Column: Diminishing Noynoy

Published on May 25, 2010.

I FOUND THE MAY 20 column of colleague and friend Conrad de Quiros most instructive. (I have been reading Conrad for over 20 years; I still get a kick, now that I can refer to him as both colleague and friend, each time I do so.) His column of May 20 sought to straighten me out on the rifts that have started to appear on the surface of the Noynoy Aquino campaign. On some points, I stand happily corrected.

His explanation is illuminating, in large part because of the perspective from which it was written. He has provided an up-close-and-personal view whose authoritativeness is unmistakable. My sourcing, on the other hand, is strictly secondary; I was never at the key meetings or most of the events. My sourcing, too, is a work in progress; I am still gathering all the necessary facts. But I do have many sources inside the Noynoy camp, and they come from more than one side. And they include volunteers bewildered by the turn of events, including the sudden emergence, from within the campaign, of the Jojo-Binay-for-vice-president option (Noy-Bi, in current political shorthand).

It is Conrad’s column of May 24, however, that moves me to write in response. I do so, on the assumption that the existence of assertive and permanent factions in a presidency is proof of its weakness. Cory Aquino had extraordinary interior strength, but her administration was marked by tension, and sometimes outright struggle, between those many factions the late Louie Beltran had a grand time giving names to. Joseph Estrada’s administration was marked by the tug of war between the four main factions (all loyal to him!) that vied for his easily distracted attention. In contrast, Fidel Ramos and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo kept tight control of their administrations. (I have just written of GMA in the past tense; it is liberating, but I hope it won’t prove to be a jinx.) In their time, there were groupings among Palace allies, of course, and undisputed sources of influence, but there was no mistaking where the shots were being called from, and who was
 doing the calling.

I would like to know: Are the internal rivalries sapping the energy of Aquino campaign members today an omen of a factionalized, and therefore weakened, presidency?

In his column yesterday, Conrad clarified the matter wonderfully. Or, at the least, he offered a conceptual tool that promises clarification. As I understand it, he is proposing a measure by which to judge whether the insistence of the Liberal Party, “specifically Nonong Cruz and company who claim to be loyal to him—which is by no means obvious notwithstanding their protestations of it,” that Mar Roxas had won the vice-presidency was, at bottom, good for Noynoy.

A position, a stance, a decision, an act, fails this acid test if “it compromises the very person they claim to be loyal to, who is their president.”

This, it seems to me, is the right analytical lever with which to understand the dynamics of the Noynoy campaign. Let’s call it the compromise index: Does a statement or a decision or an operation compromise Noynoy? Does it, in a word, diminish him?

Take the following excerpt of an interview, which an expansive Pastor “Boy” Saycon of the Council of Philippine Affairs, of which Aquino uncle Peping Cojuangco is a leading member, gave to ABS-CBN. “The Cojuangcos have carried Noy-Mar, and it shows in the results of how Tarlac voted for Noy-Mar, and he [Mar] has an almost 200,000 difference over Binay’s votes in Tarlac alone, even in other areas, in Davao del Norte. And I’ve heard how Congressman Cojuangco has been pushing for Noy-Mar in Davao del Norte.”

The implication is that Peping Cojuangco could not have campaigned for Binay because in his home province of Tarlac Roxas won by a wide margin. It sounds reasonable—except that it assumes that Noynoy Aquino would not have carried Roxas without Peping. Let me see if I get Saycon’s assumption right: Noynoy was a congressman from Tarlac for nine years, a senator for three years, and the survey front-runner since September 2009—and the votes for Roxas in his own home province were due to someone else, a politician who has been out of elective office for over a decade? Just how short does Saycon think Noynoy’s coattails really are?

If I use Conrad’s measure, therefore, I cannot but think that Saycon is doing his presidential candidate a disfavor. Saycon, in assuming that Tarlac voted because of “the Cojuangcos,” projects a much diminished view of the next president.

* * *

One of my dearest friends passed away suddenly last week—in the middle, quite literally, of laughter. Allow me to say a few words about one of the most decent, most generous persons I have ever known. Lawyer Ray Miranda, 46, was my high school classmate, a fellow philosophy major and a boon companion. We came of age, politically, together. (Unlike me, though, he had the stitches on his head, from a swinging truncheon, to prove it.) He was one of three persons I know who exemplified Malcolm Gladwell’s connector type—the kind whose personality made them the natural hub of ever-widening networks. Ray, among many other virtues, had the gift for linking an individual, upon first meeting, with other names in his mental Rolodex.

Gladwell used the metaphor of a social epidemic to illustrate the spread of an idea beyond the “tipping point,” which can only happen with the help of connectors. I find consolation in this image, because Ray, always quick with a joke, certainly knew that good will, like the laughter he was so expert at provoking, was contagious.

He was a genuinely good man and a true friend, who will be greatly missed. It was a blessing to have known him.

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Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Media, Readings in Politics

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