They’ve got Senators. We’ve got Senators.
They’ve got a President. We’ve got a President.
They’ve got a Duterte. We’ve got a Trump. Or a Drumpf, if you want to go by the name before it was anglicized by the Donald’s grandparents to Trump.
The Philippine elections to be held on Monday, May 9, could be over by the time you see this.
At nearly 4 million people, Filipino Americans are second only to the Chinese among Asian Americans. Nearly 300,000 are dual citizens, eligible to vote in both the Philippines and the United States.
They get a preview of what’s to come in November.
The two systems are practically mirror images of what’s happening in American democracy.
Consider these themes:
An outside force challenging a gridlocked political establishment that can’t get anything done.
A say-anything candidate who manages to alienate his way into the hearts of voters.
A tough guy who will claim he’ll make the country great again.
U.S. politics? Philippine politics?
It was bound to coincide in this strange way.
After decades of colonialism, imperial America decided to let go of its colony but not before giving it a democracy that is just like ours.
So-called “Little Brown Brother,” playing government in our image, an everlasting colonial remnant.
It hasn’t really worked out, considering years of dictatorship under Marcos, all of it stamped by Presidents Reagan and Bush the First, with America’s approval.
It did bring about People Power and Cory Aquino. But while the country has been on the upswing, it’s still struggling to develop. Now, once again, it’s at a crossroads.
Just like it is in its model-counterpart, America.
One good thing to emerge has been the engagement of Philippine university students worried about the future of their country.
It’s just as we’ve seen this year in the United States as well. Campuses have been a continuous source of hope in a disruptive 2016 campaign.
But it’s the adults who can’t play nicely.
Currently, the top Philippine national pre-election poll looks like this for the top three:
Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, 33 percent.
Sen. Grace Poe with 22 percent.
Sen. Mar Roxas, 20 percent.
If Duterte ends up with 33 percent, less than a majority, he’ll still win.
In 1992, Fidel Ramos won with 23 percent.
That’s one difference between the U.S. and the Philippine system.
Call it the leverage of Philippine democracy, where so little can control so much.
Of course, the last one to win a majority was Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, with more than 53 percent of the vote.
But who knows how many dead people voted in that one.
It’s ironic that the last one to have a majority was a dictator. But just wait, we may be there again.
In the final hours before the vote, the D word has been mentioned again and again.
Only this time it was targeted at the frontrunner Duterte. That makes him double-D dangerous.
He’ll say anything and play to the crowd. Duterte is a popular tough guy who doesn’t mind a salty joke. Recently, Duterte told a rape joke and his numbers went higher.
Duterte’s appeal is law and order. But he’ll do so in extra-legal ways, which means he’s willing to dispense with the law. Human Rights Watch connects him with “death squads.” The Davao Death Squad is linked to more than 1,400 deaths. And it’s not just criminals and drug lords and gang members. Innocents die in Mindinao, including more than 100 children.
It doesn’t sound right, but people are attracted to Duterte because he gets things done. He’s not seen as the incompetent, do-nothing establishment.
Even in the democracy made in America’s image, people are tired of the right way. They want someone to fix things. They want change. Voters are choosing the outsider Duterte.
My colleague Rodel Rodis, a supporter of Sen. Mar Roxas, who is the grandson of a former Philippine president and a member of the elite political establishment, sees this scenario. Since Duterte has promised to include three Communists in his cabinet, it may not fly with the anti-Communist military.
If there is a coup and Duterte is deposed, the likely vice president is Bong-Bong Marcos, son of the dictator.
And the pendulum has swung back in time.
Everything old is new again.
Are we at a crossroads? It really sounds like we are in reverse when it comes to just about everything in the world of democracy.
In America, the gains of civil rights in the ’60s are being eroded. Affirmative action is seen as a bad word. We’ve gone from yes to no in 50 years.
Immigration rights won in 1965? Now Trump wants a wall. Family unification? Brother-sister preferences? Gone.
Voting rights? There’s a move to make it all harder to have your say.
It’s not just a democratic trend in the Philippines. It seems to be the democratic trend everywhere, backwards, away from the greater good.
Emil Guillermo is a veteran journalist and commentator. He blogs at www.aaldef.org/blog.