Published on January 6, 2009
The phrase I’m looking for, but won’t fit into the title space, is “anti-Charter change initiatives” — events and measures that will help create an unstoppable momentum for the 2010 elections. “Ploys” will have to do.
Other analysts, notably retired Chief Justice Art Panganiban and resident constitutionalist Joaquin Bernas, have already mapped the forbidding legal landscape for those who seek to change the Constitution within 2009. Some of the landmarks they have drawn look suspiciously like political formations.
But let us consider the specifically political route to the May 10, 2010 elections. Which political events will help bring that date closer, make the crucial election a reality? I list seven.
The first two are giveaways. We can look forward to pre-campaign presidential debates, possibly by the third quarter of the year; these will certainly play a part in generating voter interest in May 2010 (and thus public resistance against Charter change). We should also expect the Catholic bishops to devote at least one and perhaps two of their pastoral letters in the next 13 months to the importance of the 2010 vote. On this issue, the stand of the bishops has always been unequivocal.
The other five are a little more complicated.
The Nationalist People’s Coalition will flex its muscles. After it was formed to serve Danding Cojuangco’s presidential ambition in 1992, the NPC cut a relatively low profile in the two succeeding presidential elections. In part, this was because the party did not have a candidate of sufficient stature in its ranks; in part this was because it had carved out for itself a comfortable niche as the most influential swing bloc in the House of Representatives.
But now the NPC has Sen. Loren Legarda, who topped the Senate elections twice; the young Sen. Chiz Escudero, who came in second to Legarda in the 2007 polls and enjoys a rock-star appeal among younger voters; and (on the other side of the political fence) Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro, Cojuangco’s nephew. Teodoro does not enjoy any significant name recall to speak of, but he does have operational control of one of the few truly nationwide organizations: the military. (Cojuangco controls another one, the far-flung San Miguel Corp., which like the Armed Forces has one of the country’s largest transportation fleets.)
If the NPC is interested in shaping a post-Cojuangco future favorable to itself, it will contest the 2010 race. Given its advantages, the party would be foolish to entrust its future to yet another coalition with the Lakas-CMD and Kampi parties — when the upside to finally going it alone is clear.
The Senate Electoral Tribunal will decide Koko Pimentel’s election protest. I have already disclosed my interest in this landmark case (Pimentel is a friend from childhood). But every citizen should follow the twists and turns of the protest closely, because here, unavoidably, is evidence of election fraud. Miguel Zubiri has filed a counter-protest with the SET, essentially alleging that he was cheated in about a third of the country’s precincts. This is absurd, but also cynical. It is meant only to delay the SET’s moment of reckoning.
But the SET looks set to reach a decision this year. I am actually optimistic about the decision, but even if it were to be unfavorable to Pimentel’s protest, the ensuing controversy would focus attention on the dagdag-bawas leadership of the Senate: both Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Zubiri, the majority leader, have been implicated in election fraud.
Vice presidential aspirants will go on tour. The presidential debates should be entertaining, but we should not discount the complicated dance that certain vice presidential contenders will attempt to put their names forward as potential running mates. Cebu’s Gov. Gwen Garcia will prove she is popular among Visayan-speaking voters (and there are millions in Luzon); Batangas Gov. Vilma Santos can either make a movie this year or speak before a succession of regional or provincial audiences; either way, public reaction will help add to the excitement over 2010.
The party Ang Kapatiran will intensify its campaign for councilors. I will go out on a limb here, and suggest that Kapatiran’s MMX campaign, to recruit enough nontraditional candidates to win 2,010 seats in city and municipal councils across the country in 2010, will generate enough excitement at the local level to get people invested in the elections.
Not least, Mar Roxas and Korina will get married. There will be other political milestones to watch out for. Sen. Manny Villar, for instance, may enjoy the reward for his avid courtship of the overseas Filipino worker if another Angelo de la Cruz hits the headlines. But, in my view, the one event that will concentrate people’s minds on the 2010 election will be Sen. Mar Roxas’ marriage to longtime girlfriend and popular TV anchor Korina Sanchez.
I am not being facetious, and I certainly don’t want to imply that I have any inside knowledge of the couple’s plans. But Roxas needs to hurdle an invisible barrier: No bachelor will win the presidency in a famously family-oriented polity. There are simply too many questions to answer. At the same time, the talk in the media industry is that Sanchez will go on leave by the second half of the year to help prepare for Roxas’ candidacy. Their fates are twined; why not make destiny formal?
To be absolutely clear: Even if they marry for love, their marriage, or at least their wedding (the last time I looked two very different things), will be seen as an election ploy. That, in the context of a Charter change-weary country, is not necessarily a bad thing.