The Long View
Brains without bodies (1)
LAST WEEK I suggested that when confronted with people who want to be president, we should ask, Who has endorsed their candidacy? Candidates presenting themselves for the presidency are like brains, asking to be elected to steer the ship of state, but who don’t have bodies: how then, can they be expected to grasp the tiller? By telepathy?
As brains, they may be brimming over with ideas; they may have access to vast sums of cash; but for a country that expects presidents to solve problems, and with the least pain for the electorate, the whole current setup is a recipe for frustration and disillusionment.
In the case of senators, they are well and truly merely brains, bulging with good ideas and who can float around as parties of one, independent, even isolated – and receive public support for it. But a senator who dared to be a maverick isn’t necessarily the person best suited to be a chief executive who has to get both bureaucrats and politicians to work together.
In the case of non-senators, it’s even more problematic, because while a senator can point to a national mandate, others can’t: at best they can claim a provincial or city mandate; at worst, they can claim to have been given the confidence of a president (and the present dispensation has abandoned all pretenses to competence being a qualification for an appointment, since only loyalty seems to count).
The more established politicians will therefore validate their candidacies by having themselves proclaimed official candidates of whatever political party they happen to belong to by the time the official campaign period starts.
Of the two oldest parties, the Nacionalistas and the Liberals, the problem of their putative candidates, Senators Manny Villar and Mar Roxas, is that their claim to being the standard bearers of their respective parties lies more in inheritance than because of actual competition. Much-diminished because of the abolition of rules that fostered parties as electoral vehicles (such as bloc voting, which had given aspiring senatorial candidates an incentive for campaigning along party lines; without it, the Senate became a money and popularity contest fought ought by individual candidates), and martial law, they still have a kind of residual usefulness in some areas.
Remnants of the old party bailiwicks remain: consider Cavite for the NP, parts of Quezon Province and the Visayas for the LP. There still remain vestiges of the old network of these parties, and whoever claims the mantle of party leadership can say he leads an established national network of some sort.
However, both parties remain cleaved by schism: the NP has never managed to reunite with the NPC, and the Liberals remain split over the decision of some of its stalwarts to defend or reject the President.
There are other parties of equally recent vintage, but they tend to be overshadowed by the preeminence of one family, or one or two political figures, who call all the shots: PMP and Estrada; PDP-Laban with Binay and Pimentel; LDP and Angara; KBL and the Marcoses; and perhaps the most formidable of the new post-Edsa parties, the NPC.
After he failed to assume control of the Nacionalistas, Danding Cojuangco split off and founded the Nationalist People’s Coalition, today far more effective, politically, than the NP; not least because it contains much of the remnants of the old KBL, which in its own time had been meant to be like the Japanese Occupation’s Kalibapi, a movement to absorb the old parties. The KBL practically dissolved after 1986 but had its leaders re-coalesced they could have recaptured the presidency in 1992, if Cojuangco and Imelda Marcos hadn’t split the Loyalist vote; still, the ghost of the KBL animated the Estrada campaign in 1998.
In fact, Cojuangco’s and Marcos’ defeat in 1992 – their victory would have been a colossal repudiation of EDSA only six years after it happened – and Ramos’ victory in that year, followed by Estrada’s victory in 1998, a repudiation of the People Power generation of leaders, all point to the way our post-EDSA political system has been more a case of politics as subtraction, and not politics as addition, which is how the late Amang Rodriguez understood it, and how most people today think of it.
Earlier than most, the military tactician in Ramos understood that the new multiparty version of our democracy actually made the creation of large national movements, and the mobilization of large national constituencies, a waste of time and resources. In a multi-candidate race where no majority is required, and where no run-off race takes place, success for a presidential candidate is not to get an overall majority, it’s merely to get slightly more than the next strongest candidate.
Ramos got a smaller percentage of the votes than almost all of the defeated presidential contenders from 1946 to 1969. Even Estrada’s percentage in 1998 was smaller than that of the only non-majority president prior to martial law: Carlos P. Garcia. And Estrada himself, elected to office in the manner of Macapagal in 1961 (he became a Liberal president with a Nacionalista-dominated House), was saddled with a Ramos-era coalition that ended up impeaching him. Macapagal’s daughter at least learned from her father and secured House support and has nurtured it since.
The most successful party of the post-EDSA years, the Lakas-CMD (itself a splinter party from the old Cory-era LDP monolith), is in the curious position of being a large, nationally entrenched party with a gigantic body but no manhood. It’s only been able to resist Kampi being artificially grafted on as its substitute gonads but that isn’t saying much. The party was methodically emasculated, by the President herself, who first sidelined Ramos, then Jose de Venecia Jr.: clip, clip. And 2010 presents it with the dilemma of a body about to lose its brain. (To be continued)