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Duterte's allies lead in midterm polls

By PRIME SARMIENTO | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-05-15 09:16

A rickshaw driver passes campaign posters in front of Baseco Elementary School in Manila on Monday. NOEL CELIS/AFP

Unofficial tally in Philippines shows pro-govt candidates secure most Senate seats

The searing summer heat in the Philippine capital did not deter Sally Sibunga, a 45-year-old worker at a local eatery, from walking a few blocks to the nearest polling precinct.

She lined up with her neighbors at the working district of Tondo in Manila, noting that casting her ballot in the May 13 midterm national elections was only one of the few times that she could have a say in her country's politics and governance.

"Voting is the Filipino people's voice," Sibunga told China Daily. "It's the only time that we can tell the government what we want."

Sibunga was just one of the estimated 61 million Filipinos who went to Monday's polls. Roughly 43,000 candidates vied for a seat in 18,000 national and local positions.

Apart from violence that disrupted the polls in some provinces and some computerized ballot scanners encountering glitches, the Commission of Elections, an autonomous constitutional body responsible for the conduct of elections in Philippines, said the elections held in over 80 provinces were peaceful and orderly.

Analysts said one of the most significant events in the polls is the election of the 12 Senators that will comprise the upper house of the Philippine bicameral legislature.

The 24-member Senate uses staggered elections, with 12 of its members up for election at a given time.

The Senate will help define Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's legislative agenda for the rest of his six-year term that will end in 2022.

Analysts said some of the priority bills under Duterte include the proposed shift to a federal form of government, the restoration of death penalty and the passage of second phase of the tax reform law.

The COMELEC is yet to release the official results, but a partial and unofficial tally shows that administration-backed candidates won most of the 12 Senatorial seats.

Cynthia Villar, who was standing for reelection as a candidate endorsed by President Duterte, has emerged as a big winner, securing over 25 million votes. Other Duterte allies-such as Duterte's long-time aide Christopher Lawrence "Bong" Go and former Philippine National Police's Director General Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa-were in the top five, with each of them garnering about 19 million votes.

"This is the height of Duterte's power," said Lisandro Claudio, associate professor at the College of Liberal Arts, De La Salle University in Manila.

Claudio told China Daily that the early victory of Duterte-backed candidates shows the president is consolidating his power and now enjoys a more loyal support from the Senate.

"It's a vote of confidence on the current administration," said Carl Marc Ramota, assistant professor at the Department of Social Sciences in the University of the Philippines-Manila.

In an interview with China Daily, Ramota said that with most of the incumbent senators already allied with President Duterte, the election of the likes of Villar, Go and dela Rosa would mean that Duterte "will secure majority control over both houses of Congress". As such, Duterte will get strong support for any pending bills that he certifies as urgent.

Claudio of DLSU said these candidates won at a time when Duterte himself is very popular.

The Social Weather Stations, a nonprofit social research institution, reported in April that 79 percent of its respondents were satisfied with Duterte's performance.

Claudio said that the outcome of the Monday elections is proof that the "signaling power" of the president is paramount. This has been the story of the Philippine electorate ever since democratic elections were restored after the 1986 People Power Revolution.

"The president signals a political agenda and creates a political narrative where he defines who are his allies," Claudio said.

UPM's Ramota said Duterte remains popular because of the "administration's effective messaging style, strengthened by the opposition's own inability to put up a unified front and solid voice".

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