even in business deals and politics. It's the same reason why your household's favorite teleserye revolves around family drama, sociologist and UP Los Banos professor Prince Aldama said.

"'Yung Philippine political culture is heavily influenced by family-centeredness na values ng mga Pilipino kaya nahihirapan tayong ihiwalay ang pamilya sa pulitika," he told reportr.

The 2022 elections has no shortage of politicians marketing themselves as kuya, ate, manang and the like.

"'Di nila sinasabi na malayo ako sa inyo, kumbaga'y ako'y isang lider na simple lang. 'Yung ganung klaseng mga gamit, kahit kay Marcos [Apo Lakay or "respected elder"], kay Cory [Tita Cory], ay identification agad sa botante 'yan e," said Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform.

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Tatay Digong is the disciplinarian strongman

Czar Dancel, Reuters

It was Duterte's supporters who called him Tatay Digong, as they urged him to replicate the discipline-centered leadership he displayed as Davao City mayor on a national scale.

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"Naging bahagi ng kanyang attraction kasi 'yung karanasan ng Davao from the point of view ng mga nakatingin diyan lalo mga tagadoon mismo, na may disiplina siya," Casiple said.

In a traditional Filipino household, it's the father who leads the house and during the 2016 elections that was preceded by political bickering, voters wanted someone who would take control.

"Sa traditional Filipino family, it's really the father who executes 'yung mga disciplinary actions, establishes the rules and regulations in the house, dapat kinakatakutan siya ng kanyang mga anak," Aldama said.

In a country where the rich can bend the justice system, Duterte seemed like the solution, Aldama said.

"'Pag kinumpara mo 'yung proseso ng demokrasya, matagal talaga at sa mga taong nagugutom, sa mga taong may kailangang ipantawid as kanilang kumakalam na sikmura araw-araw, 'yung mabilis na promise ng strongmen ay nagiging appealing sapagkat nakikita nila na ito 'yung mas madaling paraan for them to survive and to live," said Aldama.

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Mama Leni runs the house

Lisa Marie David/Reuters

For Filipinos who are tired of Duterte's bloody drug war, his cozying up to China and his handling of the pandemic, Robredo's candidacy provided hope, Aldama said.

When she announced her candidacy for president, Robredo likened herself to a mother who understood the hardships in an abusive household. It's something she witnesses as a volunteer lawyer for the downtrodden. "Ang nagmamahal, kailangang ipaglaban ang minamahal," she said.

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Aldama compared the vice president to a battered wife who finally chose to leave the abusive husband when she gave in to supporters' calls for her to run.

"Katulad ng nanay na nag-alsabalutan kasama ang kanyang mga anak, aalis kami, iiwan namin 'yung ganyang klaseng pamamalakad ni Duterte. Panahon ngayon para bumuo ng panibagong simula para sa bansa," he said.

Will this work again in 2022?

More than perceived family ties, voters should consider a candidate's platform and stand on key issues when selecting their president.

"Generally ang issue talaga, babalik at babalik 'yan pagdating sa presinto pag nag-iisip na ang botante o even before pa bumoto, titingnan n'ya talaga 'yung relevance ng pandemya o economic crisis na patakaran ng mga tumatakbo," he said.

Aldama said voters should look out for red flags, such as those who are running solely on family legacy or personal gain and those who refuse to take stand on all issues, which they will eventually confront if elected.

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Failure to choose the right leader will perpetuate the cycle of abuse of power, corruption, and bickering that we see in TV dramas, only this time it's happening in real life, he said.

"Maunawaan sana ng mga kabataan ngayon ang kahalagahan ng matalinong pagpili ng mga susunod na lider ng ating bansa," said Aldama.


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