ON DISTANT SHORE: 35 lost years; want six more?

After weeks of dazzling display of drama, lies and hypocrisy, we now have the final line-up of candidates in the May 2022 national elections.

Since filing her candidacy for reelection as Davao City mayor in October, presidential daughter Sara Duterte-Carpio for the most part has kept her silence amid speculations that it was a ruse to distract the opposition from her true intention – that of running for president to replace her father. She had insisted she would not seek a higher position and that she would just continue the programs she had started as Davao City mayor.

Her father, President Rodrigo Duterte, also kept the people and his supporters guessing as to whether he would indeed retire from politics after his term as he had repeatedly said, substitute for his longtime aide Sen. Bong Go for vice president as he also had said months ago, or run for senator as his other aide, Sen. Bato de la Rosa, had announced.

Apparently, Duterte was awaiting the decision of Sara so he could make his final decision before the deadline for substitution on Monday, Nov. 15. My take was that he tried to convince his daughter to run for president under the PDP-Laban and possibly invite Bongbong Marcos to run as Sara’s vice president under the PDP-Laban. Both De la Rosa and Go were obviously just what they were – placeholders for Sara and Bongbong, or possibly Pacquiao, if they could still convince him to rejoin the party.

De la Rosa made it so obvious by repeatedly saying he was willing to withdraw in favor of Sara or anyone the party decided to endorse. Go, however, looked like he was a real candidate, traveling around the country to open Malasakit Centers.

In the meantime, the wheeling-and-dealings were going on, some behind the scene, the others made to look like coincidental meetings. When Bongbong and Sara crossed paths in Cebu on Oct. 23, we were given a not-so-subtle hint something was going on. Still, Sara kept her silence while the Marcos camp described it as a “beautiful coincidence.”

Shortly thereafter, Sara said the Hugpong ng Pagbabago, the regional party she founded, would support Bongbong for president.

Last Tuesday, Sara’s younger brother, Sebastian, withdrew his COC for vice mayor without any explanation, although it was clear the siblings were up to something. After that, things moved in dizzying speed. That same day, Sara, followed suit and withdrew her own COC for reelection and Sebastian substituted for her for mayor.

A third giveaway was when Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, a close ally of both Sara and former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, “speculated” that the Davao mayor was “moving towards the presidency” after Sara withdrew her COC for mayor. He said Sara would most probably run for president under the Lakas-CMD, which is co-chaired by Arroyo.

Sara resigned from HNP Thursday morning and a few hours later, was sworn in as a Lakas-CMD member by party president, Rep. Francis Martin Romualdez, witnessed by party co-chair Sen. Bong Revilla.

With Bongbong and Sara walking together as principal sponsors in the wedding of Revilla’s daughter, everybody was certain the two would pair up for the May elections. But who would run for president and who for vice president remained unclear.

The next day, nearly half of Congress congregated on Balesin Island to attend the birthday party of Speaker Lord Alan Velasco. Sara went directly to Balesin from Cavite, flying on a private plane with De la Rosa, who also attended the Revilla wedding and who was photographed carrying Sara’s bags emerging from the plane.

That same morning, a reliable source said Arroyo would also be in Balesin and would, in fact, be there to broker an alliance between Bongbong and Sara. She had apparently hoped and promised Sara she would be the standard bearer and Bongbong would agree to be her running mate. Ominous, hoever, was the absence of Bongbong in Balesin.

After Quezon Gov. Danilo Suarez, another close ally of Arroyo, hinted that a power-sharing between Sara and Bongbong were possible, the latter immediately reassured his supporters that he would not back down and ruled out power-sharing with Sara, under which Sara would run for president and Bongbong for vice president and if they both won, Sara would step down after three years and yield to Bongbong to finish the six-year term.

Sara, who had already joined Lakas-CMD and had withdrawn from the Davao race, was left with no choice but to slide down to vice president. Later, the Lakas-CMD announced that they would endorse Bongbong for president.

It was certainly a big disappointment for Sara, who tried to play a trick popularized by her father in 2016, when Duterte withdrew his candidacy for Davao mayor and substituted for Martin Dino in the last minute, scuttling opposition strategy. The plan, which was obvious all along, backfired when Bongbong decided to run for president without waiting for her decision.

It was déjà vu for Bongbong, who had to file his candidacy for vice president as an independent and agreed to run as the running mate of the late Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago in 2016 after Duterte dilly-dallied about running for president.

Apparently, Duterte was not aware of these developments. When he was told he would be running against his daughter after he announced he would file his COC for vice president, he wondered: “Nag-file ba siya? Nag-file ba siya?”

Duterte had accompanied Go as he withdrew his COC for vice president and substituted for De la Rosa as the PDP-Laban standard bearer. Bongbong’s insistence on running for president did not go well with Duterte, prompting him to ask Go to run for president, perhaps to spite Marcos or make it a leverage for demanding something from Bongbong in return for the withdrawal of Go’s candidacy, which could split the Mindanao votes.

When he learned that Sara had agreed to slide down to vice president, Duterte blamed the Marcoses. Despite Sara’s refusal to be PDP-Laban’s standard bearer, Duterte had hoped he would be able to convince both Sara and Bongbong to run as president and VP, respectively, under the ruling party.

On the last day for substitution on Monday, Duterte finally filed his COC for senator and endorsed Sara’s candidacy. Endorsement of Bongbong is sure to follow.

In a possible scenario, Marcos would be president; Sara, vice president; Duterte, Senate president; and Arroyo, House Speaker. Now that the cast is complete, we know that the Marcos-Duterte alliance that was forged by Arroyo also cements the larger Marcos-Duterte-Arroyo political dynasty, which ruled the country for a total of 35 years – 20 under Marcos, 9 under Arroyo, and 6 under Duterte. Those were 35 lost years characterized by lies, corruption, iron-fist rules and cozying-up to China that brought the country back to its role as the “sick man of Asia.”

Shall we allow these three families to dominate the country for another six years? It’s all up to us.