Monday, March 23, 2009

The long, long list

Those who have been regular readers of Malaya and this space will recall our articles on the ten presidentiables (I still wonder at the grammatical precision of that description, but language and communication is a dynamic thing, so there). It started with “The Hamlet Act” of Joseph Ejercito Estrada, 13th President of the Philippines, (08 Jan 2009) and the second to be ousted from office by what savants call “people power”. It ended with an article on “The atypical Ping” (12 Feb 2009). In all, I wrote about ten of these men and a woman who would be president, if they could.

Many, in person, by mail or phone, have reacted in a variety of opinions. Three embassies have asked for copies of the entire set. I furnished them the articles on the ten, including the two follow-up articles on “The Leader We Need” (13 Feb 2009), and “Is There No one Else?” (17 Feb 2009, the title taken from the daring Achilles in the movie “Troy”). Erap loyalists have debated with me on the “legality” of their champion’s running; many agreed with my observations about Chiz Escudero. Some said I was too kind to the persons they disliked. And while I was particularly harsh against cowboy-in-a-chopper Manny Villar’s credentials for the presidency, no one wrote or talked to dispute my observations. Senator Loren called me to express thanks for an article that was “objective” and “did not pander”, which I truly appreciate. Senator Dick thanked me in writing, while at the same time lamenting that our politics has become as “pera-pera” as I had observed in another article. Common friends I share with Mar Roxas generally agreed with what I wrote. BF personally acknowledged the article on him, but I sensed that he was not exactly too happy with how I assessed his chances. Well, true friends always tell the truth to those they consider their friends. In 2004, I seriously talked to three people about being the vice-presidential team-mate of Ping Lacson. One of them was Bayani, and he retains my personal respect and admiration as the most principled of all three. But politics, as even Andrew Lloyd Weber memorialized in “Evita”, is “the art of the possible”. Still and all, if Bayani wants to buck the odds, and persists in running with his advocacy of “kaayusan”, I will respect that. The arithmetic of winning isn’t all that matters.

In the article entitled “Is There No One Else”, I mentioned the other names being floated --- Gilbert Teodoro who on the day the article was printed had not yet admitted he was seriously seeking “GMA’s endorsement”, Gov. Ed Panlilio of Pampanga, Gov. Grace Padaca of Isabela, Naga City Mayor Jesse Robredo. At the time of that writing, Quezon City Mayor Sonny Belmonte had already publicly (and wisely) eschewed any presidential plans for 2010. I devoted most of that article to Chief Justice Reynato Puno, the only man for whom a major presidential contender, Senator Ping Lacson, publicly announced his willingness to defer and support. But I also realistically cautioned the highly respected and erudite chief magistrate of the land about my personal experience with the putative presidential candidacy of a predecessor of his, Marcelo B. Fernan of Bogo in northern Cebu.

My good friend and opinion research specialist, Pepe Miranda, who humbly describes himself as a perennial “student” of politics, has a take on Puno’s first name --- Reynato, from the root words “rey” which is Spanish for king, and “nato” from “natal”, which speaks of birth. “Reynato---born to be king?”, Pepe asked philosophically in a recent meeting.

Yet, the tale of the survey numbers do not show that electoral probability at this point, even Pepe admits. The mostly uninformed masa of this benighted land can hardly distinguish between a good Puno and another they clearly reject. The Chief Justice and Ronnie the Tree, eminence grise to Dona Gloria y su esposo, are not even remotely related. One is “punong hitik ng bungang matamis”, and the other is well, “basta punong-puno” (of what, ask Mon Tulfo).

But politics is “the art of the possible”, and anything can yet catapult the good magistrate to the highest post in the land, perhaps to put order to the anarchy of hopelessness which has become the indelible legacy of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the fortunate woman who has reigned over this most unfortunate episode in our nation’s formal democracy.

Since those 12 articles written in the space of a month and a half, there have been others who, by themselves or through “feelers” and spokesmen, have admitted their long-held secret desires, their moist eyes, as friend Rene Saguisag used to describe, for the presidency of the land. From ten, it has now become a long, long list.

Gilbert Teodoro, son of the recently departed and highly respected former administrator of the Social Security System, Gilberto Sr., and gentle lady to the manor born, Ditas Cojuangco-Teodoro, sister of empire-builder Eduardo Murphy Cojuangco Jr., has finally thrown his hat into the ring, not under the political tent of the Nationalist People’s Coalition where his uncle Danding is “boss”, founder and owner, but under Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s, “his” president’s hem. Can late-comers still outsprint everyone else? Can Secretary Teodoro, pole-vault into the big time, using the awfully short pole of Dona Gloria? Vamos a ver.

There is even Mike Velarde, Brother Mike to his El Shaddai prayer partners, who Bishop Ted Bacani, their adviser, praises as having the makings of “a good president”, but who pines for the formal endorsement of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, though none is forthcoming, and none is possible.

There is Bro. Eddie Villanueva of Bangon Pilipinas and the Jesus is Lord Movement, who a confidant told me recently will “definitely” seek the presidency once more, after failing in the same quest in 2004.

Of course there is the ridiculous quest of Ephraim Genuino, once El Esposo’s “best” friend, now probably estranged by “particion de bienes” , which his satraps claim is “for real”. Last Saturday, he fouled up traffic in Manila because of a Pagcor-sponsored “Grand Batang Iwas-Droga” (BIDA) at Roxas Boulevard and the Quirino Grandstand. “Bida” of course was Ephraim the Genuine, with his genuine billions in gambling money. He received a supposed certification from Guinness Book of World Records, that almanac of the abnormal. Maybe Genuino will next get his Pagcor to sponsor the world’s largest calamay (guaranteed to get him the votes of Candon in Ilocos Sur), or the world’s longest bangus grill (not guaranteed to get him the votes of Dagupan, lest Archbishop Oscar Cruz leave his beloved flock to the fires of eternal damnation). This Filipino fascination for the Guinness almanac of the abnormal leaves me cold --- it is as absurd as absurd can ever be.

