The Long View: The amazing race

The amazing race

By Manuel L. Quezon III
First Posted 00:52am (Mla time) 01/25/2007

Published on page A11 of the January 25, 2007 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

THE scuttlebutt is that the administration has wooed Tessie Aquino-Oreta and Tito Sotto to their side, to co-star in the Palace’s senatorial lineup. If true, the news isn’t surprising after the two mounted a big production about leaving Edgardo Angara’s LDP party and moving to Eduardo Cojuangco’s NPC party. The broad smile of Richard Gomez a week or so ago, after he met with a Palace political operative, might be another broad hint of what is to come.

Since block voting was abolished in the 1950s and the restriction of election inspectors to the two-party system was made obsolete by the multi-party system, there has been no incentive for the voter to vote “straight,” that is, entire slates. The electorate mixes and matches, and a senatorial candidate’s individual reputation or record trumps party affiliation every time.

What does matter is the standing of the administration in the public’s opinion at any given time. An unpopular administration will harm senatorial candidates affiliated with it; a popular one will boost the chances of even the middling candidates. And a thoroughly unpopular one may be able to “cheat-in” some, but not all, of its candidates, but not enough to totally skew the electorate’s verdict.

I think, then, it would be a mistake to attribute all opposition, or reservations, to the idea of a slate coming from outside the leadership of United Opposition (UNO), to “pro” Estrada or “pro” Arroyo people. First of all, a third force will be hard put to run a full slate, anyway. Secondly, there will be a certain overlap based on a simple reality: any UNO slate will have more in common with a non-UNO, but, at the very least, ambivalent — if not outright hostile — to the administration slate. Notice that both the UNO and non-UNO senatorial slates, presented in preliminary terms, usually include Kiko Pangilinan, Manny Villar and Chiz Escudero.

My personal approach in vetting senatorial candidates is to ask these questions:

1. Which candidate would at least view impeachment with an open mind, or if with a closed one, then at least in favor of a more democratic attitude, which is, to impeach?

2. Which candidate would have an interest in defending the rights of the Senate (and the constituency it represents, the nation), in the face of hostility, and a lack of cooperation, from the executive?

3. Which candidate would be in a good position to derail any future mischief concerning the Constitution, specifically in terms of efforts to undermine it by either ignoring the Senate or foisting a grand deception like the so-called “people’s initiative”?

Obviously, on all three counts, any administration slate would be disqualified, too bad for the administration candidates. For example, just the other day, I had the chance to ask Miguel Zubiri all three questions and he didn’t hedge on his answers: He would approach impeachment with an open mind; personally favor a regionally elected Senate; and support amendments to that end, but he would oppose any amendment effort that would ignore the Senate. (He also told me that, together with Gilbert Teodoro and Ben-Hur Abalos, he, in fact, convinced the Speaker to backtrack on his unilateral effort to force through Charter change.) He also said the public has vocally insisted on electing a president, which means the parliamentary system won’t fly, and he is opposed to any sort of a “bastardized” hybrid political system: what is necessary is to strengthen political institutions, not weaken or confuse them. I am sure he’s sincere, and he will match his beliefs with actions if elected.

But any administration slate will be under tremendous pressure to acquit the President at all costs, if there will be an impeachment. This is when belonging to a Senate bloc could weaken a senator’s resolve to act independently. An administration bloc, too, would roll over, die, or wag its tail in the face of executive efforts to ignore the Senate or bend it to its will; and it would participate gladly in efforts to amend the Constitution to build a one-party, unicameral parliament.

All roads lead to Valentine’s Day – when UNO has to firm up its slate, other groups opposed to the administration (and skeptical over or at least uneasy with UNO) have to announce theirs, and the Palace has to plant the smooch of death on its anointed ones. So far, UNO has a firm slate of six: Ping Lacson, Villar, Escudero, Alan Peter Cayetano, Pangilinan and Loren Legarda. The reformist block so far consists of Ralph Recto, Ed Angara, Noynoy Aquino and Sonia Roco, as well as the three common to both slates. That makes 10. That leaves room, at the very least, for other candidates – and, I must say, the names being floated are promising.

And let me say this, too: UNO deserves credit for resisting the temptation to trot out the living but politically dead, like Kit Tatad or Ernesto Maceda. If circumstances have forced Gomez, Oreta and Sotto into the arms of the administration, it speaks well of those they’ve decided to leave behind. An Angara-Lacson reconciliation, or at least mutual toleration, boggles the mind less than the sight of Zubiri and Mike Defensor stumping together with Oreta and Sotto.

All I know is this: Speaking for the Lakas-CMD party, the Speaker has said it will be more of the usual when it comes to Charter change (on their terms, in pursuit of their own agenda) after the elections. The President, as head of Kampi party, and its chief operator, Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno, have shown in Iloilo that they will do anything to eliminate anyone who opposes them. Inadvertently over state radio, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita revealed they would pull out all stops to keep control of the House, which is all they really care about. Which is why they’ll embrace anyone, while everyone else is making an effort to be more discerning.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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