Fernando’s response proved to be unexpectedly revealing, because it seemed to me to encapsulate his entire approach to government. In sum, I took his answer to mean he can do things as president that he cannot as chairman. Agreed, but I found it revealing that instead of talking about the need to build a consensus, he seemed to offer, indeed to prefer, a top-down, command-control kind of leadership.
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Several weeks ago, I promised a closer look at the leading presidential and vice-presidential candidates. My objective was to consider the candidates as they saw themselves; to see them and their electoral prospects on their own terms. Allow me to begin this occasional series with the erstwhile front-runner, Sen. Manny Villar.
It might strike some as belaboring the obvious, but Villar knows how to read politics. This is a skill he himself finds important (and, it is worth noting, not given to every politician). Last May, for instance, he startled Inquirer reporters and editors when he said we shouldn’t discount Sen. Jamby Madrigal as a “presidentiable.” He didn’t mean a Madrigal candidacy would be viable; he only meant that Madrigal, his political enemy, saw herself as presidential material. It was hard to believe; I think it safe to assume that almost no one else then thought of Madrigal in this light. Until, of course, she said she was considering a run.
When I saw Villar the other month, he said, apropos of Madrigal: Well, what did I tell you?
This skill at reading his colleagues in politics may be underestimated, but it is important. Politics, we must emphasize, is the art of the possible.
Villar is aware of his role in history. He knows full well that it was his fateful decision as speaker of the House that sealed the first-ever impeachment of a president in 2000. (And I do not think he means merely being the crucial vote.) And yet I have seen him on at least two different occasions (Joseph Estrada was present at the second one) explaining the meaning of his decision two different ways: as proof of political will (possibility) and as merely being part of a constitutional process (limitation).
It is perhaps because of this dual nature that he remembers his first run for the Senate, in 2001, as the most difficult of his campaigns. He talks of Joker Arroyo and himself being deliberately ignored or insulted on the hustings by Estrada supporters. And yet it was his dramatic opening prayer, into which the motion to impeach Estrada was inserted, that captured the people’s imagination.
After Cory Aquino’s funeral, he has (at least this is my impression) taken to thinking of himself as the only survivor of the “original” presidential aspirants—Mar Roxas, Loren Legarda, Chiz Escudero, Ping Lacson, Noli de Castro all having found alternative career paths. To the emergence of Sen. Noynoy Aquino as the new and surprising front-runner, he has, I think it is fair to say, mixed feelings at best. But reading the political horizon, he has since subtly changed the premise of his presidential campaign. Because of his own rags-to-riches story, he now defines the issue at stake in the 2010 elections as poverty. Not corruption, not “trust,” but poverty. That (much narrowed) way lies victory.
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I made a mistake in last week’s column about a letter of Saturnina Rizal’s. Fr. Leo English, the Australian Redemptorist who labored for decades on his English-Tagalog and Tagalog-English dictionaries, did make a distinction between “putok” and “sabog.” But I mis-remembered the distinction. “Putok” refers to both the explosion and the sound it makes; “sabog” only to the explosion itself. Mea culpa.