Saturday, September 12, 2009

Philippine political wrap-up: Roxas, Noynoy, Villar

The first week of September is, by far, turning out to be an interesting month in Philippine politics as major forces are now moving to consolidate whatever gains they may have won in the previous months and are committing to more specific coordinates. The period of minor political tacking is nearly through and what we hope to see in the coming days will be major moves from key political players in the 2010 Philippine elections.

Last week, Mar Roxas junked his bid for the Presidency and announced that he was giving way to Noynoy Aquino as the Liberal Party standard bearer.

While it was hailed as somewhat of a surprise move, talk about him backing out of the Presidential bid was already filtering through Filipino blogs. But more than talk, people who've worked for Roxas in previous political campaigns know that he had backed out of a senate run in 2001 and up until he filed his certificate of candidacy, people weren't convinced that he would run for Senator in 2004.

Having been a banker before turning to politics, Roxas is not known for taking risks without first being assured of the possible outcomes.

As far back as the beginning of the second quarter of this year, political observers (which in the Philippines includes taxi drivers, barbers, and blind masseuses) noted that Mar's numbers weren't picking up in the surveys despite having been the second largest spender on political advertisements -- the biggest spender being Manny Villar. More than this, political workers (seasonal political campaigners who were hired to do pre-campaign work) on the ground and in the field echoed the observation that not enough politicians and political king-pins in the provinces were siding with Roxas.

Consider this bit of information from Adolfo Paglinawan in a e-forum of Filipino Americans:
Actually this is a setup by the Liberal Party who has been in near panic for Mar Roxas' failure to show improved ratings for the past six months. Despite the tens of millions Mar's mother, Judy Araneta, has poured into his TV ads and preemptive PR, even Chiz Escudero has tied with him for the second place and Chiz was not even doing anything except move around the country doing handshakes and kissing babies.

Actually what the Liberal Party is very worried about the Roxas campaign is that it has split into three initiatives with varied priorities. The Mother Judy has her own campaign. the fiance Korrina Sanchez also insisted on having her own campaign. And of course the party had it own version. On the outside, three is better than one but from the inside, the campaigns are actually separate and might cancel each other out. Worst, the party is expected to fund the three fronts.

Nobody wants to spend his own money in the light of Mar's poor numbers and even with relatives from the Araneta and Ayala sides, they cannot match the war chest of Manny Villar and Danding Cojuangco (for Chiz Escidero). So the deficit in funds superiority, they intend to fill in with the Cory-Ninoy drama.
So, Roxas' claim of backing out of the Presidential race, at least to me, doesn't paint a picture of political altruism but is a photograph of political shrewdness at its height. It is almost reminiscent of his grandfather's political stance during World War II where President Manuel Acuna Roxas managed to be the puppet President of the Japanese Government and the spy of the American government.

On one hand, this allows Roxas to peddle the angle that he has forsaken personal ambition in favor of the country's common good and to some extent, people are buying it.

But if this were a political gambit, it is a gambit with damaging political repercussions. People who had placed their stakes on a Roxas Presidency in 2010 are not so keen on jumping over to support Noynoy Aquino, even if their chief political benefactor (Roxas) has come out in public flailing his support for Noynoy. Moreover, a number of those in Roxas' camp cannot so easily integrate with Noynoy's camp and Roxas has made no commitment to fund them in operations that would support Noynoy's presidential bid.

Without a Roxas Presidency to back, observers are now trying to determine whether Roxas' political supporters will go to Noynoy or some other candidate. Even if Roxas wins as Vice President, the political dividends of such a win will be lean and paltry compared to the dividends of winning a Presidency and because some of them may not be able to get into Noynoy's inner circle, they may just opt to join other political camps at severely negotiated rates.

Moreover, there are some people in Roxas' camp, after finding themselves somewhat disenfranchised, have gone on to publicly register they disagreement with Roxas' decision to back out. Others from Roxas' camp have thumbed down the idea of a Noynoy Presidency and have begun attacking Noynoy.

