AFTER erroneously challenging a former Supreme Court chief justice to a debate on a topic that the former chief justice knew like the back of his hand, President Duterte did what many people expected him to do: endure the shame of backing off after his challenge was accepted. The President tried insulting former chief justice Antonio Carpio by designating his spokesman Harry Roque to debate in his stead. But the ruse has been exposed.
What the Duterte camp should realize now is that the shame of backing off from the debate and the issue on Chinese incursions into the West Philippine Sea or WPS are not about to go away, especially because the next presidential election is just around the bend. The Duterte camp started on the wrong foot, which is not good in the aspect of propaganda.
Now the pro-Duterte trolls are frantically beating a dead horse, sort of, by targeting former president Noynoy Aquino. But while Noynoy is the symbolic leader of the political opposition, he is not running and can no longer run for president. He is therefore the wrong target. And targeting him exposes the bankruptcy of the Duterte camp’s electoral strategy.
Patriotism will remain to be an issue that will hound the Duterte camp’s campaign and even its allies are starting to distance themselves from the said camp because of it. Manny Pacquiao is the first formerly very loyal ally to do it. Sen. Panfilo Lacson alway had one foot toeing the opposition line. The other presidential wannabes who previously sought the President’s blessing are not defending the President’s wishy-washy stance on China. For them, silence is the better part of valor.
The people’s abhorrence of any pro-China stance will only grow as the elections near. The issue won’t simply go away just because the high-profile debate between Duterte and Carpio was cancelled. It won’t go away no matter how much the pro-Duterte trolls will flog Aquino. The toxic work of the Duterte camp’s propagandists is old hat.
Out of curiosity, I tried checking the reaction to reports about Duterte backing off from the debate challenge he himself posed. The pro-Duterte trolls were outnumbered this time by disorganized critics who simply vented their anger at Duterte. This was a reversal of the situation in 2016, a clear swing to the opposite side of the hand of the pendulum of public opinion. Decent and patriotic forces are now acting up.
I don’t know how this will affect local politics. I know that the dynamics in local politics is different, but one thing is sure: candidates could no longer be bailed out by Duterte fanatics like in the past. Diehard Duterte supporters are a spent force. They still can be toxic in social media but their number has dwindled considerably.
And they have been put on the defensive, especially on the China issue. I doubt if the Duterte camp can recover from the President’s recent missteps on the issue. We haven’t even talked about the administration’s failed effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus that originated in China.