Thursday, October 29, 2009

How do you read Chiz?

Yesterday morning, young senator Francis Joseph “Chiz” Escudero faced the media in a press conference to declare an overdose of political news. It was not so intended.

Early this year, he had told media that he would declare his political plans only after he reached the ripe young age of forty. That is the constitutional age requirement. Tying oneself to a definitive timeline was both good and bad tactic. Good because it keeps everyone guessing, while you inch into the public consciousness without being necessarily a threat to the earlier declared or earlier-perceived “presidentiables”. Bad because having made a definitive timeline, he was boxed into it, even when the fast-paced developments in the political scene after the death of Cory Aquino demanded quick answers and quick reactions.

Of course Tita Cory’s death and the “halo” it placed on her son Noynoy’s head were quite unpredictable. Mar’s acceptance of the reality that he was not so fated to become the country’s 15th president, followed nine days later by Noynoy’s desire to be “it”, was a game changer.

The “movie” in Chiz’ mind was to have begun with a declaration of his intent on October 12, the Monday following his 40th birthday which was October 10. But on September 26, Ondoy inundated the metropolis, laying to waste so much property and taking so many lives. Still dazed at so much destruction, Pepeng tarried in the north and brought so much rain that likewise flooded out many provinces, again taking lives and laying crops and livelihood destitute on October 9. It would have been grossly insensitive to declare political plans at such a time of instant grief and sorrow. Everyone took time out, and even Erap postponed the premiere night of his re-run.

The Nationalist People’s Coalition, had two “presidentiables”, Sen. Loren Legarda who had run for vice-president with the legendary FPJ in 2004. As fate and Garci would have it, they “lost”. But she made a spectacular comeback in the elections of 2007, when she topped the senatorial race. Next to her was the “enfant merveilleuse” of Philippine politics, 38-year old Chiz, who had capped nine years of being congressman of Sorsogon as captain ball of the valiant try to impeach Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in 2005.

Little by little, Chiz overtook Loren’s early lead in the surveys, which has become the barometer of national political chances. In a sense, surveys have substituted for party conventions in a polity where parties have become little more than temporary shelters or political barkadahan. Thus, as the November 30 deadline draws near, Chiz was touted as NPC’s presidential candidate, and Loren as his “vice”.

The earlier “events” chronology, we learned, was for Chiz to declare on or right after his 40th natal day, followed by Loren on her mother’s birth anniversary on October 23. Then the party would have given its official imprimatur sometime in November. Stretching the process gave the candidates more media moments, as Mar and Noynoy likewise did. But as this schedule turned awry, Loren came first with her declaration of purpose and “secondary” goal. Yesterday was Escudero’s turn to slay the suspense.

But as things would have it, there was talk that not all was well with young Chiz and the party he belonged to since 1998 when he first became congressman. Further fuelling the speculation was Loren’s rather strange statement that she was running with God-knows-who as her head. Strange because as NPC stalwart since 2007, she was supposed to run with another member of her party.

Yesterday Escudero poured it before the public when he began his declaration by saying that he had resigned from the Nationalist People’s Coalition. That statement stunned the public, for he had been with the party for a far longer time than Loren. What went wrong?

He was running as himself, not as one bound by the party’s interests. He did not want to be “chained” to party interests, and in an unusually bold statement, virtually made a declaration of independence from party politics, and embraced “people politics”. One who desires the presidency, he said, must forswear narrow party interests in favour of the larger interest of people and nation. In Pilipino, he was saying, “the people must be one’s party”.

It was a “revolt” against the political system we have become accustomed to, one where the landed elite, the billionaire class, the oligarchy always held sway. It was a polity dominated by economic interests of the few who “own” the wealth of the nation, not always to the long-lasting benefit of the many, the teeming many, who own so little.

Escudero’s introduction of himself as “Hindi ako heredero, hindi ako haciendero, at lalong hindi ako bilyonaryo” was an indictment not so much a description of his competition, but more --- of the system. Saying that he, a product of the public school system, son of teachers, whose veterinarian father made good likewise in government and politics but has kept his integrity intact, a lawyer who once taught in his alma mater, the University of the Philippines, and has since become a well-known congressman and senator, was just an “ordinary” guy, without the cachet of “pedigree”. And so he is asking the people if the system would allow those born with neither pedigree nor wealth, legal or illegal, to get a chance at becoming its president.

There was a time, before and after the war, when such was possible. Quezon was a famulo (working student) at Letran; Quirino was a jail warden’s son who was deprived of material wealth until he married a rich Chinese mestiza. Garcia of Bohol was only a teacher’s son. Diosdado Macapagal was the son of landless tenants. The system then, despite and probably because of strong party institutions, allowed the poor, the ordinary but deserving, to be offered to the sovereign people for the highest post in the land. Now, with the party system decrepit, and presidential campaigns costing billions, with the enormously wealthy controlling the economy and the polity as well, young Chiz threw back the question to the people --- Is people politics possible? Has it’s time come?

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As I am assuming an active role in the forthcoming political campaign, I have to take a leave from column-writing, so that personal and professional bias does not colour my writing. Tomorrow’s column shall be my last until after the elections of 2010.