Monday, January 19, 2009

Say Chiz, and what do you get?

L’enfant merveilleuse of the 2007 senatorial elections was undoubtedly Francis Escudero. Running as part of a ticket with stellar re-electionists and balik-senadores as Loren Legarda, Ping Lacson, Manuel Villar, and on the other side, with Joker Arroyo, Edgardo Angara and even Tito Sotto (who lost even if in two previous elections, he was among the top), Chiz won spectacularly, placing number two, although prior surveys done in 2006 showed him barely making it.

Of course Sonny Trillanes was the biggest surprise in that contest, considering that he ran without physically campaigning, being in the prison cell of La Gloria and her Esperon. But because of that incarceration, and his involvement in the failed November 29, 2007 enterprise at the Manila Peninsula, Sonny’s star has been hibernating in the political galaxy.

There is no major legislation attributed to Escudero, whether as congressman of three terms or in the past two years that he has been senator. But as minority floor leader and therefore the captain ball of the first impeachment complaint against GMA, principally arising from the revelations contained in the Hello Garci tapes, Chiz shone because of his quick wits and gift of articulation. A respected columnist calls him “glib”, which indicates verbosity with little profundity. Whatever one may think of the fellow though, he impresses, and has the ability to say something about an issue without necessarily taking firm positions.

He has been agile at political brinkmanship. In his first term as congressman of Sorsogon’s first district, Escudero was drafted by President Estrada’s son, JV Ejercito, into a team of administration defenders called “Bright Boys”, as counterfoil to the so-called “Spice Boys”, Joker Arroyo’s youthful gang of oppositionists in Congress. And there Chiz was, until the rug was pulled from under Erap’s feet in Edsa Dos.

In 2001, when Gloria had already become president, he easily won re-election in his district, and stayed rather low-profile until 2004 when he was chosen by his wedding godfather, Fernando Poe Jr., to be his campaign spokesman against GMA, his godmother. As FPJ was reticent about public speech, it came upon Escudero’s prodigious abilities to carry the brunt of speaking for the candidate, while breezing through his re-election to a final term. This public impression about his speaking abilities was bolstered by his election as minority floor leader, even as his NPC fellows led by Gilbert Teodoro chose to remain firmly in alliance with GMA.

Then, in 2005, Hello Garci came to town, and Escudero, being the minority floor leader in Congress where impeachment complaints are filed, rose to the opportunity. He was all over the news as the scandal played, along with its thrashing by bribery and pressure. Chiz found a cause, and played it to the hilt. He parlayed this into a successful run for senator in 2007.

Pre-campaign surveys were not as favourable to his chances as his fellow in the lower house, Alan Peter Cayetano, the motor mouth who threw everything against el fabuloso esposo de Dona Gloria, including a money-laundering charge involving a Bavarian bank. But Chiz capitalized on his youthful looks and a youth-attractive message in his advertisements, along with a personal machinery that delivered well. Thus, from a mere number 12-15 in the pre-campaign surveys, he quickly zoomed into an eventual Numero Dos in the senatorial derby, after Loren Legarda.

He became the Ways and Means chair of the Senate, not necessarily as high-profile as Blue Ribbon or as network-functional as Education or Health, but performed well in the never-ending investigations of the Senate on the un-ending scandals of the regime. He was called upon by most broadcast stations to make comments on practically everything, which suited his uncanny ability at thinking on his feet, and in turn kept him very visible in the public eye. Thus, when his name was included in the potential sweepstakes for the presidential trophy of 2010, his ratings quickly rose. As vice-presidential candidate though, the same surveys deem him to be virtually unbeatable in a field that includes fellow senators like Kiko Pangilinan, Jinggoy Estrada, Bong Revilla and Noynoy Aquino.

Because survey ratings have become the major determinant of national candidacies in our politically immature system, Escudero’s party, the Nationalist People’s Coalition of Ambassador Danding Cojuangco has of late flexed its rather atrophied muscles in reaction, and seems determined to field him or Loren, preferably both in tandem with each other as its standard-bearer in 2010. But while La Loren might (just might) be willing to slide down to vice-president to an Erap Estrada, a public offer she has incipiently denied though, it seems unlikely that she would be willing to be Chiz’ second lead in 2010. Already, Escudero has been shooting political commercials due for telecast soon. The 2008 last quarter SWS survey shows him behind snapshot leaders Noli de Castro, Loren Legarda and Manny Villar, who all had television ads at the time. Let’s see who among the candidates will have the best TV ad, which by the looks of it, is all it takes to inspire the voters of the benighted land.

