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The long road to ‘Tayo naman’

Tayo naman!” so exclaimed many after the news of Joe Biden’s projected election into the United States presidency, expressing hope that with the end of Donald Trump’s damaging populist tenure, the Philippines would see the same result in 2022. But while we have reason to believe that better leadership is within our grasp, this is hardly assured, and achieving it will require massive effort.

(It is our turn.)

Understandably, “Tayo naman” is foremost a call for voter registration and participation. After American media outlets declared Biden as the presumptive President-elect past 12 midnight on November 8, local time, countless Filipinos jumped at the chance to point out that the Philippines also has the opportunity to replace the problematic style of governance that marks President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration. The key, they said, is to get people, especially the youth, to register and vote.

But this sort of campaign will have to be just the first step. Even if we do manage to get millions of young new voters on the rolls, that alone does not assure us of the change we expect in 2022. This is because the “youth vote” is complex. Many may like to believe that younger generations lean toward more progressive candidates and would, therefore, carry the win for the opposition, but that obviously did not transpire in 2019; even in various college surveys during the midterm elections, the educated youth was already shown to be divided on their picks for senators. What reason have we to believe things will be different in 2022? 

The next task, then, if we are already assured that people have registered and will vote, is to get them on the right side, which could just be as daunting or even more so.

In the US’ case, Biden nearly lost, as Trumpism remained powerful. The same can be said of Dutertism here; I might even go as far to claim that the cult of personality around Duterte is stronger than the one for Trump. After all, Duterte still enjoys a laughably high approval rating of 91 percent. This seemingly impenetrable widespread internalized admiration for him will likely be a hurdle for opposition figures seeking office in the next polls: Duterte fanatics will reasonably prefer candidates whom he endorses or whom they think will be most like him.

Yet perhaps a bigger factor is the political machinery Duterte and his allies have managed to build up. Given their influence and the weakened state of the opposition, they are more able to strategically campaign and in so doing appeal to voters. April 2019 survey results by Pulse Asia showed that Duterte’s senatorial slate mostly boasted awareness ratings around 97 to 100 percent, that is, nearly all voters knew about Duterte’s allies, compared to the opposition, who mostly dwelled at 51 percent or lower. This far superior reach could easily explain how the administration still swept the past election.

However, a lot has happened since then. The economy is now in a recession and the country has been ravaged by the ongoing pandemic. Still, even these have not been enough to faze Dutertism: Pulse Asia again reports that 92 percent of Filipinos approve of Duterte’s actions in trying to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Whether that will remain true for the next two years will still depend on what happens until then and whether these will affect public perception of Duterte and his cohorts.

Nonetheless, there may be a glimmer of hope even as early as now. In the same way that Biden’s victory can partly be attributed to record-high voter turnout in the US, we can believe that getting more people to vote at least puts us in the right path, assuming that disgruntled Filipinos are more likely to participate in the elections. But, as I’ve said, this is not a guarantee, and without any data to back it up, we should not be too reliant on it.

Our aspirations for electing a better President must be accompanied with action beyond advocating for voter registration; particularly, we will need extensive education and information efforts, discussing civic awareness and warding off disinformation. But a lot of the difficulty lies there, for these would have to be collectively launched across the country. Such will be our challenge for the coming months.

We know from history that autocracies are bound to fall. And thus, like Trump’s, so will Duterte’s regime and his cult eventually see their ends someday, but whether that day will be May 9, 2022 depends on what actions we take to try and make that happen within the next two years.

If we so abhor the possibility of another six years of frustratingly disappointing governance, then the thought alone should compel us to do what we can to make sure the country actually elects a good leader. If we do, then perhaps, soon enough, “Tayo naman” will not be a mere expression of hope but a declaration of victory.

By Jan Emmanuel Alonzo

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