BBM: Keeping His Eye On The Prize

Boring is beautiful.

This sums up the campaign of BBM as he and Sara make their way to Malacanang.

BBM has been disciplined on messaging avoiding anything that might disrupt what has been a well oiled and fully funded operation. He has kept to over-arching and uncontestable themes like unity, happiness and progress and avoided specifics at least until the Presidential debates when he may actually have to flesh out the issues. Even then expect his advisers to trot out the well-worn priorities of agriculture, education, infrastructure, manufacturing, foreign investments, health and exports and anything else that moves.

BBM’s opponents and pundits are perplexed by his popularity given his limited track record, his life style and his family name. In fact the more stuff thrown at him the better. His numbers jumped when the President hinted at his cocaine use, weakness and incompetence. Interestingly PPRD’s crass attacks on Isko Moreno as a bikini boy had the similar effect of swelling Isko’s popularity suggesting that Duterte is losing his touch.

BBM is now polling at close to 60% on all surveys including those of his opponents and that is without the President’s endorsement. More important he has a bedrock of voters of about 48% which in a multi-party race will be enough to tide over any mishaps in the presidential debates or negative personal revelations going into May.

BBM’s popularity is a combination of name recall, the legacy of his father as a visionary and a doer (forgetting everything else), a charming enough persona who everyday is growing in confidence, the partnership with Sara, the failure of his opponents to score, a message of hope however bare-bones; and a well-run organization led by his wife Liza, a lawyer. Liza is the ideal politician’s wife: Soft spoken, discreet, dedicated, smart, discerning, tough, organized, dogged, ambitious – she could well want it even more than her husband – and the laser instinct to get it done. She seemingly loves the power game even if she may deny it.

BBM is not a person nor an ideology. He is an aura, a political identity, a brand, a representation of a time and a legacy. History was ready, Sara stepped down and he showed up. BBM and Sara are alike in that they are undefined which makes them elusive political targets. We know their fathers, we do not know them nor what they stand for. The enigma and opaqueness works so why fix it? With her announcement of a compulsory military draft Sara is starting to drift on the messaging so she may need to be reined in.

Robredo and 1Sambayan have chosen to attack BBM for the sins of his father. This one dimensional approach has not gained traction other than with the bourgeoisie, the idealists and the intelligentsia. The public seems bored with the narrative: What they want is a better life and, after 2 1/2 years of COVID and a messy leadership, order and stability. Leni is arguably too angry, Isko too slick and Manny too etherial. Filipinos want steadiness and clarity and BBM in their minds provides this.

To beat BBM one has to identify a unique narrative which invariably means moving out to the extreme wings of the ideological spectrum like what the Leftists in South America and Rightists in Central Europe have successfully done with populists measures like universal income, free housing, taxing the rich and fomenting class warfare. But even that could be too little too late. Leni is not an extremist. Isko has the DNA to go there but he is fearful of antagonizing his capitalist donors. 

We are approaching the official 90 day run to the election. The only imponderable is the disqualification of BBM. The COMELEC has thrown out the challenge to his Certificate of Candidacy. Still undecided is the disqualification of his person which is a legal nuance. Without a CoC BBM was never a candidate and therefore has no electoral standing. However, if disqualified as a candidate he may be replaced by a substitute with the same surname (Lisa, Imee?). If the disqualification happens after his election as President, the winning VP (Sara?) likely becomes President although we are in uncharted legal waters. BBM’s focus now is to keep his numbers up which is his main defense against his ouster.

Duterte has that disqualification card to play but he is likely to hold it until he can secure from BBM the safety of his buddies Bong Go, Cusi, Duque & Co. That conversation I imagine has already started. Sara will be opposed to any clemency for the Malacanang boys so that is a delicate discussion with BBM and Dad. 

The opposition will continue to run until their bank account tells them otherwise because Number Two still gives them a shot albeit a long one in the event of a legal technicality or an act of God.

Already there is talk of what a BBM presidency will look like. There is trepidation among those who remember Martial Law. Will darkness once again return to this nation?

I am not frightened – maybe the result of six years of Duterte twilight – but admittedly somewhat uncomfortable. Times are different, we are more aware today, our free press has been shackled but replaced with an active social media. The Marcoses know the world will be watching so they will be mindful. They crave the power and the revenge on the liberals but are not as ruthless nor as politically savvy as the Dad. They may even seek to redeem the past and build back better except the family never believed they did anything wrong nor ever apologized.

Malacanang will be light and fun in keeping with the personality of its prospective occupant. BBM is unlikely to do much heavy lifting and like his father will rely on technocrats to run the country. His biggest challenge will be attracting good talent who actually care, a Cesar Virata, and could end up instead with city slickers with their own ideas. GMA will offer her economic team but the family may prefer their own since they have come to distrust outsiders.

The economics will be Neo-Classical, policies centrist and Government better managed than the current one. BBM may even surprise us with a vision but expect little compassion since empathy was never a family trait. As with all new regimes the elephant in the room will be corruption, how soon, how widespread and flagrant will it be.

BBM will control the House with the traditional migration of the herd with GMA or Martin Romualdez as Speaker. The Senate is more challenging depending on the incoming members. PPRD will retain his influence in the Supreme Court so he will not be powerless.

