Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Would you bet on Erap?

Thursday last week, a favourite cabinet official of former President Joseph Ejercito Estrada motored to the residence of a Catholic charismatic lay leader. They were after all neighbours in an exclusive, gated subdivision in the southern periphery of the national capital region. Together they proceeded to a meeting with the former president who in his prime was quite close to the charismatic figure.

The former president declared before his “spiritual adviser” that he had decided to run for re-election, or another election as he distinguishes it. The lay leader said “hindi ka papasa sa Supreme Court”. For some time, both non-lawyers debated constitutional law, with the former cabinet official, also a non-lawyer, just listening intently.

Erap showed the lay leader a pile of “legal opinions” from a law dean and a retired jurist. Both had achieved high positions in the past. Both left records quite undistinguished of lasting legacy or even erudition. But, they supported the desire of the former president to run once more for the highest post in the land, and assembled arguments in support of a 50-50 chance that another run for the same post would be constitutionally allowed. Yet all those arguments come down to an iteration of the legal maxim of “vox populi, vox Dei”. The voice of the people is the voice of God.

The trick lies in the timeline within which the Comelec and the Supreme Court decide whether or not an Erap re-run is constitutionally infirm. Erap’s legal minds posit that when the High Tribunal sees an avalanche of votes, especially from those my friend Tony Abaya calls the “screaming masa”, the Court is likely to recoil in holy terror, and not rule as immediately as they ought an open and shut case. It should then be overtaken by events, by “vox populi”, which should then make any decision of the tribunal mooted by a political event, which is the victory of then president, and the president-once-more.

Lay leader was on a betting mood. “Pupusta ako hindi ka lulusot sa Supreme Court. Agad-agad magdi-declare ang korte na hindi ka pwedong tumakbo --- that it would be unconstitutional”, the lay leader flatly stated to the disappointed president who once honoured the lay leader publicly as his “spiritual adviser”.

“Gusto mo, ganito”, lay leader added. “Kapag kumandidato ka, at hindi ka na-disqualify ng Comelec at Supreme Court, susuportahan kita. I will endorse you”.

“Pero, pagna-disqualify ka, you will throw your support behind my presidential candidacy”, lay leader dared the former president, his once “spiritual” ward. “Bakit, tatakbo ka rin ba?”, Erap asked.

“Oo”, came the quick reply. “So, if we both run and you are disqualified, you will withdraw and throw your support behind mine. If the Court sustains you, or makes no decision, I will endorse you instead”, the lay leader proposed.

“Call”, Erap reportedly said.

* * *

Would such a scenario come to pass? The lay leader seemed mighty pleased as he recounted his story to others. As I have not had a serious discussion about anything with President Erap since his pardon by GMA, I do not know his version of the “politically spiritual” encounter last week.

It does look like Bro. Mike Velarde is seriously contemplating a presidential run. Why, with Noli, Loren, Villar, Chiz, Ping, Mar, Jojo, Bayani, Dick, Gibo, Among Ed, Manny Pangilinan, Ephraim Genuino, Bro. Eddie Villanueva, and Erap signifying their intent to seek the presidency, why not throw himself into the fray as well? Assuming there are six or seven candidates, as in 1998 and 1992, Bro. Mike’s long shot might be numerically feasible. And what if he wins his bet with Erap?

* * *

Erap may have been trapped into agreeing to Bro. Mike Velarde’s dare, but my guess is he will indeed declare for the presidency, whether on November 30, if the automation program pulls through, or in the first week of February 2010, assuming the same manual system is adopted by the Comelec.

Last Tuesday night, while appearing before Pia Hontiveros’ ANC institution, Strictly Politics, a listener asked the question, “What will the many opposition candidates do if Erap runs?” I answered that Erap’s running is already factored into the decision of many candidates to run nevertheless. My co-panelist, Chito Gascon agreed, stating that the Liberal Party does not take whatever Erap does into its consideration of political moves.

Erap, I noted there, keeps mouthing the blarney that he would run “if the opposition will not unite behind a single candidate”, yet he himself throws his hat and comports himself more like a candidate than the others in the field of “oppositionists”. By positing himself in the picture, he ensures that the opposition will not “unite”, as if that unity in itself, given the circumstances, is not oxymoronic.

What will prune down the list are two and only two factors --- popularity (as measured by Pulse Asia and SWS, as well as candidates’ in-house pollsters) and pesos. The latter also makes it possible to ratchet up popular perception. More advertisement, in this hopelessly low-brow perception game, equals higher popularity rating. Until perhaps the 90-day campaign period, when hopefully voters will think better, and discern more. Hopefully.

But will Erap pursue his candidacy to the end? Again, barring an open-and shut case decision by the High Tribunal, which should end his quest short, Erap would look at the ratings game himself. He has been a serious believer in surveys, by his own admission, since the time he first ran for public office, as mayor of the municipality of San Juan. His brother-in-law, Dr. Raul de Guzman of the UP College of Public Administration (now NCPAG), exerted such scientific influence on him, at a time when opinion polls were not as in as today.

Would Erap in his comeback “movie” get the same “screaming masa” adulation at the tills? I do not believe so.

In much the same manner that there is a prevailing sentiment that asks “Wala na bang iba?”, “Is there no one else?” when people view the landscape sans Erap, all the more will even the lowest in the social structure think twice about a president who’s been there, done that, and blew it.

Sure there are the faithful, the “loyalists” --- just as Ferdinand Marcos, after all of two decades still has. But pity for a fallen idol can only go so far.

Yet the value of an Erap endorsement, given to a congruent candidate whose numbers in the campaign are respectable enough, could perhaps spark a bandwagon for the endorsed. And that is what the former president, in my esteem, will parlay his candidacy into. He will pre-empt even a Supreme Court decision that would be unfavourable to him, and at the right moment, swing in favour of someone.

If that candidate wins, Erap’s image as kingmaker shines. He can ride into the sunset, his dreamt people’s vindication sufficiently satisfied.

But would he listen to reason, from persons who think of country first, and his place in the polity second, his personal vainglory last? It is time perhaps, Mr. President Erap, to introspect, sans your fawning courtiers, and those advisers whose be-all and end-all is just drooling over conjured prospects of “happy days are here again”.