MANILA – Allies of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte have swept opposition candidates in the midterm elections, according to official results announced on Wednesday after several postponements and accusations of a lack of transparency.
The “Magic 12,” or the 12 senators who will make up half of the Upper House with a six-year mandate, were presented at a formal event at the Philippine International Convention Center by Sheriff Abas, the chairperson of the Commission on Elections.
The opposition has been left out of the Magic 12, which means that Duterte’s legislative agenda could be carried out without much opposition in the House of Representatives, which he already has a majority in.
Bills to reinstate the death penalty abolished in 2006, bringing down the age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 12 years, reform of the 1987 Constitution to implement a federal model, and a possible proposal to eliminate the limit on mandates could be passed this term.
With a high participation rate of 75 percent, the May 13 midterm elections were seen as a referendum on the management of Duterte, who went into the elections with an 80 percent popularity rating, the highest in the democratic history of the country.
Duterte’s mandate has been reinforced and he will be able to implement his policies in the remaining years of his term without major opposition, said Institute for Political and Electoral Reform executive director Ramon Casiple.
According to Casiple, Duterte’s popularity is due to the fact that “his economic performance is good. He maintained the GDP growth, tamed inflation (which reached its highest of the decade in 2018), stabilized employment, brought in more investment and brought down poverty levels.”
Duterte’s allies won nine of the 12 seats and the remaining three have gone to independent candidates. The only opposition candidate, Bam Aquino, came in at 14th position.
With an aim of creating a united front against Duterte, several opposition parties formed the Otso Diretso platform to endorse eight candidates for the Senate, but this only appealed to the intellectual elites and university students.
“Otso Diretso had difficulty in its strategy – it targeted President Duterte but failed to bring the battle to administration candidates, it failed to present an alternative program of governance (and) it promoted more the group than individual candidates,” Casiple said.
The election of the senators in the Philippines is done nominally. Twelve candidates are elected individually at the national level, so the parties – which are not usually linked to specific ideologies – are only a platform that endorses those candidates.
In order to support 13 hopefuls loyal to her president father, Sara Duterte formed an alliance of regional parties called Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HP). Nine of these became senators, most of whom are friends of the Duterte family and former advisors in his administration.
Incumbent senator Cynthia Villar, a Duterte ally and wife of politician and businessman Manuel Villar, heads the Magic 12, followed by Grace Poe, an independent candidate who lost the 2016 presidential race against Duterte.
Villar said that they will use the mandate to reinforce their service to Filipinos in a strong and independent Senate.
Duterte’s best friend and former special assistant Bong Go and former police chief Ronald dela Rosa – who rose to prominence during Duterte’s war on drugs – also won a seat each under HP. Both were in question over their lack of political experience.
From Duterte’s side, Pia Cayetano has also been elected. She, along with Poe, has promised to push a bill to legalize divorce. The Philippines, along with the Vatican, is the only country where divorce is illegal.
Sara Duterte was re-elected as mayor of Davao, and took center stage during the campaign, which according to many analysts served to strengthen her presidential profile for 2022.
Her younger brother, Sebastian Duterte, was elected vice mayor of Davao – a family stronghold – while the president’s elder son, Paolo Duterte, won a seat in the House of Representatives and is now seen as a possible future president.
Some 61.8 million Filipinos were eligible to vote in the elections to elect 18,000 public posts, including 1,634 mayors, 81 governors, and more than 13,500 municipal councilors.
The announcement of the electoral results was postponed three times due to problems with counting machines, which provoked criticism from some sectors for irregularities and a lack of transparency.