The center of the political universe will return to Manila. Malacanang will be a collective with Liza and Imee I imagine running many of the plays, vetting the key appointments and ensuring everybody sticks to their lane.

Business will, as always, be a backdrop to the politics. The cronies of the father are mostly gone but there could be some retro-active accounting. New players will emerge from the friends and relatives but that is to be expected. Most of the lucrative opportunities have been largely taken by the established tycoons and Duterte friends so the action could be in the reshuffling and in the creation of new economic enclaves. A prominent Duterte ally is already said to be peddling his enterprises. The biggest plum remains ABS-CBN with a Marcos relative reportedly already eyeing it.

The loser, as always, will be the Filipino whose life will not change, the rich will get richer, the poor poorer. This is the tragedy of our presidential elections that the outcomes never match the promises and the hope.

Coming To You Soon, Omicron

This sounds facetious and politically incorrect but there are some things to be said for Omicron.

For example, did you know that to visit Canada (which is no slouch on health protocols) you only need either a negative PCR test or, get this, proof of having contracted COVID 15-180 days before arrival? I am not suggesting you go get it but if you do make sure to officially document it. No more annoying and expensive tests. Omicron could be your Get-Out-Jail card to easy travel, super-spreader events and a normal life.

Father Nicanor Austriaco, an OCTA fellow and molecular biologist, said Omicron could be “the beginning of the end”. It acts like a booster protecting you from all prior variants. Incidentally, he is the same person whom Duterte reportedly offered the post of DOH Secretary, vice Duque; not that, as Sara will tell you, a presidential endorsement matters nowadays.

My three granddaughters ages 8-11 who are fully vaccinated just tested positive in the U.S. They are jumping around so happy to be out of school. The parents are unconcerned even if they know they are next. My daughter asked the school nurse whether my grandson who is still negative should attend classes and the answer was: “Eh, whatever, it does not matter, everybody will get it anyway.”

Sec. Ano, head of the IATF COVID Task Force, has contracted the virus for the third time and he is, thank God, still around.

Novak Dyokovic is unvaccinated and was positive but successfully argued he is therefore no longer a health threat and has been allowed to play in the Australian Open.

So maybe Omicron is not all that it is feared to be. Could Omicron be the white knight which will slay Delta and lead us to the promised land of herd immunity? It is reportedly up to 70 times more transmittable than Delta but it is unlikely to attack the lungs and therefore less deadly. In the Philippines we are seeing a big uptick in cases but the death rates and infections while significant could rapidly drop as in South Africa and the UK. The 1918 Spanish Flu substantially eased when the H1Ni virus weakened.

Omicron has hit the U.S. with a vengeance but, after an initial blip, the stock market has rallied back to record highs. Investors are more concerned about inflation and rising interest rates than the rising virus. The CDC pointed out COVID fatalities are almost entirely in the unvaccinated.

Omicron is still not the dominant variant in the Philippines with the deadly Delta still spreading. There is also the danger of long COVID and the possibility that massive transmission will lead to potentially more deadly strains. So we still need to be responsible, vaccinate, mask, wash, social distance but we also need to have a life. Let us remember there are arguably worse things than COVID like being without a job, seeing your family starve or being unable to travel to work.

Speaking of which, the new public transportation restrictions on unvaccinated passengers are unfair and insensitive (and I am restraining my adverbs). I get the idea but there are over 50 million Filipinos who are still unjabbed not for lack of desire but for lack of the vaccines. Why punish the ordinary folk for the incompetence of our officials? We can introduce such restrictions once there are enough vaccines for those who want it. Incidentally the new rules are coming from the same Dept. of Transportation which gave us the “shields” for riding motorcycle passengers which have no basis in science or intelligence. 

The same lack of logic applies to international airline arrivals. The IATF just reduced the number of arrivals in NAIA from 4,000 in December to 3,000 for vaccinated and PCR tested passengers who then have to quarantine for 5 days (up from 3 days) after which they will again have to be PCR tested. As a perspective the number of arrivals pre-pandemic was 30,000/day.

Think about it: Before flying to the Philippines from say the U.S. one must take a ($300) PCR test 72 hours prior to departure. Assuming travel day is Day Zero passengers generally test themselves on Day -3 because it takes a while to get the test results. On arrival that passenger must then quarantine and re-test on Day +5 or 8 days after first being tested. Now the virus has an incubation period of an estimated 3-4 days. Assuming the worst case that the passenger contracted COVID on Day 0, the tests will show this on Day+3-4 (probably the earlier number) so why the need for a Day+5 quarantine? At worst, the latter should be lowered back to Day+3 which would vastly lower stay costs, increase quarantine capacity, encourage international arrivals and, very important, enable more OFWs to return home. Many of these are stranded abroad with little money and no accommodation. Airlines that violate the arrival restrictions are fined $200/passenger but to accommodate the plight of our countrymen, some airlines have opted to fly them in on humanitarian grounds and assume the fine which now runs to millions of dollars.

Some provinces have re-imposed PCR tests even for vaccinated air travelers impacting internal tourism and returning OFWs. You need a test to arrive by air but not by land or sea. Go figure.

