Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Geographics; Demographics

One of the unfortunate effects of the death of a genuine party system in our polity is the inability to maintain geographic balance in the selection of our top leaders. While this may seem like the country and its disparate ethnic groups are uniting towards a single center, the reality is that the periphery is drifting farther from the center. Imperial Manila has never been as self-centered, and the peripheral countryside has never been more disaffected.

Since Cory Aquino of Tarlac joined up with Doy Laurel of Batangas, versus the Ilocano Marcos and Manileno Tolentino tandem for the snap elections, geographical balance, always a fixture in our leadership tandems during the two-party dominated political system prior to martial law, has never again returned.

Baler’s Quezon partnered with Cebu’s Osmena during the Commonwealth. Manuel Roxas of Capiz chose Elpidio Quirino of Ilocos Sur when they were elected in 1945 to head the nascent Third Republic. Quirino of Luzon chose Fernando Lopez of Iloilo to be his vice-president, as did Ramon Magsaysay after him with Bohol’s Carlos P. Garcia. The Boholano succeeded the presidency after a plane crash in Cebu snuffed out Magsaysay’s popular presidency. And while the Nacionalista Party chose to balance Garcia with Pepito Laurel of Batangas in the elections of 1957, the latter lost to Diosdado Macapagal of Pampanga. When Macapagal won against a re-electionist Garcia in 1961, he brought with him to the vice-presidency Emmanuel Pelaez, the first Mindanaoan to become the country’s second highest leader. The Macapagal-Gerry Roxas tandem of the Liberals lost to the Nacionalista turncoat, Ferdinand Marcos in 1965, who carried his vice-president, come-backing Fernando Lopez of Iloilo to the vice-presidency. And when Marcos ran for re-election in 1969, he once more partnered with Lopez, whose family soon disengaged with Marcos over business concerns. For the next 14 years, Marcos ruled as singular authority, without a vice-president.

The Cory Constitution ratified in 1987 prescribed, quite foolishly and recklessly, a multi-party system to a presidential form of government. The incongruity has destroyed the political party system, and debased the institution as no more than a flag of convenience formed to fuel personal leadership ambitions. The Unido and Laban coalitions of Cory and Doy transmogrified into splinter parties called the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino, Lakas, PDP-Laban, Nacionalista, Nationalist People’s Coalition, the resurgent Liberal Party, and even Imelda’s dusted-off Kilusang Bagong Lipunan. Miriam Defensor Santiago hastily organized the People’s Reform Party for her magnificent, though failed run for the presidency in 1992. And then Senator Estrada put up his Partido ng Masang Pilipino, which eventually coalesced when the realities of logistics forced Erap to scale down his political ambitions to become vice-president to Danding Cojuangco in the NPC.

Thus, in 1992, we had Pangasinan’s FVR for president and San Juan, Metro Manila’s Erap as his vice-president. In 1998, Erap won, and so did Pampanga’s Gloria, who ran under Lakas. After usurping Erap’s presidency, Gloria nominated Teofisto Guingona of Guimaras and Butuan as transition vice-president. Soon enough, they drifted apart, and in 2004 when she stood for election, she hand-picked the present Numero Dos, Noli de Castro of Pola in Mindoro.

Luzon has dominated even the Senate. There have been fewer and fewer Mindanaoans and Visayans elected to that “august” club, because regional balance, assured through political party conventions prior to martial law, has become no more than a national popularity contest based upon the tales of the opinion surveys. This, even if Mindanao comprises 22% of the total national vote, and the Visayas 20%. Thus, popularity has substituted for peer evaluation of competence, character, track record and party loyalty. Now we have a surfeit of dolts in the Senate--- popular celebrities, but dolts nonetheless. Legislation has suffered, and the Senate as the hall of the august has become a debauchery of public trust.

As we enter another critical electoral exercise, critical because we are under an incumbent who has survived all kinds of political upheaval by sheer grit and accompanying transactions, we are faced once again with a Luzon-centric choice of leaders and tandems.

Manuel Villar of Las Pinas will partner with Pia Cayetano of Pateros as the Nacionalista tandem. Las Pinas is a stone’s throw away from Pateros, divided from each other only by Taguig and the C-5 road of Villar’s affections. If he fails to convince Pia, who is a shoo-in for re-election as senator, he might try to buy Erap’s endorsement by getting Jinggoy Estrada, also of Metro Manila, as his veep. Jinggoy seems to relish the thought. Bagay sila.

Gilbert Teodoro of Kampi, Dona Gloria’s champion, will likely have Ronnie Puno of Pampanga as his vice-president. Teodoro comes from Tarlac, separated from Puno’s province only by a lahar-silted river spanned by the Bamban bridge. If Puno falls from the race, maybe Teodoro could choose between Leyte’s Martin Romualdez or Surigao’s Prospero Pichay. That would be a laugh, but at least there is geographical balance. Bayani Fernando of Marikina will not, as he keeps saying, accept a vice-presidential slot.

