The Midterm Election That Was

It was indeed the best of times for the Duterte administration’s senatorial slate, just as it was the worst of times for the opposition’s Otso Diretso. 

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness….” Charles Dickens’s opening sentence of “A Tale of Two Cities” could have been written to reflect our 2019 midterm election.

It was indeed the best of times for the Duterte administration’s senatorial slate, just as it was the worst of times for the opposition’s Otso Diretso (OD). For the administration, everything that was supposed to go up went up (GDP, credit rating, investments) and everything that was supposed to go down went down (poverty and hunger rates, crime incidence, unemployment, inflation). The President’s approval rating reached 81 percent, driving him to be the endorser of his candidates.

OD downplayed these achievements and doubted their veracity. But their unbelief reflected cognitive dissonance, for a majority of the population felt their lives were now better, as reflected in poll surveys. And OD’s incessant anti-administration criticisms simply ricocheted on them.

OD’s campaign themes did not gain traction among voters: the supposed China debt trap; the feared resurgence of inflation; the repeal of the TRAIN Law; the refrain that "democracy is dying"; and the playing up of human rights that did not give importance to national security. As the campaign progressed, the poll rankings of OD stagnated or slipped.

The interlude of Bikoy, the self-styled drug-trade whistle-blower, was cut short when he could not prove his claims, and he disappeared as quickly as he appeared, dragging the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (his platform) in the mud.

The election is a referendum on the President, and clearly, he has been given a fresh mandate. The administration can use this political capital to pursue game-changing administrative and other reforms. But I fear, as others do, that the opposition will not learn the lesson of May 2019, as it has not learned the lesson of May 2016, and continue to be obstructionist and destabilizing.

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About the Author
Mr. Oscar F. Picazo is a retired specialist in health systems, health economics, and social policy. He has worked in 24 countries for the World Bank, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and as an independent consultant. He returned to the Philippines in 2009 and became a senior research consultant for the Philippine Institute of Development Studies.
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