We need to review our health protocols so they are based on evidence, on risk probabilities, and on their impact on the economy. The policies should be granular, flexible, targeted, and mindful of the peripheral damage.

We know most of the deaths are among the unvaccinated. They are taking up hospital beds and draining our health workers (To alleviate the shortage the IATF reduced the quarantine for frontliners from 10 days to 5 days despite rising infections. Fortunately most are vaccinated and unlikely to die). Government should segmentize the vaccinated from the unvaccinated and tailor policies accordingly. It should dispense with varying blanket alert levels which just confuse the public and business. Instead it should go all in on vaccinations and leave most everything else alone so the economy and people can breathe.

On international travel, absent significant evidence to the contrary, the arrival limit on the vaccinated and double tested should be raised to 10,000/day or one third of pre-pandemic levels. The current number of 3,000 is an arbitrary and unreasonable chokehold on the economy, tourists and returning Filipinos.

Omicron is showing itself to be transmissible but also manageable as we ramp up our vaccines, our anti-virals and our herd immunity. We have had 3.1 million COVID cases of which 52,654 have died. Unfortunately we also have 4.3 million officially unemployed, 6.2 million underemployed and over 20 million living below the poverty line. The virus is dangerous but recoverable unlike economic lives and mental health which too often are not.

There is a real probability we will all get infected. If we accept that we can then move on, look to a future of hope rather than a nightmare of fear. Let us manage COVID and not, as our authorities prefer, have COVID manage us.

On Post-Mortems and FAQs

A regime is ending, earlier than expected, and dubious post-mortems such as this will abound on the legacy of Duterteeism. 

Historically we have had only two truly disruptive leaders. One was Marcos, the other is Duterte. It is ironic therefore that one could spawn the resurrection of the other (or his heir).

Duterte is the story of a Davao Mayor on the national stage. He focused on the priorities of a city – drugs, peace and order, inner politics – not recognizing he was now playing in a bigger arena where the economy, management and vision were larger issues.

The President’s political signature is the cult of personality. He takes everything personally be it in how he attacks an opponent or his reaction to slights. He loves to play mind games, to unbalance you. This entertained voters but also narrowed his vision leading to national and family overreach and a dramatic end to his Administration that he never would have foreseen. 

In foreign affairs he pivoted from the U.S. to China but this was arguably not out of a grand view of international relations as it was from a reported personal affront with U.S. authorities while Davao Mayor and, on the other hand, from the suspected financial support from the Mainland in his 2016 Presidential run. The President’s unwavering friendship with China came to haunt him after the latter’s brazen invasion of our Pacific islands.

The President’s last two years was marred by COVID so he will be judged, perhaps unfairly, not by his prior accomplishments whatever they be but by the failure of his Government’s response to the pandemic and the massive corruption that COVID exposed. Suddenly the Administration was seen to have no clothes.

To disguise its deficiencies, Malacanang raised the “existential” threat of a Communist takeover even as the notion of Red was abandoned 50 years ago in the Cold War. Even Russia and China have long put Communism behind them.

The War On Drugs which the President himself admits to being a failure was a simplistic approach – just kill the dealers and users – to a real problem while exempting the true culprits, the drug lords and the police.

The President was an absentee leader on the economy. He relegated the matter to Dominguez & Co. who had the momentum of the previous Administration to carry them through the first years but who were then blindsided by COVID. Sonny had plans but became engulfed in the economicl havoc of the pandemic.

As we approach May the conversation will shift from the assessment of the past to the prospects of the future. Here are some FAQs:

  1. Who will be our next leader?

The consensus is BBM/Sara have a commanding lead. BBM needs to maintain this gap because that is his best protection against a disqualification. He enjoys the support of GMA, the Estradas and possibly the President when things simmer down. He has the best oiled and funded machine with his wife, Liza, an important part of the fixture.

2. Why did Sara abandon the Presidency when she was the front-runner?

The Sara saga is a family discussion gone bad. It was the combination of an overreach by a controlling father, the remnants of a broken family, the tension between Sara and key members of Team Duterte, and the fear of a possibly failed presidential run. The father insisted the daughter play by his rules or he would take the ball away. This removed the political umbrella she thought she needed to win. A BBM partnership allowed her to retreat from the lime light with possible assurances of a role and an endorsement in 2028 without the shadow of her father. Sara was seemingly not ready for the Presidency.

2. How did BBM break from the pack?

BBM is a case of just showing up, of being at the right place at the right time. Elections are won by political presence, not by programs nor even personalities. Noy Aquino did not win because of his persona and his accomplishments and neither will Marcos. They are simply the embodiment of the family brand. BBM offers a message of unity even if his name is the source of the division. Yet he is no neophyte having been possibly the winner of the VPship in 2016. It is interesting if voters see in Marcos the anti-Establishment face of the future even as he so personifies the Establishment face of the past.

3. How do the other presidentiables hope to win?

First, they have to coalesce around one candidate and even this may not be enough. This coalition may emerge by attrition as the less financially and electorally viable campaigns wither on the vine. 