Among those that registered their disagreement with Roxas' political maneuver was Toots Ople, the daughter of former Senator Blas Ople, who has or had plans of running as senator.

What follows is an excerpt from Filipino News Network and it recounts Ms. Ople's misgivings about Roxas' decision:
After the press conference, I was told by my friend, Rose Romero, that Mar’s staff and supporters will proceed to the Cubao campaign HQ otherwise known as Balay ni Mar. Famished, Fort, Danton Remoto, John Laylo and myself opted to grab a quick bite at nearby Gloria Maris before proceeding to Cubao. Throughout the meal, we kept going over the events that could have led to the announcement. I shook my head, knowing how excruciating this decision was for such a competitive person like Mar.

At the Balay, Mar was his usual gracious and outgoing self. He gave comforting hugs to those who were there, quite a few who have several questions to ask but opted to hold back and wait for more decisions to be made. Photos were taken, a banner was pulled out by the members of the communications team, Tita Judy Roxas, Ria and Gus were there together with Korina, entertaining the guests and just talking about what transpired that fateful night. It felt more like a family gathering than a political get-together of allies and friends.

I left the campaign HQ thinking to myself how wrong Mar was. The tears of his staff proved that he nurtured and taught them well. The inexplicable sadness – a certain mourning for what could have been — the collective inability to articulate with more gravitas what has transpired, is a manifestation of shock, that such selflessness could come so early in this political run-up from a man who could have easily stood his ground as party president and chief fundraiser.

Mar was wrong. He is the nurturing type. He had a dream but chose to nurture a party, and with it the vision, ambition and dream of another man. History alone will say if Mar’s sacrifice would yield the best dividends for the country.

Early this week, Senator Noynoy Aquino emerged from his retreat and announced that he was running for President with all the hoopla and flair that can be mustered. But all the hype given to his announcement only managed to give it a saccharine taste and failed to conjure the genuine sugar-charged rush that a broad swathe of Filipinos felt in 1986 when Cory Aquino -- Noynoy's mother -- announced that she was running for President.

At the political gathering on the morning of September 9, 2009 (touted as an auspicious number among those who know a little about numerology as it occurs in feng shui), Noynoy delivered a speech that sounded well rehearsed at the beginning but ended with a whimper as he buckled through what should have been a strong, punchy finish.

It was then that Noynoy, at least for me, clearly demonstrated that he is unlike his father and was more like his mother.

Further on, in the round of press interviews that followed his announcement, Noynoy was given a chance to share some of his thoughts about the broad and general directions he would take in leading the country.

While, at this point, it may seem premature to judge what seems to be the broad sketches of Noynoy's platform, I believe that reviewing what was said may actually help those in Noynoy's camp to improve on it.

The question that drove Noynoy to try to articulate a platform was a question about how he would bring peace to Mindanao. For about four decades now, the government has been engaged in an on and off war with Muslim Separatists. Once it had been with the MNLF and MILF, but now, the government's fight against the Muslim separatists has been re-defined as a fight against terrorists instead of an attempt to quell a decades old rebel movement which has at its roots a policy of isolation pointed against Islamic Filipinos -- the proto-culture that the Spanish and the Americans subdued.

To this question, Noynoy applied the "better to talk, than to shoot" stance. This has its pacifistic adherents and opponents. But the reality on the ground, perhaps, will force Noynoy to revise his stance later on and well, lead to the sort of vacillation that the Cory administration showed when it came to quelling rebellion.

As for the next set of issues, Noynoy tackled economic policies of the current administration i.e., the maximization of government resources. This didn't go anywhere beyond pointing out the obvious, which is, in simple terms, would have been better said by shouting "we're going down shit creek without a paddle."

Education. He just pointed out the no-brainer problem, bad books. So the solution, if you wanted to help him out, was to give good books. Problem solved! Hallelujah!

And the worst thing he could probably say was what he looked forward to at the end of his term.

"I want to be missed."

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