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Digong’s Riddle

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THERE PROBABLY hasn’t been a Philippine president as riddlesome as the one whose lease in Malacanang is going to expire in less than year.  In fact, President Duterte started his journey to the presidency on a riddle; he’s now embarking on a version of a sunset boulevard on another riddle.

Prior to launching his presidential bid in 2016, Duterte announced that he was actually retiring from politics.  He had been there, done that, and apparently was already tired of being in the game for decades.  As it turned out, it was a political ruse, ostensibly to keep the other presidentiables’, notably from the Liberal Party, guard down.

Looking back, the element of surprise worked partly, perfectly to pave his way to the Palace by a plurality, not majority, mandate.  If  Sen. Grace Poe and then  Secretary Mar Roxas only agreed to join forces, with either dropping to be the vice presidential bet,  history would have been different. As always, the rear view mirror is perfect foresight.

Last week, he mouthed with the same passion and conviction the word  ‘retire’ again, as he accompanied his most trusted aide, Sen. Bong Go who filed his certificate of candidacy for vice president. Obviously, there was already a done deal, a modus vivendi, a fait accompli. Duterte would  drop his  vice presidential plan in favor of Go. It’s a matter of going through the motion.

There is just one business matter left  to be settled: who will be Go’s running mate?  Almost at the same time, Sara Duterte Carpio filed her reelection bid as Davao City Mayor.  This further wrapped the riddle in an enigma.  A Sara-Bong tandem  doesn’t look like a bright political idea, going against the time-honored text that politics is supposed to be an addition,  political stature  and geography wise.

Duterte explained to the public why he was abandoning his earlier plan to go by the backdoor to the presidency, as Constitutionalists saw  it and were ready to challenge his political audacity in court. He realized, he said, with a semblance of mental honesty, that most Filipinos – about 60 percent of them the survey said— frown at his vice presidential target.

As a lawyer, Duterte was aware of the possible pushback.  He was acting , of course, consistently with the   trademark of an autocrat or authoritarian: opacity, if not duplicity.  His giving way to Go could be part of a bigger riddle which is still being played out. Go, for all we know, may just be a consenting adult to the whole riddle.  He’ the go-to guy, with pun intended.

On Tuesday,  the biggest part of the riddle may have been revealed with the Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. making his presidential bid official by filing his certificate of candidacy.  Like Go, he has no running mate.  It looks like a simple arithmetic: 1 plus 1 is equal to two. But it may not be as simple as that, as riddles go.  Ultimately, go may be, well, gone.

The surveys could be at the heart of Digong’s riddle.  The son and daughter of two different strong men, dictators if you will, haven’t moved from their ranks as the  two top seeds in the run-up to the 2022 presidential race.  Bongbong boasts of a Solid North while Sara has most of Mindanao in her pocket. Many Filipinos don’t seem to mind their fathers’ brand of leadership, something that continues to  befuddle Vice President Leni Robredo , given how the country has suffered under authoritarian rule, with or without the pandemic.  Robredo’s apparent indeciveness to throw her hat into the presidential derby maybe a haunting offshoot  of such perception  of reality. Can you imagine she’s still at the bottom in surveys despite beating Bongbong in the 2016 vice presidential race? Another  riddle.

“With one look, they’ll forgive the past, they’ll rejoice I’ve returned at last, “ actress Glen Close,playing the role of silent movie star Norma Desmond, sang in the Broadway play ‘Sunset Boulevard’.  The thought chills the spine.

The full answer to Digong’s riddle will be known soon, Presidential Harry Roque assured all and sundry. It will either be on October 8, the last day of filing, or November 15, the final day of substitution. The final revelation is part of the political drama, providing a temporary diversion to the ongoing Senate investigation into the Pharmally controversy, and the impending probe of the International Court of Justice, both of which could lead to Malacanang.

The riddle is inevitably a part of our national political narrative in our continuing struggles against widespread corruption in government, on the one hand, and trampling of human rights, on the other, even as we look up to the rubric of democratic institutions as our defensive tools.

If eventually, it will turn out to be a Bongbong-Sara tandem, and it looks like it will be as  day follows night,  wholly consistent with the logic of a Digong riddle.  It’s a riddle, alright,  but not necessarily synonymous with principle.

“The beauty and riddle of studying the motives of any politician is trying to decide which is idealism or what is self interest, and often we are left to conclude that the answer is a mixture of both,” Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.

Which one weighs heavily can be inferred from historical experience.

But, with two strongmen’ children looming as the next two top  leaders of the nation in the next six years, it’s another  riddle  that many, if not most, have not  learned the hard lessons.  Emerson suggests that the key to a riddle is another riddle.

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