Second, the surviving candidate(s) must stamp his political presence which may mean taking inordinate risks. The challenge for the contenders is how to be heard in the cacophony of elections. Marginal political thinking will be not enough to overtake BBM. His opponents may have to go out on either the extreme left or right of the ideological spectrum with programs such as Universal Income, Near-Free Housing, higher Minimum Wage, Emancipation of the Rural Folk and other populist measures however fiscally unsustainable. Such programs may scare capitalist donors so candidates must convince the Big Money that, hey, other than Jesus and Lee Kwan Yew, no leader has ever delivered nor had to deliver on campaign promises.

4. Does populism work?

Duterte is the product of populism. Voters lapped up his outrageous claims like solving drugs in six months, jet skiing to the Spratleys and publicly shaming Big Business. He was their revenge on the elite.

Voters are seemingly bored with centrists, top down economics and liberal and human rights talk. In South America left leaning up-starts have overthrown years of right wing authoritarianism, the latest being the election of the new Honduran President and the return in Brazil of Lula, the past socialist president. On Sunday Chileans will be choosing between two (out of seven) candidates who represent the extreme left and right. These countries are in many ways akin to the Philippines – Are we not the Banana Republic of Asia? – so what worked there could work here.

5. Which of the candidates can best espouse populism?

Isko has the most temerity to take political risks and be disruptive. His rise from the slums gives him the credibility to push the ideological envelope. 

Leni is caring but her background and supporters are largely conservative and traditional. She is small steps at a time.

Marcos could move to the political right but that could bring out martial law skeletons. Why fix something that is not broken? He is best saying nothing and running out the clock.

Pacquiao comes from poverty but now lives the good life so he is not the best messenger of anything different. 

Ping is walking for President so anything he says may not actually matter.

6. Can external forces affect the May outcome?

China and the U.S. have a vested geo-political interest in the coming elections. The military has not spoken but will if asked. BBM could be disqualified but I would not bet on it. The Marcos’ are surely already reaching out to the President and he, I believe, will listen. His stepping down from the Senate race indicates he is ready to ride into the sunset but with his head high.

Going forward BBM needs only to avoid mishaps and to stick to overarching themes of unity, stability and progress without the details.The others must go out on a limb with specifics and without a safety net if they are to gain traction and therein lies the rub.

One Down

One down and only 96 left to go. The latter is the number of candidates who are officially still running for President if only in their minds.

Bong Go’s recent announcement he was withdrawing from the presidential race was hardly surprising. He had earlier written an op-ed piece stating he would leave his destiny to the Filipino people and to God. Since the former has not yet spoken the presumption is Bong did have a conversation with the Almighty who advised him, presumably, it was time to let go.

In Bong’s case the Almighty is his mentor and adopted father, President Duterte. In previous articles I had written that PPRD always knew Bong was a non-starter. The President reportedly took soundings from his Congressmen and Governors in a series of meetings convened for the purpose and they confirmed what Lyndon Johnson liked to say: “This dog won’t hunt”. Incidentally, the attendance at these gatherings was apparently only about a third of the usual crowd suggesting some of his political supporters are starting to head for the lifeboats as the Administration ship of state starts to take in water.

Bong Go was not disappointed with this turn of events. He has always been happiest just sitting at the right hand side of the Father doing his thing. He was dragged in tears into the race by D30. It was a knee jerk reaction when the President was blind sided by the announcement of Sara running for VP. It was a ploy to jolt Sara and her running mate BBM with the prospect of an Administration candidate who would eat their lunch. Unfortunately his bluff was called leaving D30 now with no horse in the race.

The President has a few options left. One, he could push for the disqualification of BBM with his influence in the COMELEC and if necessary in the Supreme Court. Disqualifications proceedings could take a few months (the Election Code allows for the disqualification of a candidate up to 15 days before the election date). Until then BBM will seek to run up his poll numbers as quickly as possible hoping that the higher his popularity the more difficult it will be for the adjudicators to kick him out of the race without creating a political storm and backlash from his supporters. Time is not on D30’s side on this one.

Two, the President could throw his support behind Isko. Isko has openly welcomed the support of the President and that includes bringing Sara into the equation. This option is sub-optimal if BBM remains in the race and wins because then PPRD would have blown his political wad in a losing cause.

Three, as I had previously suggested, D30 could after his anger has subsided come to an “entente cordiale” with BBM on future legal cover for him and his gang against the ICC and whatever else is thrown at them after May 2022. This would mean eating humble pie something the President is loath and unaccustomed to do. The upside is it will help the candidacy of Sara who is running against a popular Tito Sotto. Despite their differences the President still wants  his daughter to win.

After a scathing attack against a BBM-type as a cocaine user, weak leader and good-for-nothing the President has scaled down the rhetoric suggesting he may have decided to bury the hatchet and move on. BBM will not take the attacks on him personally since in his own words he “never felt alluded to”. Incidentally, since we are on the subject of cocaine, did you know that while the substance is undetectable after two days with blood tests and three days with urine tests it remains traceable in the hair for months and even a year? Candidates with lovely heads of hair – and there are a couple of them – perhaps should volunteer to submit to follicle tests. But we digress.

How are the other presidential candidates faring?

