AT what point in the recent election cycle did the voters decide to vote against the Aquino-endorsed candidate with finality? Meaning, the firming up of the decision to reject the Aquino clone and put a stop to another six years of Aquinomics and the like?
My take is this. When the Bureau of Customs did the insane thing of inspecting balikbayan boxes with an eye to imposing a levy. I think it was at that point that the Filipinos transitioned from doubters to outright rejectionists. Then said “Enough.”
Take note of the following.
The candidates most identified as the anti-Aquino—Mr. Duterte and Mr. Marcos—won the overseas voting. That sector is the country’s de facto middle class, the voting segment that is supposed to vote wisely and with much discernment. That is the same sector exposed to cosmopolitan views and serious political discourse. Aspirational is the term that can apply to Filipino working and living overseas. As such, they were supposed to identify more with Mr. Roxas’ promise of growth and prosperity than with Mr. Duterte’s “kill the criminals” meme.
Yet, they junked Mr. Roxas and voted for the team that represented the anti-thesis to Mr. Roxas. The team is now called by overseas voters as the ALL-DUB, All for Duterte and Bongbong. And many admit the plan of the Aquino-Roxas government to inspect and tax the boxes that they have been sending to their families back home from the time Ka Blas Ople institutionalized overseas employment was what made them turn their backs on the administration candidate.
If that government were really great and cognizant of the toil of the OFWs, it can’t be wrapped up in too much callousness, they argued. That overseas outrage then spilled over into the vote-rich areas where the OFW families have been concentrated from time immemorial. Woe to the Aquino-Roxas Bros.
If you map the country, this geographical fact stands out. The bulk of the balikbayan boxes sent in from overseas (whether the boxes are from North America or the Middle East) goes to three areas: Metro Manila, Southern Tagalog and Central Luzon. In a presidential contest, you can afford to lose in all areas of the country except these three. These are the areas with the biggest number of voters and they are also the Axis of the OFWs.
Mr. Roxas lost in all of the three major balikbayan box destinations—and lost the elections.
Before the insane idea to inspect and impose duties on balikbayan boxes was conceived, the feeling that the Aquino government was not really concerned about the plight and travails of the ordinary citizens was widely shared. The callousness toward ordinary lives—the underclass, the middle class and whatever was not in the Top 1 percent—was somehow obscured by the incessant chorus from Big Media and so-called civil society about the supposed strides on the economic front and the successes against official corruption. But the anger and alienation was real. It just needed one triggering mechanism to set it off.
What the assault on the balikbayan box did was to elevate that simmering anger into a boiling point, which then exploded in the form of OFW outrage on social media. Even on mainstream media, the opposition was unanimous. I wrote a column “The regime’s inexorable march to idiocy” after the assault on the balikbayan boxes.
The assault on the beloved boxes was not a tactical blunder, an outlier move on the part of the Aquino administration that triggered widespread public revulsion. It did not deviate from the firm policy of shafting the sectors below the Top 1 percent and placing the burdens of taxes and levies on them. A token reduction of tax rates on the wage earners was unacceptable. Granting the Top 1 percent the exclusive rights to bid on the P1.4 trillion PPP projects, and get all the breaks from this exclusivity, is ideal policy.
Those charged with tax evasion were really the SMEs, and those investors in tough-luck areas where investments never come. Pawnshop owners, even those tooling around in Lamborghinis are not part of the 1 percent. They are just small-time millionaires with showboating characters. The Top 1 percent, and not the middle-class far, far below the 1 percent, are the big-time tax evaders. Yet, no one has been hauled to the courts to face charges.
Lies and deception, according to the Bard, end up badly. Six years of bludgeoning and shafting the underclass and the middle class did not end well for the Aquino administration and its grand idea of political succession. As voters went to the polls the basic acts of cruelty, such as the planned inspection and levy on balikbayan boxes, were well remembered.
Mr. Roxas lost in the Axis of the OFW power. He lost the presidential elections.