Thursday, October 22, 2009

Choosing a “vice” for 2010

Since Cory of Tarlac partnered with Doy of Batangas in the “snap” elections of 1986, and Marcos of Ilocos chose Tolentino of Manila in defending his kingdom, the North-South political equation was dashed. In 1992, FVR chose Lito Osmena of Cebu as his “vice” both as a return to the Luzon-Visayas balance and the fact that the latter was himself considered a “presidentiable”. Earlier, he had tried to get Chief Justice Marcelo B. Fernan, but the Cebuano jurist-politician decided to partner with Monching Mitra. Fernan was certain of winning the vice-presidency, with 53% of the voters expressing preference for him over the feuding Osmena brothers (Lito for FVR and John as Danding’s running-mate). But as fate would have it, Erap Estrada who was gunning for the presidency decided mid-way to slide down to becoming ECJ’s “vice”. The result? FVR won, ECJ lost. But Erap won. Thus we had a president from Pangasinan and a “vice” from San Juan in Metro-Manila, both from Luzon once more.

In 1998, the main protagonists were Speaker Joe de V of Pangasinan and VP Erap of Metro Manila. Joe de V eventually partnered with Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of Pampanga and Pangasinan. Not only were they from Luzon, they were from the same central plains. And Erap took Ed Angara of Baler as his “vice”.

In 2004, Gloria, the incumbent after she kicked Erap out of Malacanang in 2001, hand-picked Noli de Castro of Pola in Mindoro Oriental, a well-known broadcaster who won as senator barely three years before, as her “vice”. That was an astute move, as we have seen for the past five years. And FPJ was partnered by his handlers with Loren Legarda, herself a well-known broadcast journalist who topped the senatorial elections in 1998.

Worth noting is that although De Castro ran as an “independent” candidate for senator in 2001, he was adopted by Erap’s opposition Pwersa ng Masa as its candidate. Right after he topped that contest, he enlisted himself as part of the administration bloc and joined Manny Villar’s pro-regime Wednesday dinner club. And Loren won in 1998 as a Lakas poster girl. In the impeachment trial of 2001, she voted to open the “second envelope”, as against Erap’s eleven loyalists, and was seen on TV crying when the trial was aborted by a walk-out of the prosecution. That event triggered Edsa Dos, and Loren was clearly classified as an administration senator for the last three years of her first term. Yet, when FPJ ran, she was partnered with the legendary king of Philippine movies. Erap had forgiven her, and forgot.

In 2007, Loren decided to run once more for the Senate, thus rendering moot her protest with the Supreme Court over Noli’s election. She swore in as a member of the Nationalist People’s Coalition, and ran as part of the “Genuine Opposition” with whom she came out on top. Noli, although supportive and submissive throughout, has refused to join Lakas or Kampi, neither the newly married PaLaKa, which gave its benediction to Gilbert Teodoro as Gloria’s standard-bearer and chief apologist.

In the run-up to 2010, both Loren and Noli had been early favourites in the looming presidential derby, but as fate and fickle public opinion would have it, they are now relegated to “vice” material. Loren’s misfortune probably lies in her being a woman, not exactly a market-perfect product after 9 unbearably long years of a “hated” woman president. Noli’s lack of conviction and drive doomed his presidential prospects.

Oddly, the last man into the fray, Noynoy Aquino, whose presidential quest was serendipitously pushed by the death of his mother, President Cory after a year-long bout with cancer was the first to bag a “vice”. And so the LP, nervous because their champion, Mar Roxas had tortuously been unable to get enough voter preference in the surveys, now have a champion, and an early match-up of Noynoy and Mar. The early surveys indicate that they are the team to beat.

Erap has declared he is running, constitutional questions notwithstanding. And he has chosen his vice-president, Jojo Binay, who also happens to be the president of the UNO Coalition that was used in the 2007 elections. Earlier, he offered Binay’s slot to Chiz Escudero and Loren Legarda, and apparently both did not bite. Escudero will declare his delayed intent to gun for the top slot next week, while Loren is supposed to make an announcement on her plans today or tomorrow.

Over the past weeks though, speculation was rife that Legarda may after all not run with Escudero, and she openly admitted that she was being wooed, by several presidential candidates. She mentioned Chiz, Villar, Gibo, Erap and even Dick Gordon; later she trimmed the list to just Chiz, Villar and Gibo. Clearly she refused Gordon if the newspaper reports are accurate.