Isko is building momentum but still has considerable ways to go. He does not want to peak too early so he is parsing his media exposure. The word is he is full on with his fund raising and has among all the candidates spent the most so far. He announced he is ready to sleep with the enemy which is the mark of a good politician. At least he is transparent about his intentions which is part of his charm.

Leni saw an initial surge in the polls after her CoC. She has a base of enthusiastic supporters mostly from the AB crowd and the intelligentsia whose vote unfortunately for them is far less than their voice. By her own admission funding remains constrained until she can show better poll results and momentum. Her Senate slate which includes some ethically challenged members has drawn criticism even among her supporters. Leni may arguably have a bigger say as kingmaker than as queen but she needs to make this determination sooner rather than later if she is to maximize her sway.

Manny Paquiao continues to draw huge and adoring crowds  which is helped by his propensity to hand out P1,000 bills at will. This is arguably in violation of the election rules but more important is quickly depleting his funds; so he is no longer so inclined. Manny is clearly caring of the people and has a powerful brand but these alone will not be enough. He seems unaware of what it takes to run for President. Manny still has an important part to play in the final outcome the only question being what role since being the lead is increasingly less likely with time. 

Ping, well Ping was never really in the fight.

What will happen to the D30 base with Bong Go out of the picture? The Cusi faction of the PDP Laban will be deciding this soon not actually that it matters. For the first time in our political history the erstwhile dominant party has no standard bearer for President or VP.  It has become a paper tiger. Its base is much diminished what with the split with the Pacquiao/Pimentel forces. With D30 increasingly a lame duck, many of the party’s members are now looking for a new home with most of the space taken. The President still commands a political presence especially in the South, holds the power of the incumbent when it comes to getting down and dirty and has huge Bayanihan funds that can be spent. What he chooses to do next will still have a large bearing on who is our next leader.

The final electoral script has still to be written but it is taking shape with forces coalescing around the major points of engagement. The candidates on the fringe will start to trade in their political equity before they lose their value. This Come to Jesus moment will occur at different times for different contenders as bank accounts and ideals are depleted and fatigue and reality sets in which should be in the coming months. 

Meddling In A Family Affair

It just got down and dirty.

The President launched the first salvo accusing a “presidential aspirant” of being a cocaine user, a weak son of a strongman with no accomplishments nor substance but his name. 

 “Who, me?” was the Marcos camp response to the accusation. “BBM does not feel alluded to” said his spokesman Vic Rodriguez which makes him the only one of 107 million Filipinos not to think so. This is the definition of an alternative reality. It is also the definition of whistling in the dark.

D30 is furious at Marcos. In his mind BBM & Co. “seduced” his one and only adult daughter, the heir to his legacy and franchise; with sweet little nothings to abandon a Presidential run which was hers to lose. Now she is not even assured of the VPship against a popular Tito Sotto. Understand this was a woman whom the father built up politically, whose name she carries and without whom she would not be who she is. She was his protection against the ICC and whatever else awaits him after May 2022. In one swoop BBM took all that away from him.

Sara had originally filed to run as Davao Mayor. The President believes Sara would not have gone to the dark side without significant prodding from malicious forces. Worse, the plot was hatched in the dead of night without prior notice to nor consent from the father. D30 had always a soft spot for BBM, had often called him deserving of the Presidency, was seen almost as a big brother or an uncle. This was a betrayal of trust. It was a brazen affront to his persona and the President does not like to be affronted.

The President was shamed and disrespected – the elements he is most sensitive to – not only publicly but to his peers and his people. He fancies himself as seeing and knowing all things political in this country. Now he is viewed as having been upended by an upstart and lesser being, as having lost control of his family, of having everything he built and cherish stolen from him behind his back. People have been killed or incarcerated for much less than this.

BBM is facing disqualification charges at the COMELEC for failure to file income taxes many years ago. The COMELEC is composed of seven Commissioners four of whom were appointed by D30 and the other three to be so by Feb. 2022. The COMELEC has recently allowed BBM some leeway when it controversially extended the deadline to file his defense even if the period for doing so had expired. One wonders if this was just a way for the body to display its impartiality before dropping the axe. BBM could appeal the COMELEC decision to a Duterte dominated Supreme Court at which point things could get messy. The COMELEC has to start printing its ballots by December which leaves little time to retain or erase BBM from the roster.

Life would be simpler for the President if BBM was not present. It would improve the chances of Bong Go by not splitting the Administration vote. It would mean D30 would not have to be hostage to a BBM presidency should the latter win.

What are possible scenarios?

One, the COMELEC does not disqualify BBM and the race is on.

Two, the COMELEC disqualifies him and the matter is appealed.

Three, the COMELEC does not disqualify him, the President keeps the heat on and BBM decides to fold.

Four, the COMELEC does not disqualify BBM, the latter’s poll numbers continue to hold and Bong Go’s to stagnate; prompting the President to reach out. Absent Bong Go BBM is arguably still D30’s best bet for future political cover. BBM will probably honor his word. 

Five, BBM is disqualified, Bong Go continues to tread water requiring D30 to approach say Isko for an arrangement in exchange for the President’s support. Isko has always maintained an open-door policy so that might work even if it is a stretch.