If older and wiser political sachems could prevail upon Escudero to bide his time, youth being on his side, he would make a formidable candidate for vice-president to any of the presidential wannabes. Political handlers of Erap, or Ping, Mar or Loren would certainly rate him top choice for vice-president. Manny Villar would have wanted Chiz on his side as well, until the young senator decided to dump him in favour of the new majority which elected Juan Ponce Enrile to the presidency of the Senate wracked by Villar’s “C-5 at Taga” problem.

While his youth (he will turn 40, the constitutional age requirement for a president or vice-president, in October 2009) could be used as sharp definition vis-a-vis other presidentiables, it could also be used as argument by political match-makers and the public itself to press him to meantime accept second spot. Escudero’s handlers declare that their man would prefer to run now, “before he succumbs to the system”. Well, that system is indeed rotten, and one wonders how anyone who has thrived within the system for the past 11 years of his political life, young though he is, could hope to be less infected by its virus if he was on top of it, rather than 7 years henceforth.

Indeed those who do not like the young Escudero describe him as so young, so bright, and yet so trapo. But as much as I would not have reason to bash him so, this perception is clearly not the public’s present judgment of Chiz.

Yet, running for senator or vice-president is not as scrutinized as when one runs for president. In the aftermath of the most transactional regime the country has had to suffer, questions will be asked about Chiz’ perceived closeness to so-called “pacmans” like his party chief, Danding Cojuangco and his corporate genius, Ramon Ang, or “taipans” like Lucio Tan, as well as to ports magnate and current presidential crony Ricky Razon.

The worst political scenario of 2010 for a promising young man like Chiz would be if he is traded off like some chattel by these or other fabulously rich men, in all sorts of compromises. Already, there is talk that a now-very-rich Chinoy business wheeler-dealer is openly endorsing a “Unity Ticket” with Chiz for president, Loren or Noli as vice-president, and a senatorial line-up composed of GMA officials like Ace Durano, Art Yap, Peter Favila, Jesli Lapuz, Pingkoy Duque, Nonoy Andaya, and six supposedly from the “opposition”, including the likes of Adel Tamano, Grace Poe Llamanzares, Darlene Antonino-Custodio, and others not yet firmly ensconced within Manny Villar’s Nacionalista camp. The political chopsuey makes for good story, but surely Chiz knows, for the sake of his own future, that while it may be good for those senatorial wannabe’s, it will expose his oppositionist colours to perfidy.

Change, the more real and meaningful it will be, shall be the defining message of 2010. That political crap about “unity” after nine long years of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, will be precisely that --- crap.

The awful state of governance that he would inherit from his Ninang Gloria would require a major transformation, in fact, a revolutionary overhaul of the rotten system in which transactional politics and its attendant corruption thrive. Chiz, while relatively unscathed by corruption, is not known to be a crusader for such “holy” causes. As every other candidate will present either serious platform or a parody of one, he or she shall be judged, rightly or wrongly by the electorate, in terms of his or her ability to deliver on the same. Track record will be matched against promise, at least as far as the usual gate-keepers of public opinion are concerned. And in a closely-contested match among many candidates, they would matter, as contra-distinguished from the 1998 election of Estrada which, the moment Gloria chose to slide down to Joe de V’s veep, was a no-contest.

The major concerns of the electorate in 2010 will be how to survive, given the depressing economic conditions, as well as corruption of epidemic proportions. Unlike Mar Roxas, who has served in cabinet as trade minister, or Manny Villar, who has enriched himself beyond the dreams of most every other mortal, Escudero may be considered still lacking in experience on the economy, or what people at least perceive economics to be. Unlike Lacson, who has made the fight against corruption his flagship issue, and by example has abnegated his share of the pork barrel, Chiz has yet to carve name for himself, his most memorable legislative performance, failed though it was, being the captain ball of the first impeachment complaint (the one that almost made it) against his own ninang sa kasal.

But, and this is not meant to denigrate him --- six more years as a vice-president, with a president who could give him an important post, such as DILG or justice secretary, or a succession of high-profile cabinet assignments, the better to train him for the highest responsibility in the land, should leave no further doubts about this young man’s capability. As earlier written, he will not yet be 41 if he is sworn into office on June 30, 2010, and still a young 46 by 2016.

One must credit Chiz for playing his political cards very well, and whether the other presidential “moist-eyes” like it or not, he has become a major player for 2010.