by Manuel L. Quezon III
ALL eyes are on Raul Roco today as he formally launches his candidacy. Of the declared candidates -President Arroyo, Fernando Poe, Jr., and Senator Panfilo Lacson- he remains the frontrunner. Those who say he peaked too early have been confounded by the refusal of his lead to shrink and then, collapse. Which is not to say that it won’t -it can. And the things that can contribute to the collapse of his campaign will be what the pundits will be looking out for, today.
When Fernando Poe, Jr. announced his campaign, his Manila Hotel mini-rally immediately set the tone for the coming campaign. Movie stars, shrieking fans, politicians lurking in rooms unseen and standing behind him. The Poe campaign’s Day One shows signs of being a showbiz extravaganza, but not a particularly organized one. But it will be a campaign characterized by hysteria of the swooning kind.
The last time around, Roco ran a campaign saddled by a lack of credible, if not respected, backers and peers in the political scene. It was further hobbled by his deciding on a running mate who provoked a unanimous reaction “who the hell is that?” It was sunk by his being unable to ensure the logistics that would not only get out the vote, but guard it.
This time around, the public and the pundits will be scrutinizing the Aksyon Democratiko convention in the PICC for signs of disorganization, or for signs of a slick, organized campaign staff. Those who show up will be scrutinized as well. We know he has Senator Biazon behind him. We know he has a coalition of tiny parties composed of the followers of Renato de Villa and Lito Osmena. But one former general turned-senator, another former general turned bureaucrat, and the living exemplar of the cacique style, does not a formidable party machinery make. What it makes, to be fair, is an alliance that is six years too late, for it should have been formed back in 1998 to keep out Estrada rather than divide the middle and upper class and youth vote.
Still, as a start, Roco is off to a good one. He has wrested the banner of Edsa Dos from the administration, and it can be said the mantle of middle-class respectability is his to wrap around his shoulders. By all accounts, he has the youth on his side, those who have vowed never to elect another actor and who still beleive Edsa Dos was about morality and a progressive vision for the country. But like Miriam Santiago, whom Roco resembles in the monumentality of his ego and the unapologetic intelligence of his speaking style, having the idealistic on your side means nothing if they don’t vote -and if their votes aren’t counted.
On the part of our thoroughly amoral business classes it is said of him that they would vote for him except they assume he won’t win -the sort of cowardly self-fulfilling logic that will keep ensuring those the supposedly educated and wealthy believe are qualified to run the country will never have the chance to do just that. On the part of the youth, Roco has the minority that is educated. But it is an educated and idealistic minority that lacks the street-smarts to face many hurdles placed in the way of their votes counting. They do not know how to neutralize the machines and the machinery of cheating. They do not have the resources to foil vote-grabbing and “massaging” the ballots. The wherewithal to foil efforts that could steal the election must come from the elders of the youth. And these elders must have courage, they must have the financial means, and they must have the stature to inspire the youth to stand in the way of guns, goons, and dagdag-bawas.
It is a strength for Roco that he has been discreet and not surrounded himself with too many of the usual suspects. For it is the usual suspects that are alienating the middle class and youth from his opponents and driving these voters to Roco’s camp. However the time has come for Roco to show who is on his side; for a candidate is judged not only on his own merits, but on his ability -or inability- to select qualified and respectable people whose heads arent stuck up their asses or whose minds arent firmly orbiting mars, but instead, who are known -and who known- how to get things done with the least amount of dirty compromise.