Six, BBM is disqualified or withdraws and Sara joins up with Isko or Manny to spite her Dad.

Seven, Sara withdraws to dial down the tension but the damage would have been done.

Eight, BBM is disqualified but replaced by Imee. Under Sec. 77 of the Election Code someone who is disqualified can be replaced by another candidate from the same party even after Nov.15 provided they have the same name. BBM filed under Partido Federal Ng Pilipinas (PFP), Imee is under Villar’s Nationalista party but she could change affiliation to PFP. I doubt Imee would jump in.

The Presidential fury is not only directed at BBM. Sara is running under GMA’s Lakas party which, in D30’s mind, could mean GMA is part of the conspiracy. Whether this then takes on a life of its own is interesting.

The non-Administration candidates are delighted at the unraveling of events. A disqualification of BBM would throw the race wide open. Bong Go would become more competitive but he is an easier target than BBM. Sara’s base could partly spill over to Isko and Manny.

The ground under the presidential race is still shifting. The critical factors to watch are the COMELEC decision on BBM, the latter’s reaction to an unfavorable ruling, Bong Go’s poll numbers with and without BBM, how aggressively the President will take on BBM and how the latter stands up to it; and how the “opposition” candidates react individually and collectively to the changes.

The Marcos/GMA team may rue the day they persuaded Sara to join their cause. BBM was polling well and looked a likely winner even without Sara. On boarding Sara as a junior partner, especially the manner in which it was done, was a public slap on the President’s face something he does not take lightly.

The President is upset with BBM & Co. for barging in and exploiting what was a family affair. Will he pursue the drug charge or is this just a warning shot across BBM’s bow? Let us see how far his anger takes him.

The One That Got Away

The world of President Duterte just unravelled.

His head strong daughter filed over the weekend for Vice-President under the Lakas-CMD party of GMA. She will run with BBM as President. 

The original ticket was supposed to be Sara-BBM. At first BBM seemed prepared to be VP but raised his sights when Sara opted to run for Davao Mayor. After seeing his positive poll numbers (up to 68% in some surveys) and as I had written he might, he got used to the idea he could be president and dug his heels in.

D30 was blindsided by the announcement. He does not understand why Sara would give up the top slot when the race was hers to lose. She was polling eight points above everybody else. In a fit of anger he commanded a reluctant Bong Go to file for President and threatened to run with him for VP but it may be too little too late.

Rep. Joey Salceda, a Sara confidant, unequivocally confirmed, one, Sara has always wanted to be President but did not file for such because of “complications with her Dad” and, two, the VPship “was not an option for Sara”. Joey even presented Sara with a 15 point economic plan to launch her presidential campaign. So much for that. 

The losers and winners in this sudden turn of events are:

I. The Losers

A. Sara –

After all the drama about her candidacy Sara is now seen to have never had a real vision for the Presidency. In accepting the second slot she said she was going “half way” to please her supporters not understanding that being half pregnant does not count. Perhaps she was not sure she could carry off being President and needed time to learn the job.

  Sara is not a slam dunk for VP. She will be competing against Tito Sotto who is polling even better than her Dad for that position. Her followers could be disappointed with her decision with some dispersing to Isko or Manny for the presidential race.

Sara may have given in to BBM out of delicadeza to her friend Imee. She may also believe she could not win without her Dad’s support. D30 may have told her he would not back her presidential run unless she provided political cover for his buddies which she was not prepared to do.

The Marcos’ undoubtedly promised to back Sara in 2028. Some have speculated at a power sharing arrangement with BBM until then but I doubt he would agree. Sara is also not politically aggressive enough to have asked for it.

Sara’s move could be a knee jerk reaction to her father’s overbearing manner but if it is and she gave up an opportunity to lead the country just for that; suggests she is not be ready for the presidency.

B. The President –

The President is, if you believe the reports, fit to be tied. He prides himself as the political maestro who sees everything. Not this one so it was a public shaming which is why it hurts. All his scenarios did not include his daughter being the junior partner to BBM. The latter can probably be trusted to protect him against the International Criminal Court and the likes but that does not necessarily go for his team. Sara may even have extracted from BBM as a condition for their partnership that the President’s groupies including DOH Sec. Duque,  Energy Sec. Cusi and even Bong Go; not be spared from criminal investigations.

The President has few viable options. He must know Bong Go is not electable even with the President’s endorsement, his power over the COMELEC (all seven of whom by Feb. 2022 will have been appointed by him) and the dirty tricks at his disposal. He himself is not a shoo-in for VP given how popular Tito Sotto has turned out to be and how he will be splitting the vote with his daughter. Two Dutertes on the ballot will confuse many. That would leave PPRD with no #1 and 2 draft picks for Malacanang that he can fully count on. 

With the President’s blessing the COMELEC may still throw out BBM’s candidacy for the latter’s failure to file his income tax long ago. However that would leave D30 with no electable ally for President. In that eventuality the President might even have a quiet conversation with say Isko on some future arrangements. Stranger things have happened in this election and it is still not over. Even after Nov. 15 there is ample time for horse trading, candidates opting or being bought out; and the candidates’ skeletons brought out in public.

