Philippine midterm polls

Duterte's allies set to dominate Senate

Mr Ronald dela Rosa's supporters at an election campaign in Manila earlier this month. The former police chief, who is seeking a seat in the Philippine Senate, is said to have won 18 million votes in this week's election.
Mr Ronald dela Rosa's supporters at an election campaign in Manila earlier this month. The former police chief, who is seeking a seat in the Philippine Senate, is said to have won 18 million votes in this week's election.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Opposition said to have failed to dismantle 'strongman myth' that fuelled President's rise

President Rodrigo Duterte's allies are headed for a sweeping victory in this week's midterm polls, shutting out the opposition in the all-important Senate race amid reports of vote-buying, faulty vote-counting machines and a stalled ballot count.

With nearly 93 per cent of the votes counted, unofficial results showed nine candidates from the Hugpong ng Pagbabago (Caucus for Change) political coalition helmed by Mr Duterte's daughter winning Senate seats.

Twelve seats in the 24-member Senate were up for grabs.

With all but one of the candidates he endorsed landing in the "winning circle", Mr Duterte is assured of a "supermajority" there.

The opposition is down to just four senators, with one, human rights lawyer Leila de Lima, in jail on what she said are trumped-up charges.

Mr Duterte can now bolster his legislative agenda, which includes reinstating the death penalty, lowering the age of criminal liability for child offenders, and revising the 1987 Constitution to allow a shift to a federal form of government.

"Undoubtedly, the Duterte magic spelt the difference," said Mr Duterte's spokesman Salvador Panelo yesterday.


Senator Cynthia Villar, 68, wife of a property developer listed by Forbes magazine as the Philippines' wealthiest, led Mr Duterte's Senate slate, with over 24.4 million votes.

Two of Mr Duterte's closest aides - long-time personal assistant Christopher Go, 44, and former police chief Ronald dela Rosa, 57 - were also guaranteed winners: Mr Go was in third, with 19.9 million votes, and Mr dela Rosa, fifth, with 18 million votes.

Only three candidates who were not part of Mr Duterte's political coalition made it to the Top 12.

Senator Grace Poe, 51, who ran as an independent, placed second, with 21 million votes. She said on Monday that she "doesn't owe anything" to any political patron, and promised to "balance (out the Senate)" in the face of a landslide win by Mr Duterte's allies.

All but two Senate bets from the opposition alliance Otso Diretso (Straight Eight) had conceded defeat by late yesterday afternoon.

Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino, nephew of former president Benigno Aquino and the only opposition candidate still with a chance of winning, was trailing in 14th place.

Ateneo de Manila University's political science teacher Arjan Aguirre said the opposition failed to dismantle the "strongman myth" that has fuelled Mr Duterte's popularity.

"The strategy should have been to attack that narrative of Duterte, that myth, that people cannot just rely on a strongman politician to get what they want in our country," he told the online news site Rappler.

Meanwhile, there were surprises in 16 cities in metropolitan Manila, as some political clans lost their decades-long hold on office to a younger set of candidates.

The family of former president Joseph Estrada, 82, suffered a trouncing. Mr Estrada, who was convicted of plundering the state coffers in 2007 but later pardoned by president Gloria Arroyo, lost his bid to be re-elected mayor of Manila to a 44-year-old former actor. And his family saw their 50-year dominance in San Juan city end, after his granddaughter lost to a long-time political rival.

But two of his sons running for the Senate were fighting for the last seat up for grabs.

And in Pasig city, Mr Vico Sotto, the 29-year-old son of a popular comedian, overthrew a candidate whose family had been in office for 27 years. He had promised voters a "new kind of politics", a message that appeared to resonate in the nation's eighth largest city.

The elections were marred by hundreds of faulty vote-counting machines and a stalled quick count.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 15, 2019, with the headline 'Duterte's allies set to dominate Senate'. Print Edition | Subscribe