‘Widow candidate’ tradition in Philippines’ deadly polls

Gertrudes Batocabe never wanted to enter the Philippines’ cutthroat politics, but after her husband was shot dead, allegedly by a rival in midterm elections taking place on May 13, she felt bound to take his place. (AFP)
Updated 11 May 2019

‘Widow candidate’ tradition in Philippines’ deadly polls

  • Over 18,000 seats, ranging from local councils to the upper house Senate, are up for grabs
  • Political widowhood reached its apogee in the Philippines in 1986, when Corazon Aquino took power after a bloodless revolt that toppled the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos

MANILA: Gertrudes Batocabe never wanted to enter the Philippines’ cutthroat politics, but after her husband was shot dead, allegedly by a rival in next week’s midterm election, she felt bound to take his place.
“It’s not really automatic that the wife takes over, but in this case I cannot see my opponents sitting down (quitting)” she told AFP, holding back tears.
“I have a lot of things to do for Rodel, for the people of Daraga,” she said, referring to her husband and the central city where she is running for mayor.
In taking over his candidacy, Batocabe was among at least half a dozen women standing in for their slain husbands this year — a long tradition in the Philippines’ notoriously deadly politics.
Dozens of people, including candidates and their supporters, routinely get killed in the fierce competition for elected posts that are a source of wealth in a nation with deep poverty.
Over 18,000 seats, ranging from local councils to the upper house Senate, are up for grabs when the nation’s more than 61 million voters are called to cast ballots on Monday.
One widow styled her campaign as a quest for justice for her husband, who was murdered last year after announcing plans to run for mayor in Trece Martires, a city south of Manila.
“My name is Gemma Lubigan. I will take up the fight of Vice-Mayor Alex Lubigan,” she told a cheering crowd at a recent campaign rally.
A political rival, the sitting mayor of Trece Martires, was initially fingered as a suspect, but prosecutors have declined to file charges.
Political widowhood reached its apogee in the Philippines in 1986, when Corazon Aquino took power after a bloodless popular revolt that toppled the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
The upheaval was triggered by the 1983 assassination of her opposition leader husband Benigno Aquino at the hands of security forces loyal to Marcos, forcing her into politics.
In the Philippines, widow candidates carry a powerful aura of suffering and perseverance that resonates with voters in the overwhelmingly Catholic nation, experts say.
“It works especially in the Philippine context because widowhood has symbolic elements that are very much valued in politics,” said University of the Philippines political science professor Jean Franco told AFP.
The Philippines also lacks a strong party system so family dynasties play a similar role, with wives called on to assume the clan’s figurehead position after a slaying.

Some of Asia’s most powerful political families have been marked by the same phenomenon. India’s Sonia Gandhi was pushed into politics after her husband, former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, was assassinated.
Benazir Bhutto led Pakistan’s return to democracy about a decade after her father was ousted as prime minister in a coup and subsequently executed.
Political analyst Franco said the rise of the Philippine widows also marks a way into the nation’s male-dominated political area.
“Many of our female politicians, especially at the local level, are members of political dynasties,” she added.
Before Rodel’s murder, the plan was for the Batocabes to groom their first-born son, a newly minted lawyer, to follow his father’s footsteps into politics.
But that changed after Rodel, who was an ally of President Rodrigo Duterte, was gunned down days before Christmas while handing out gifts to elderly and disabled Daraga residents.
The incumbent mayor of Daraga is charged with orchestrating the killing, leaving Batocabe acutely aware of the risks she faces in running.
“I’m careful, is the word, but I’ve been given so much protection by the president,” she said, referring to an armed security detail.


Britain’s Johnson plays down Brexit breakthrough hopes

Updated 13 October 2019

Britain’s Johnson plays down Brexit breakthrough hopes

  • EU leaders will meet on Thursday and Friday for a summit held under the pressures of the October 31 Brexit deadline

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson played down hopes Sunday of a breakthrough in his last-ditch bid to strike an amicable divorce deal with the European Union.
Negotiators went behind closed doors for intensive talks in Brussels after Johnson outlined a new set of proposals to Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on Thursday.
They have very little time left to succeed.
EU leaders will meet on Thursday and Friday for a summit held under the pressures of the October 31 Brexit deadline just two weeks away.
The 27 would ideally like to have a full proposal to vote on by then.
But the sides are trying to achieve in a few days what they had failed to in the more than three years since Britons first voted to leave the European Union after nearly 50 years.
Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier called the weekend negotiations “constructive” enough to keep going for another day.
“A lot of work remains to be done,” Barnier stressed in a statement to EU ambassadors.
“Discussions at technical level will continue (Monday).”
Downing Street said Johnson also told his cabinet to brace for a cliff-hanger finish.
He reiterated “that a pathway to a deal could be seen but that there is still a significant amount of work to get there and we must remain prepared to leave on October 31,” a Downing Street spokesman said.
Johnson rose to power in July on a promise not to extend Brexit for a third time this year — even for a few weeks.
Breaking that pledge could come back to haunt him in an early general election that most predict for the coming months.
Johnson is under parliamentary orders to seek a extension until January 31 of next year if no deal emerges by Saturday.
He has promised to both follow the law and get Britain out by October 31 — a contradiction that might end up being settled in court.
Outgoing EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker said British politics were getting more difficult to decipher than the riddle of an “Egyptian sphinx.”
“If the British ask for more time, which they probably will not, it would in my view be a historical nonsense to refuse them,” Juncker told Austria’s Kurier newspaper.
Ireland’s Varadkar hinted on Thursday that he could support the talks running on up to the October 31 deadline if a deal seemed within reach.
The few details that have leaked out suggest a compromise around the contentious Irish border issue Britain’s Northern Ireland partially aligned with EU customs rules.
Whether such a fudge suits both Brussels and the more ardent Brexit backers in parliament who must still approve a deal should become clearer by the end of the week.
Britain will only avoid a chaotic breakup with its closest trading partners if the agreement is also passed by the UK parliament — something it has failed to do three times.
Johnson heads a minority government and must rely on the full backing of not only his own fractured Conservatives but also Northern Ireland’s small Democratic Unionist Party.
DUP’s parliamentary leader Nigel Dodds warned Johnson that “Northern Ireland must remain entirely in the customs union of the United Kingdom” and not the EU.
“And Boris Johnson knows it very well,” Dodds told Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper.
The comments do not necessarily rule out DUP support.
UK media are presenting Johnson’s mooted compromise as a “double customs” plan that could be interpreted to mean that Northern Ireland is leaving EU rules.
Yet details are still under discussion and the prime minister’s allies are urging lawmakers to give the British leader a chance.
Main opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn signalled Sunday that he would wait for the outcome of the EU summit before trying to force an early election.
But he added that there was “a strong possibility” that those polls would come before the Christmas break.