C. GMA

GMA would arguably have been better off in a Sara rather than a BBM presidency. GMA was reportedly forging a Sara-BBM ticket but may now have to settle for a smaller role in a BBM Administration particularly as Marcos gets confident in the position. GMA was allegedly eyeing the House Speakership and she may get it initially if only in name because of friendship and services rendered. However over the longer term BBM will probably hand that post to his cousin, Martin Romualdez, who is President of Lakas and on good terms with GMA.

II. The Winners

A. The Opposition

The opposition must be delighted with the turn of events. Sara is out as President. BBM may not be fully embraced by the Duterte base. BBM is still the leading contender but may have to deal with the ambivalence of D30 who now is labeling BBM, whom he often said deserved to be President, a “Communist”. But again that could just be posturing.

Among the opposition candidates Isko has the most to gain from any implosion of the Duterte base. Manny may reap some of the benefits but he will not know what to do with it. Leni, Duterte’s nemesis, will get none of the fallout. Still, the defections will not be enough to defeat BBM given a divided opposition.

B. BBM

BBM has pulled off a coup. However his candidacy is still not secure if the COMELEC disqualifies him or the President decides to take him on. On the other hand BBM is still the “friendliest” among the leading candidates so when the anger settles PPRD could well just arrive at an “entente cordiale (friendly understanding)” with him rather than lose all the marbles.

C. The President’s Men

They are relieved. Sara as President would have been gunning for them, BBM not.

The Sara affair is being termed a family feud but that is oversimplifying it. Sara has always said it is not personal with her Dad, it is just business. In truth my sources tell me the fight is not between Sara and her Dad as it is between Sara and Bong Go. She – and even her brothers – resent him for being PPRD’s self proclaimed gate keeper. D30 got dragged into the fray because of his insistence to impose Bong Go on her.

Ultimately this is a story of an authoritarian father trying to bend the will of a defiant daughter. It was a conversation gone bad complicated by family baggage. D30 may have overplayed his hand. He did not believe Sara would call his bluff. The result is, I think, a BBM presidency.

Behind The Curve, As Usual

This is not an article about crypto currencies but I will start with it. 

Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger, the world renowned investment gurus, have called cryptos a fraud. Incidentally their fund, Berkshire, did not buy into Apple until 25 years later and is now its biggest holding. They also missed out on Amazon.

Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan, the premier U.S. bank, has called Bitcoin useless even as he admits his bank has had to offer crypto services to clients because of the overwhelming demand. There are now 220 million crypto holders worldwide growing at 113% annually, twice the adoption rate of the internet at the same stage of development.

Gary Gensler, the U.S. SEC Chair, has said crypto is the “Wild West” yet Americans, especially the Millenials, are buying cryptos in droves through publicly listed exchanges, PayPal and Square. Europe, Canada, Japan and recently Australia approved crypto investment vehicles. Singapore announced it wants to be the crypto capital of the world adding thousands of jobs in decentralized applications that will sit on the Bitcoin and Ethereum platforms. Apple’s App Store is valued at over half a trillion dollars. El Salvador has approved Bitcoin as legal tender.

I mention all this not as a reflection on cryptos but as a commentary on how political and business leaders, even the Brahmins of industry, can get so embedded in their cocoons they fail to see the future even as it passes before them.

This is no more evident than in our country. Our leaders are always behind the curve but they do not know it. We are second to worst in reading, math and science; among the lowest in productivity and business competitiveness, the first to lock down from COVID, the last to emerge and yet the worst in COVID safety; and the slowest to recover economically.

We always seek the path of least resistance. Our so called miracle economic growth of the last decade was founded on low lying fruit – urban centric real estate development, retail services, banking – and protectionist measures rather than infrastructure, rural development, education and knowledge skills. As a result we lag behind the world in key metrics like inequality of wealth, absolute poverty, urban congestion, depletion of our natural resources and air and water quality.

We are slow to innovate. In a digital world our Government data base is analogue. As a result we are unable to target the poor for aid, deliver services and collect taxes efficiently. Government officials like it that way, it allows for corruption.

In banking our Asian neighbors are all in on technology and consumer experience. China is issuing  a yuan digital currency. India’s Supreme Court overturned a law banning banks from offering crypto services. Singapore is overhauling its laws and regulations on cryptos.

Our banks fear that financial technology – “fintech” – will disrupt their franchises, their branch networks, and cannibalize their lucrative remittance and credit businesses not realizing others will eventually do that to them. In China payment platforms like WeChat and AliPay have replaced credit cards and expensive money transfers as the protocols of choice. Decentralized finance where businesses and individuals can borrow and lend cheaply, safely and quickly among themselves is replacing financial institutions. Is it not strange that in the Philippines the fastest growing money remittance platforms, G Cash and Pay Maya, are owned not by banks but by telcos? Our bankers do not realize the train has left the station so they can either get on board or see their business disappear.

The BSP and AMLA prohibit bank clients from remitting funds to crypto exchanges because they simplistically believe this will curb illegal activity. The Monetary Authority of Singapore, the bastion of governance, freely allow it. We see cryptos as a menace, Singapore sees it as an opportunity.