If Erap persists, will Makati’s Jojo Binay run as his vice-president? The Abalos principality of Mandaluyong is all that separates tiny San Juan from ultra-rich Makati. Oh well.

The Liberals have announced a tandem of pedigreed political and economic royals --- Noynoy of Pampango-speaking Tarlac, and Mar Roxas of Ilonggo-speaking Capiz. The last time there was such a tandem, in 1965, the Macapagal-Roxas team lost to Marcos-Lopez. Pampangueno’s and Ilonggo’s do not make a lucky ticket, or so it seems. In any case, I really predict that Mar will not bite, and he will stand for re-election as senator, where he will easily breeze to another Numero Uno spot. So, who will partner with Noynoy? If the Liberals giddily feel that Noynoy will bring their party to victory on the coat-tails of Ninoy and Cory’s memory, then likely, Kiko Pangilinan will be Noynoy’s ka-tiket. That’s an all-Pampango tandem, after a long-running Dona Gloria --- de Pampanga tambien.

If Chiz Escudero of Sorsogon is eventually fielded by the NPC, he will partner with Loren Legarda of Malabon and Antique, Baguio and Laguna, who resides in Makati. Now while Bicol is part of Luzon, it is as politically disaffected from Imperial Manila as the Visayas and Mindanao. In a manner of speaking, Bicol is as peripheral to Metro Manila as Caraga or Waray Visayas is.

As far as demographics are concerned, Escudero represents the most numerous age group --- the physically young beyond being young at heart and in mind. Chiz, who will turn 40 on October 10 this year, could be the country’s youngest president ever, save only for the First Republic’s Emilio Aguinaldo. An Escudero-Legarda tandem will definitely be youthful, and good-looking at that. Though Loren is 48, she looks quite young, and Ma’am, I do not flatter nor pander.

Gibo is still young at 45, even if the “age” of Gloria’s political longevity will certainly bear down on him. His likely veep, Ronnie Puno, is as old as Gloria y su esposo fabuloso, as he is their trusted factotum. Gibo may be physically young, but young at heart and in mind, through no fault of his, he can never credibly pass off. Gibo will represent the sordid past of Gloria’s baggage, while Chiz and Noynoy could represent the future.

Erap is past --- in age, in mind, in heart. At 73, he will be supported by Makati’s twice-graduated mayor, Jojo, who though physically fit, is 66 years old. Now if Jojo does not run as Erap’s VP, and re-joins the “yellow army”, who will Erap partner with? Manong Ernie Maceda? In any case, Erap’s quest is doomed. He should take a hint from the sad plight of the Star Cinema crew which filmed him and Ai-Ai, along with Donya Dionesia Pacquiao in Gen San. They boarded the Aboitiz-owned Superferry 9, which sank off Zamboanga del Norte. One of the Star Cinema photographers died, and his name was Fernando Estrada, nicknamed Ronnie. Ill-fated, star-crossed, that is what his comeback movie has become. Is there a message of sorts?

Noynoy and Mar are about the same age, 50 and 52 respectively by the time they campaign. They do not look as young as Chiz and Loren, but they might be able to present a choice of the future, provided they stop talking in the past tense, as if the only be-all and end-all of their leadership quest is to remember Cory Aquino. But because I suspect that Roxas will not stand for the vice-presidency, then a Noynoy-Kiko team, while farthest from being geographically balanced, will be demographically similar.

Villar at 60 is not too old, and Pia in her early forties presents a good-enough photo opportunity. But Villar represents the bad old politics of transaction and abuse of privilege, and his “young” crew of spokesmen, because he does not know how to speak for himself --- Gilbert and Adel and Alan and whoever else, are all scions of that politics of old. Villar-Jinggoy? Sana nga.

And if you look at the latest Pulse Asia list of likely senatorial winners, again you see geographic imbalance. Estrada, Pia, Jamby, Bong Revilla, Recto, Binay, Dick Gordon, Biazon the son, even 85-year old JPE are all from Luzon. Come-backing Frank Drilon as well as Mar of course, are from Region 6. NPC’s Ace Durano and Tito Sotto, through his paternal ancestry, are from Cebu. Ted Failon, if he runs at all, would be the only Waray. Mindanao will have TG Guingona of Bukidnon, Neric Acosta of the same province, Ompong Plaza of Caraga, and Adel Tamano, the non-Maranao speaking full-blooded Muslim. If Grace Poe and Toots Ople decide to run, and I hope they do, they will also be from Luzon, though Grace’ mother, the graceful Susan Roces, is half-Negrense.

Of course, geographic balance and demographics are not all too significant in a country where the primordial question in 2010 will be --- who among those who would presume to lead us, possess the competence and character to lead us out of the pits of despair to which a full decade of transactional politics and institutional destruction has brought us into? Who could inspire this nation of various tribes to rise above its weaknesses and its aimlessness, and reach for the stars?

The answer will lie in their message of hope, and the trust the people will repose in their ability to deliver on their message of hope.