Tell you what, Genuine. A creative friend of mine who likes gambling, er, gaming, “enthused” at the prospects of you running for president, has already conjured a campaign tagline --- “Huwag isugal ang kinabukasan!” That is followed by the Pagcor vizier pulling down a slot machine lever, and the words, “Tiyak ang panalo kay Genuino” comes out. He, he, he. That’s for laughs, but can you imagine a country where someone like Ephraim has chutzpah to the max? Only in da Pilipins.

As if Erap, Noli, Loren, Ping, Mar, Manny, Chiz, along with Bayani, Jobama and Dick are not a crowd, we now add to the ever-lengthening list Bro. Mike and Bro. Eddie, Gilbert and Ephraim, for a total of 14. But wait! There’s more.

Over the weekend, the governor of jueteng-ridden Pampanga, the priest who defeated Lilia Pineda of jueteng fame and Mark Lapid of gravel and sand, now confesses that he hears a cacophony of voices urging him to run, and as the people’s voice is the voice of God, who is he to close his ears to that? The man his province-mates call Among Ed is the latest entrant into the sweepstakes.

His credentials? He was a giant-killer. Pressed by Pampanga civil society to run for governor because they abhorred the prospect of jueteng queen or another three years of a gravel-and-sand business prince lording it over their flatlands, they came together in 2007, supported by media, and succeeded magnificently. Then, in his first few months in office, Panlilio collected ten times more than his predecessor Lapid ever collected for the provincial coffers in all of one year from the bounty of lahar sand left by Pinatubo’s eruption. But running a province is not just collecting honestly from lahar deposits, it is much more, and many who swore by Panlilio a year ago are now dismayed at his utter lack, or so they say, of administrative capabilities. But his believers are undaunted, and they have already chosen, or so Sunday’s news claim, Isabela Gov. Grace Padaca to be Among Ed’s vice-presidential partner. That should be a first in Philippine history, a friend observed --- a bachelor and a single lady. We’ve had a widow, we’ve had a widower when they ran for president, but a singles team is something new. Of course, that is really irrelevant.

So Gov. Panlilio is Number 15 in the long, long list. The central pitch of his supporters led by Kaya Natin is for the election of a “non-trapo”. But how does one define the pejorative “trapo”? Does participation in electoral politics on a national scale ipso facto make one a “trapo”? My definition of “trapo”, and I’ve used it often in this space myself, is a politician who uses his office for transactional purposes, mostly for selfish pecuniary reasons, or for more power. Surely there are at least two out of the survey’s seven top-rated contenders who have not enriched themselves in office, and who have not pulled out “cookies” from the kaban ng bayan. One contender has even abnegated himself from the use of the pork barrel, and even as a police chief, was sui generis in refusing jueteng payola. I have not heard that another senator who comes from an old-rich clan has ever made a dirty centavo in his life. Are these two “trapos” by the standards of Kaya Natin and like-minded individuals?

Even Sen. Kiko Pangilinan derides “trapos”, while reacting in support of a Panlilio-led coalition. “We must seek alternatives to trapo politics and politics as usual”, Kiko said. How does Kiko look at himself? He has been using his pork barrel for the last seven years of his life. The gentleman from Pampanga and Pasay (by affinity) has shifted from pro-Gloria to somewhat anti-Gloria, and by dining company, is ensconced in the Villar camp, although he is a Liberal Party member. Is this being “non-trapo”?

But let’s get real, and let’s get back to political arithmetic. In one of the research briefings I recently attended, someone asked a respected purveyor of political surveys if there was a chance for someone like Gilbert Teodoro to yet make it among the lead pack. He asked his assistant to flash the results of the latest survey on senatorial preferences. Senatorial, not presidential. And Secretary Teodoro had awareness of 25%, with only 1.6% of the electorate expressing their willingness to list him among a maximum of 12 choices. I wonder how he would fare if his name is next included in the second quarter surveys, presidential, no longer senatorial.

I may be wrong, but on the assumption that we will have the chance to elect a president in May of 2010, as scheduled by our yet unchanged Constitution, we will have to watch the tale of the surveys between now and September this year, among Noli and Loren, Ping and Mar, Manny and Chiz, not to forget Erap. None of these men and a lady are flawless. Some in my book are too transactional, and some in my book are crooks. Some, to be kind, are with little competence. Now add to that their lack of character, and you have some among the seven one ought never in several lifetimes support.

But some among the seven, taken from the prism of better rather than flawless, instead of using the lesser evil yardstick, are worth pinning our hopes upon. Assuming, as I said, that we will be able to elect a president under this Constitution on May of 2010. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has many tricks up her sleeves, and these should unveil in the next thirteen months.

The sectors who pine for alternative and reform politics, as they alternately call it, really betray a disaffection with the system, and I commiserate. Time and again in this space and in roundtable discussions, I have decried the bankruptcy of the system, especially when it is taken over by incompetents, charlatans, or worst, persons of amoral character, as in the present. What the polity of this land needs badly is some kind of political lobotomy, a temporary catharsis that would presage a genuinely democratic system where meaningful reforms could be institutionalized. But as the electoral fever catches on, the chances of upheaval become more and more remote.

“It ain’t over till the fat lady sings”, is a cliché repeated when using opera as metaphor. In the tragic comedy that is the Philippine polity, we will have to watch what the little lady does or hides, says or whispers, assembles or dissembles, as she pirouettes atop the tips of bayonets.