The May 2019 midterm elections came and went without anyone making a big to-do about them. No major political, economic or social issue dominated the campaign; no major personalities either. Extensive vote-buying occurred, mind-conditioning surveys proclaimed the “results” even before the voting began, a seven-hour computer glitch gave the Commission on Elections and Smartmatic operators every wicked chance to work their “wonders.” Signs of large-scale fraud were written all over the place, but no one said the word, for fear of reaping the consequences.

Vaporized with hardly a trace of its previous existence was former President Joseph Erap Estrada’s 50-year-old political dynasty, which had earlier enabled him to put his wife Loi and their son Jinggoy, and then Jinggoy and his half-brother JV Ejercito in the Senate together at the same time, while he sat in jail for plunder after his ouster from Malacañang, or at Manila city hall as mayor for two terms after his pardon. Not all dynasties ended like Estrada’s: the Marcos dynasty in Ilocos, the Romualdez dynasty in Leyte, the Villar dynasty in Las Piñas, the Belmonte dynasty in Quezon City, the Sotto dynasty in Quezon City and Pasig, Danilo Suarez’s dynasty in Quezon province, the Cayetanos’ in Taguig, Francis Escudero’s in Sorsogon, and several others elsewhere won an endorsement.

In Davao, Mayor Sara, Vice-Mayor Sebastian and Congressman Paolo—all Duterte children—- failed to overcome former Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez’s influence in the other congressional districts, but swept the city’s executive and legislative positions, without any real opposition. President DU30’s stranglehold on the three coequal branches of the national government was, of course, the controlling factor: the dictatorship could no longer be ignored. Even US Ambassador Sung Kim was persuaded to render a positive review of DU30’s electoral triumph, in his remarks before the Quezon City Pandesal forum. Biz News Asia was quick to predict that DU30 could name his own successor in 2022 from three possibilities, beginning with his own daughter, the mayor.

No one—-whether in the administration or in the opposition—-has been able to tell us, with sufficient clarity, what really happened. The phenomenon just burst into the scene. Normally, a midterm election serves as a “referendum” on a sitting administration, and this we observe in the manner the opposing parties conduct their respective campaigns. The administration seeks a fresh mandate on the basis of its existing policies and programs, which it tries to market as a great boon to the people, while the opposition seeks to denigrate the administration as a great bane to the nation.

Nothing like this happened in the last election. President DU30 personally campaigned for his senatorial candidates up to the last minute, but he never portrayed his two most controversial programs—-the killing of drug suspects without due process, and his perceived surrender of Philippine sovereignty to China in the Spratlys, both of which have caused a great popular dissension, as the last word in seeking to unify the nation. Nor did “Otso Deretso” ask the voters to excoriate the DU30 administration for “destroying the nation.”

These landmark issues were never raised on the campaign trail, and were therefore never put to a “referendum.” DU30 walked away with his 12-zero sweep of the senatorial race, just as Benigno S. Aquino 3rd had walked away with his own senatorial sweep in 2013, simply by exploiting every political and electoral advantage he had. He simply rendered the opposition, and the voters, powerless against his methods and tactics.

For its part, the hastily assembled opposition failed to challenge DU30 as a solid political party with a clear political objective; they never called on the voters to reject DU30’s crimes and misdemeanors during the last three years. DU30’s minions did everything to prevent Otso Deretso from campaigning effectively in the provinces, and potential contributors from contributing to the opposition, but they never publicly denounced the administration’s unfair tactics against the opposition. They opposition did not really campaign for a party victory; everyone worked only for their individual victories, hoping to be “allowed” to survive the DU30 juggernaut, while everybody else failed. Everyone tried to work for a “separate peace.”

May 13, 2019 was no “referendum” at all. DU30 was bent on political conquest, and whatever passed for “opposition” failed to engage him in battle according to any decent rules of engagement. He won hands down, but beyond him the real winners were the lawless drug killings, and China’s virtual colonization of the Philippines. This last was confirmed on June 9 when a Chinese vessel rammed a Philippine fishing boat anchored on Recto Bank and fled, without any apologies or show of concern for the 22 fishermen who had to fight for their lives, and without a word of protest from the usually voluble and fire-breathing president.

Just as we failed to show collective outrage over China’s taking over and militarizing “little pieces of Philippine earth” in the Spratlys, President DU30 tried to assure us we should not lose any sleep over “this little maritime accident.”

fstatad@gmail.com