Monday, August 31, 2009

An Erap redux?

On January 8 this year, I began a series on ten presidential wannabe’s, beginning with Joseph Ejercito Estrada, which I entitled “The Hamlet Act”. It has been almost 8 months since that article was printed on this space. Let me reprint an abbreviated version of the same:

Quote the Bard of Avon, “To be or not to be, that is the question” in his well-read Hamlet. For Joseph Ejercito Estrada, dispossessed 13th president of the Republic, that translates into: “To run or not to run, that is the question”.

The ostensible reason behind a run is the threat that if the opposition does not unite, he himself will run. Anybody with two cents worth of political experience knows that the opposition is not going to unite behind one candidate in 2010, and Erap’s premise is ipso facto and ab initio defunct. And the man knows it, but, “just like in the movies”, he has to dissemble.

He has increasingly made his decision to run known to almost every person he has privately talked with. He has moved around the country, in what he bills as “lakbay-pasasalamat” meanderings, because he is “giliw na giliw” with his adoring masa, and the curious throngs that greet him are in turn spun off as “sabik na sabik” for the return to the presidency of the fallen leader. But for the fact that he is not FPJ, an entertainment columnist could as well call an Erap redux as “Ang Pagbabalik ni Panday”. It would be well nigh political sacrilege, at least for this writer, to call it “Ang Pagbabalik ni Asiong Salonga”.

Lately, the private intent has become more publicly disclosed. But a week or so before Erap’s announcement of preference for Loren, the NPC under Ambassador Danding Cojuangco pre-empted him by announcing in its Christmas get-together that they would field a complete slate in 2010, from president to a 12-man senatorial slate, down to the local candidacies. And to head their team would be Francis Escudero and/or Loren Legarda, preferably a team-up of both. The “both” is likely if Chiz agrees to be Loren’s number two; vice-versa, the lady would not agree. (Fast forward to recently --- Erap’s handlers are floating that Chiz is his likely running-mate, but Chiz, who knows his law, merely smiles, confident perhaps that Erap cannot “win”).

Jojo Binay assumed that he would be Erap’s running-mate as the UNO president and Erap’s loyalist sans pareil. Of course, his survey numbers are nowhere as close to Loren’s, at least for the moment. (Jojo’s numbers have increased, and as VP material, he has become viable).

Indeed, Loren was FPJ’s running mate, and insists she too was garcified out of electoral victory by the Gloria-Noli tandem in 2004. She protested all the way to the Supreme Court, but the politics of being in the public eye required her to run for the Senate in 2007. She was Numero Uno, and Chiz was Numero Dos. The impact of their victories still reverberate in the surveys of presidential preferences in 2008.

But then, enter El Erap. After a series of mega-Manila warm-up tours, complete with a campaign truck from which he and his Manong Ernie Maceda shower candies at the children of the gathering lumpen, 1998 style, his name was entered into the surveys by mid-2008. And as expected, he shaved off points from the other presidential wannabes. Three to five points from Noli and Ping Lacson as well, a whisker or two from Chiz and Mar Roxas, hardly any from Manny Villar that his money and his advertisements could not cover, but a decidedly big slice off Loren’s early lead.

To lay his legal predicate, Erap commissioned (hired is not a politically correct term) retired justices and legal minds to reason that he is not covered by the constitutional provision against “any” re-election. I will leave it to the lawyers to debate in the meantime whether Erap’s legal legs are straight or squat.

In any case, the issue will not be before the bench and with the barristers until Erap files his certificate of candidacy, which is at least 90 days before the elections of May, 2010, if at all. The first bench to hurdle is the Commission on Elections, on the proper assumption that someone will go before it to question the validity of his candidacy. If the Commission should decide that Erap is not qualified, then Erap appeals to the highest bench of law.

Meanwhile, the focus of the campaign of 2010 will shift from the “others” and their “platforms and programs”, if any, to the courtroom drama, first before the Comelec, and then to the Supreme Court. Exactly as Erap would want it. It allows him to play underdog, his and the late FPJ’s favourite script in their action movies, “aping-api” throughout the movie, until they prevail against the bad guys in the end. “Tagumpay!” sa takilya, and “just like in the movies”, so also in politics. This has always been Erap’s electoral praxis anyway.

Conveniently, there will be no time for debates (as usual), and this time, apart from the hectic campaign schedule, there is the “inconvenience” of being hobbled by the legal conundrum. Meanwhile, the other candidates are deprived of prime time, as Erap reprises his favourite act. And I can read the script this early. Ninakawan ng tagapagtanggol ang masang Pilipino nang ninakaw kay Erap ang pagka-pangulong handog sa kanya ng masang Pilipino. The script then segues into the “conspiracy” of the elite, whose interests were threatened by an Erap presidency that “refused” to give in to the demands of the elite at the expense of his adoring masa. So…”ibalik si Erap”, the “people” chant. (A June survey of Mindanao voters show that this sentiment has mesmerized the “masa”, along with their approval of Erap’s mailed fist policy against the secessionists).

