Published on November 3, 2009.
In the run-up to the 2010 elections, I hope to write in-depth pieces on the leading candidates, paying particular attention to their electoral strategies. I have already begun conducting one-on-one interviews. I will supplement these with the usual tools: tracking the candidates on the campaign trail, conducting background research on their campaign staff and organization and, well, just plain hanging around.
My aim is straight out of an outstanding teacher’s workbook; a generation ago, I studied modern philosophy under the great Ramon Reyes. (Modern under the aspect of eternity, I hasten to add, meaning from the Cartesian turn in the 17th century!) His survey course was memorable for many reasons, but chief of these was his method of presentation. He introduced each philosopher as though he (inevitably, they were all “he”) were the last word in philosophy.
In writing about the leading aspirants for the presidency and the vice presidency, I would like to be guided by the same respect for context, the same sense of charity—the better to understand a candidate as he (or she) would wish to be understood.
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In her rejoinder to last week’s column, Margaux Salcedo, spokesperson for ex-president Joseph Estrada, regaled Inquirer readers with a recitation of survey results favorable to Estrada. But she did not engage the column’s main point, which is that his assertion of his constituency’s steadfast loyalty—”During the lowest point in my life, the poor did not abandon me”—was more or less bunk.
At the “lowest point” in his life, during his ouster, millions of citizens belonging to class E shifted their support, or withheld it. Thus, despite my friend Margaux’s earnest culling of survey results, she could not avoid the inevitable. Midway through her response, printed as a letter to the editor on Oct. 30, she admitted that: “Even at his lowest point, immediately after his ouster in February 2001, Estrada’s trust rating was at 26 percent (March 2001, 25 percent). But trust has since been regained, hitting 57 percent in August 2009.” [Emphasis added.]
In the same way that a plunderer must first be convicted before he can be pardoned (at least in the Philippines), trust or support or loyalty must be lost before it can be regained. That loss I equated, in my column, with abandonment.
The fact that a politician like Estrada enjoys a die-hard following is irrelevant to the argument; even today, obscured by the pollsters’ practice of reporting “net” findings, a widely vilified president like Gloria Macapagal Arroyo still enjoys some form of hard-core support.
Even during the lowest point of her life, we can imagine President Arroyo telling her constituents in the second district of Pampanga, her “kabalen” did not abandon her.
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A lesson in history lying in wait for Sen. Chiz Escudero, as he pins his hope on some form of public clamor to redeem his radical decision, suddenly announced, to forsake all political parties in any pursuit of the presidency.
In the Philippines, one either wins the presidency on the first try or not at all. Put another way: Nobody who has lost a presidential contest has even come close to winning the post the second time around. (This is a history lesson, too, for “Brother Eddie” Villanueva, founder of the Jesus is Lord movement and presidential candidate in 2004.)
In 1998, Sen. Raul Roco restored a sense of possibility to politics; he ran a strong campaign that sought to rekindle the Filipino’s romance with the political. It was an under-funded campaign, however, and the lack of funds became telling in the home stretch. He faded and finished third, behind Estrada and Jose de Venecia, with 13.83 percent of the vote. In 2004, he ran again; this time he came in fourth, behind President Arroyo, Fernando Poe Jr. and Sen. Panfilo Lacson, with 6.45 percent. (A medical emergency in the middle of the campaign period proved to be a turning point.)
In 1992, Miriam Defensor-Santiago was the darling of young voters; their support helped her gather considerable momentum in a crowded field. She placed second to Fidel Ramos, capturing 19.72 percent of the vote; it is a result she continues to dispute to this day. In 1998, the senator ran again; she ended up seventh of 10 candidates, with an instructive 2.96 percent of the vote.
The lesson suggests that, even if he were to spend his entire life in politics, a young man like Escudero, just turned 40, can expect only one real chance at the main prize. If he is not fully committed to a presidential run in 2010, he should wait for a more opportune time. It bears repeating: there is only the one chance.
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History seems to be kinder to the militant left. They lost the opportunity to take part in, and be part of, the first Edsa People Power Revolution in 1986, partly because of the Corazon Aquino factor. They were able to make up for lost opportunity in 2001, by playing a decisive role in the second People Power uprising. (Lest we forget, Bayan Muna was the party-list group of choice of President Macapagal-Arroyo’s coalition in the 2001 mid-term elections.)
But some choices, it seems, are always off-limits.
Judging from the enthusiasm the valiant Satur Ocampo and the articulate Teddy Casiño have evinced for Chiz Escudero’s incoherent vision of party-less politics, it seems the militant left has already discounted the Noynoy Aquino factor. Will history repeat itself?