In just a little over three weeks, an estimated 54 Million Filipinos will go to the polls to elect their next president. That number is about half of the population of this predominantly Catholic country where close to two thirds pledge their allegiance to The Vatican.
Five “presidentiables” as they are called in the Philippines, are in what many consider a tight race to succeed President Aquino who will be termed out as of June 30 this year.
Among the presidential candidates is Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago who, despite her popularity especially among the younger generation, trails in the polls mostly because of the perception that her cancer diagnosis will get in the way of performing her duties as head of state.
The administration’s candidate, former Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, who, six year years ago gave up his presidential aspiration to give way to then Senator Aquino whose ratings surged especially after the death of his mother, former President Cory, has remained steady at No. 4 in most national polls. He is Aquino’s anointed one.
Incumbent Vice President Jejomar Binay, a logical successor to Aquino, is having the most difficult time climbing to the top of voter surveys, especially after the country’s Ombudsman has filed charges against him and his son, Junjun, for alleged illegal deals arising from the building of an overpriced Makati City Hall parking structure. Binay was former Makati mayor, and so was his son before he was removed from office by the judiciary.
Senator Grace Poe, despite protracted challenges to her candidacy before the Commission on Elections and the Supreme Court, has consistently topped the polls. Poe’s opponents claim that she is unqualified to run for president because of questions regarding her Filipino citizenship and residency requirement.
This brings us to Rodrigo Duterte, mayor of Davao City. There are claims that Davao is among the world’s safest cities, and many attribute this distinction to Duterte’s no nonsense, heavy-handed governance where criminals and those who violate the law are dealt with by the mayor himself — extra-judicially.
As the May 9 elections draw closer, new polls show Duterte in a statistical tie with Poe, and in some cases, occupying the No. 1 spot.
The extremely popular Duterte has all but been snubbed by Manila’s mainstream media which for the longest time ignored or downplayed the mayor’s packed campaign rallies and increasing popularity on social media.
But the media were quick to herald controversial statements by Duterte, especially when he talked about abolishing congress, killing criminals and eradicating government corruption within 3-6 months of his presidency.
Duterte has finally made it to the front pages of newspapers and broadcast news headlines. Thanks to the latest video which circulated on the Internet, in which the mayor joked about a female Australian missionary who was serially raped before being killed by lawless elements. The mayor was caught on camera saying that he was mad, not just because the woman was raped, but especially because he said, the mayor should have been first in line.
Duterte supporters claim that the “joke” was taken out of context, and the mayor himself gave a lengthy interview during which he admitted to his “gutter language” while relating the background story about the incident.
Enter the Catholic Church in the Philippines.
No less than the head of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), Bishop Socrates Villegas, has called on Filipino Catholics to reject Duterte, citing the church’s teachings against killing people and “womanizing.” (Duterte, who is divorced from his wife, has always admitted having simultaneous relationships with “two wives and two girlfriends.”)
While most Filipino Catholics openly display their devotion to their faith — praying to their favorite saints and Mary the mother of Jesus; religiously attending church services, pledging devotion to religious icons like the Black Nazarene or the Santo Niño and participating in penitential rites including self-flagellation in observance to Holy Week — it remains to be seen whether the CBCP’s call will be heeded come May 9.
Will Catholic Filipino voters — tired of corruption, crime, poverty, unemployment, substandard public services, political dynasties — choose Duterte over their Catholic faith? Do they believe that the Almighty will give them a pass if they decide to vote for a president whose actions and pronouncements run counter to the teachings of The Vatican?
We will find out. On May 9.