Meanwhile, Noli de Castro, after his talks with Villar which we wrote about some two weeks ago, is still waiting for whatever from Manny. Is it a go or no go? And if it’s a go, well, where’s the private show of goodwill? That somebody is allegedly brokering Loren with Manny of the most money has been grist of the rumour and text mill of late.

Now let me tell you a story: In late 1997, the extremely popular VP Erap had a problem. Elections in May 2008 was just several months away, and yet he had no “vice”. Ed Angara was available, if his LDP would coalesce with Erap’s PMP. LDP had an ample enough political infrastructure, while PMP had little. But the surveys indicated that the little lady called Gloria was making inroads, and eating into Erap’s commanding lead in the surveys. Backroom negotiators started working for both Gloria and Erap for a possible match-up. The deal being brokered was for Gloria to run as “vice” to Erap instead, and be assured of the presidential plum come 2004.

But then a fly in the ointment also appeared from out of the blue. Fred Lim captured the moribund LP, got Pres. Cory and even Cardinal Sin to anoint him. And Tita Cory persuaded Sen. Serge Osmena to partner with Lim. As I was working with Erap at the time, we got worried, not because Lim was a formidable opponent, but the possibility of him eating away from our Erap’s huge Chinoy following. An Erap-GMA tandem was a convenient marriage of two extremely popular figures, but an Erap-Edong tandem was a balanced ticket of popularity plus the LDP machinery.

When news about Edong negotiating with Fred was confirmed by LDP insiders who had by then become closet Erap supporters, we decided to stop the talks with a rather “difficult” Gloria, and went with Angara instead. In less than a week, the negotiations had been completed, and it became an Erap-Edong tandem, launched with the usual cinematic hoopla at the Folk Arts Theater. Gloria, whose campaign chest would not fill up, was left with no other option than to go for Joe de V. She won handily, but she could not help make Joe win. Two years and a few months later, she resigned as DSWD secretary, a post the victorious Erap graciously gave her. Three months after resignation, she was sworn in as “acting” president by a Supreme Court that gave legal imprimatur to a de facto coup.

What are the case lessons gleaned from these “vice” transactions? One is timing. The potential “vice” must come in at the right time, when a presidentiable is desperately looking for a partner. The price is best when the timing is right. Juxtapose this lesson of the right timing with what has happened to current Vice Noli. When his numbers were high, he did not bite. When his numbers went down, his price went down. But because someone is desperately looking (actually two), he may negotiate for higher. Parang “stock market”, or the price of real estate in Marikina.

Only in this country is the vice-president treated like “precious” commodity. Precious enough to have a “price”. Precious enough to be offered transactional bargains such as “goodwill”, or future positions for him and his assigns. Of course, the downside lies in the ability to win as a team. If the “vice” wins but is unable to win with his “president”, then obviously the post-facto arrangements will not matter. Which is why these days, the wise “vice”, if rumours are to be given credence, prefers an ample “goodwill” as against promises of “shared” glory.. Or, as in the Doy Laurel experience, even promises are not honoured. The mutiny at Edsa, it would seem, was reason enough to breach word given.

Yet in reality, while a vice-presidential candidate’s voter appeal does not necessarily transfer to his presidential team-mate, as proven in several previous elections, a presidential run is not taken seriously unless there is a “vice”. And if the “vice”, for whatever reason, logical or emotional, happens to be a “presidentiable” as well, then the cachet ups his ante. Which explains why most everyone starts a vice-presidential quest by declaring first for the presidency. The exception in the present run-up to 2010 is Ronnie Puno, who declared for the vice-presidency even before his party chose a presidential candidate.

Long lost too is the geographical equation in choosing one’s “vice”. The geographical and ethno-linguistic divide has been blurred by the pervasive dominance of media, particularly broadcast, in people’s consciousness. Add to that the growing use of special media – the internet and its myriad permutations, which brings news, even rumours, in real time. Long lost too is the principle of party loyalty. Parties in this day and age, as this space keeps repeating, have become mere flags of convenience.

So, in the next five weeks before the Comelec deadline for filing candidacies comes, expect more quick-draw and quick-buck political somersaults and many a “surprise”.

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And speaking of Ronnie the Tree, how true is it that he has been chastened by the survey numbers, and now refuses to throw more money after wasting quite a pile on his vice-presidential quest? If so, who will escort Gibo in 2010 --- Ebdane? Or an import? Will wonders never cease!