Erap’s re-run scenario expects all these to convert into high survey ratings, enough to eclipse his opponents, and enough to convince the high tribunal to debate and tarry, rather than decide abruptly on what could be a political issue more than an open-and-shut constitutional interdict. If the justices, all of whom but for the Chief will have been appointees of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo should decide to tarry, then Erap hopes that the hordes of the masang Pilipino shall have made their vox populi clear enough to make the issue of qualification moot and academic.

All very fine in Erap’s mind, as well as his handlers. Except for a few things, principal among which is the single most important question a prospective candidate has to personally hurdle --- who foots the bill? And in an Erap political extravaganza, with Erap as the lead actor, this is always an expensive proposition. The bill will always run into many billions.

For now, a few of the usual Chinoy believers help in footing the bill for his “trailer” runs, the “lakbay-pasasalamat”, but the bulk of his political expenses, which includes the cost of being in the public eye, is pump-primed from his own personal fortunes, which ought to be considerable, humongous legal fees debited for his trial notwithstanding. But an Erap campaign is “otra cosa”, and many big businessmen have yet to be ensnared into the “cosa”.

Which brings me to the question --- who in this day and in these parlous times, would risk his money in a candidacy the life expectancy of which is dependent on what the Comelec and the Supreme Court declares? What happens to your contribution if the Comelec declares the Erap re-run a no-no? You could pee in your pants as much as you want, but the money goes down with it. But wait! There is hope, you think, in the Supreme Court. It has been swayed by “public opinion” before. It might make a “play for history” and reverse itself, when it declared in 2001, that Joseph Ejercito Estrada, duly-elected and duly-constituted President, “constructively resigned” on January 20, 2001. So meantime, contributors fly out of the country, making themselves scarce to calls from the Erap camp to up the ante. Remember the truism that while business is essentially a take-risk affair, businessmen try to be as risk-averse as possible.

“To run or not to run”, Erap ponders. The answer lies in the money. Whose money, that is.

And then again, what if the Court tarries, and debates what to many should be an open-and-shut case, which is, and I quote the second sentence of Section 4, Article 7 of the Constitution: “The President shall not be eligible for ANY re-election”.

Then the Comelec cannot print Estrada’s name in the ballot, if computerized, nor on the official registry of candidates, if manual. How then will “vox populi” be recorded, as to moot whatever the Court decides or not decide?

That is why Erap, quite to his destined presidential misfortune, will need a lifeline in Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the woman who conspired with many to remove him from his throne in the stinking palace beside the stinking river. As it was she who pardoned Erap right after the Sandiganbayan convicted him for plunder, she it is who will ultimately decide whether an Erap re-run and an Erap re-election to a presidency once before lost, is better guarantee of her judicial peace after 30 June 2010, a “peace in her time” that would best protect her economic interests, more considerable than any in presidential history, as well as the political interests of her bloodline.

After all, Erap has ostensibly pardoned Angelo Reyes, and even Chavit Singson, and welcomes Joe de V into his political tent. He has “forgiven” just about everyone who did him wrong. But how well has he forgotten? He revels in the thought that Cory has said she is sorry for her role in Edsa Dos, even if everybody knows she was sorry only because the beneficiary, Glory, turned out to be such a political monster, not necessarily because ousting Erap was so reprehensible to her and Cardinal Sin.

“Son capaz”, nuestros abuelos would say, of such kinds of political compromise, both Erap and Gloria, unthinkable though it may seem to the ordinary Filipino mind.

But then again, can one trust each other, she more than he? For even in this day and age, transactions require a great level of personal trust. And it seems foolhardy for Gloria to trust that Erap has completely forgiven, and forgotten.”

* * *

What political events have unfolded since then?

In the chronology of events --- Erap persisted, and his survey ratings have increased. In the SWS survey of mid-June, he is virtually in a three-way tie with Villar and Escudero. In the Pulse Asia survey of late July till the first week of August, he is six points behind and Numero Dos to Manny Villar, whose humongous advertising budget seems to have dazzled the “masa” enough to believe in crap.

Ping Lacson withdrew from the race on June 5. And although Jojo Binay is still polled among the presidentialities, the mayor has already declared that he is willing to slide down to being the vice-presidential candidate in an Erap ticket.

President Cory Aquino died on August 1, and the overwhelming outpouring of grief has created a new political phenomenon --- the budding entry of her son, Sen. Benigno Aquino III, Noynoy, into the presidential sweepstakes.

By and large, the contest remains open to Villar, Estrada, Escudero, De Castro, and either Mar or Noynoy. Everybody else has either given up, or will wither in the short vine of 90 days, beginning today. Noli de Castro, whose numbers have floundered, has recently announced that he is GMA’s anointed, and the palace confirmed, but he has yet to declare whether he is indeed going for the top post, despite Gloria’s endorsement that “De Castro has the qualities of a good president”. He will probably want to test whether his numbers will increase with Gloria’s encomiums, or whether they will flounder even more. Or, Noli may be waiting for the funding, courtesy of Gloria’s bagmen. Good luck!

But the basic questions I asked about the prospects of an Erap redux remain unchanged. Which is why I re-printed almost fully my January 8 column on the man who wants a Take Two on the presidency he lost.

Plus ca change, plus la meme chose. The more things change, the more they remain the same.