How 2021, the Year of Vaccines, Will Set the Tone for the 2022 Elections

Voters are watching.

There's no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic will be the main issue in the 2022 national elections. The first test will come next year, when the Philippines rolls out its vaccination program past the one-year mark of nationwide quarantines, analysts said.

While the pandemic is a public health issue, the timing of the vaccines and more importantly, who gets its first, is a political decision. The first jabs for immunity from SARS-CoV-2 will also set the tone for the return to pre-pandemic life, analysts said.

"Malaking issue sa eleksyon yan," Institute for Political and Electoral Reform Executive Director Ramon Casiple told reportr.

"Aabutin ng panahon ng eleksyon yan and kung mahusay ang hanadling niya posibleng mag-benefit ang kampo niya," he said, referring to President Rodrigo Duterte.

In a "best-case" scenario, the government hopes to get its hands on COVID-19 vaccines by early 2021 and start its immunization program by late March. The initial supply of vaccines is expected to come from China, to which he fostered warmer ties during his presidency.

While no one has been brave enough to declare a 2022 election bid, talks of a possible presidential run for Duterte's eldest daughter Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio have swirled since late 2018 with Palace sources claiming that the 75-year-old President is eyeing to pass the baton to his eldest daughter.

Another rumored presidential candidate is boxing icon turned senator Manny Pacquiao who recently took on the presidency of Duterte's ruling political party PDP-Laban.

President Duterte's handling of the country's COVID-19 vaccination program will set the stage for his "anointed one" in 2022, University of Santo Tomas Department of Political Science chair Dennis Coronacion said.


"All the political talk next year will be about the vaccines and that will set the stage for the climate for 2022," Coronacion told reportr.

"That might not impact his (Duterte) career anymore but it could definitely affect his anointed one in 2022."

With the immunization program expected to coincide with the 2022 elections, Coronacion said vaccines are also at risk of being used in clientelism -- or used as leverage for political support.

"It can follow the pattern na mauna muna yung elite--political elite, business elite, because mag-eeleksyon--and the regular Filipino is left behind," he said, noting the Philippines' history of unequal distribution of state resources and corruption.

"If many countries are already starting their own vaccination programs before the Philippines, Filipinos might feel like they are the underdog."

Until the vaccines reach the Philippines and the government begins its mass immunization program, it remains to be seen how much politics would be involved. But if there's one thing common in both vaccines and elections, Casiple said it's that money and power talks.

"Ang usapin din kasi talaga diyan ay pera," he said. "Who has both is likely the winer."

This story originally appeared on Minor edits have been made by editors.

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