The BSP is central to the policy inertia. It is afraid it will lose control of its powers as financial transactions go online and decentralized. Last year I wrote that if the BSP invested just one tenth of its dollar reserves in crypto, we might be able to wipe out our foreign debt in 3-5 years. It was probably a stupid idea then but that stupid idea would today be called visionary because since then Bitcoin jumped 3x in price and Ethereum, the second largest crypto, rose 10x. My point is not that the BSP should have bought crypto but that it never even asked itself why not. 

The BSP was afraid the IMF would look askance at us even if Bitcoin and Ethereum already have market valuations of $1.5 trillion and $500 billion respectively and institutions and sovereign wealth funds are looking to invest.  Today, the IMF is processing a loan to El Salvador notwithstanding the country accepts Bitcoin as legal tender. We are afraid of our shadow. Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Singapore did not become successful by catering to the consensus and not challenging the norm.

In industry rather than educate ourselves on how we can compete internationally, we erect protective and nationalist barriers and so in an era of globalization we do not know how to react.

In education when we are unclear how to handle face-to-face classes, we just ban classes altogether.

When our leaders do not understand an issue be it COVID, cryptos, education or international trade they simply lock it down, ban it or ignore it hoping the problem will go away which it won’t.

We see the same narrow mindedness in our politics. The opposition all believe the existential threat to our nation is Duterteism in all its forms; that they cannot overthrow the current regime without banding together; yet even the most honest, intelligent and patriotic among them cannot see their way to joining forces.

Our problem is not only ignorance and selfishness. Ours is a failure of vision, an unwillingness to take risks, a fear of change and the disruption of vested interests. We do not appreciate that technology is the great income equalizer. Innovation favors the ordinary folk. It makes for cheaper OFW remittances, faster and more inexpensive credit and access for the unbanked. The internet allows small businesses to secure information so they can compete with the bigger boys in sourcing raw materials, serving demand and identifying new markets. 

Our country needs quantum changes. With a population growing at 2% and the rich taking up over 70% of income, our much touted economic growth of 4-5% will not bring our people out of misery. We will make mistakes along the way but we cannot even start on this journey if we continue to think small and narrow, if we refuse to understand and manage our problems rather than lock them down, ban them or over regulate them, if we do not accept that change is coming faster than we think, if we are not afraid of uncertainty, are not prepared to be bold and embrace big ideas.

The biggest problem in our country – other than corruption – is not our incompetence it is our frame of mind. 

The Mother Of All Crony Deals?

If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck it must be a duck.

This sums up the purchase by Udenna of the Malampaya gas field. Udenna is owned by Dennis Uy, an entrepreneur associated with the President and Mainland China.

Malampaya is a strategically important gas field that supplies some 40% of the energy requirements of Luzon. It was owned 45% by Chevron, 45% by Shell with a 10% carried interest by the Philippine National Oil Co-EC. Last year Udenna, through its subsidiary Malampaya Energy XP, bought the stake of Chevron for $565 million and is set to buy the Shell interest for up to $46o million raising its overall ownership in Malampaya to 90%. Under a Shareholders’ Agreement PNOC-EC had a right of first refusal and right to match the Udenna offer; but did not exercise it.

The Udenna deal has been called the mother of all crony deals. In truth the transaction stinks but not for the reasons cited.

DOE Secretary Cusi, Dennis Uy et al. have been sued for graft by concerned citizens citing, one, the sale was disadvantageous to Government depriving the country of some $42 million in annual revenues. 

Two, the Government had the option to buy Malampaya inexpensively. Malampaya is an operating field, the Government could have financed it through loans just as Udenna did.  It could have taken Malampaya public to spread the wealth to Filipino investors.

Three, Malampaya is a strategically important national asset that should not be controlled by one entity, especially not one with close business interests with China. The Mainland already controls our electricity grid, has a foothold in the telecoms sector allegedly with Udenna’s Dito, is a big lender in key infrastructure projects, is an important buyer of our agricultural exports, is said to be deeply entrenched in our political system, and has invaded our islands.  Malampaya is just another step in making the Philippines China’s political and economic vassal.

Let us look at the counter arguments. Sec. Cusi points out the deal was between Chevron, Shell and Udenna all of whom are experienced private companies. Government was not directly involved in the negotiations. He is technically correct.

Two, the Government will not lose whatever revenue it now derives from Malampaya since the sale is between its shareholders with Government’s interest unimpaired. Check.

Three, the Government not exercising its right to buy the Chevron/Shell stakes is not a crime even if it is a huge lost opportunity at a time when the country needs such opportunities.

Four, Udenna will bring in an experienced operator maybe even a Chinese one. Dennis does not invest $1 billion without knowing he needs good management.

In short the arguments cited by the civic petitioners do not seem to rise to the level of graft. Which is not to say the deal is not fraught with mischief. 

The key to the Malampaya deal, where it starts to get murky and scary, lies not in the allegations of the complainants but in the extension of the operating contract. Let me explain.

The current operating contract between Shell/Chevron and Government expires in 2024. Now it takes 5 years, many risks and millions of dollars (Rigs typically cost $100 million each) to explore and develop a gas field. Shell, the operator, has been asking the DOE since 2019 and earlier to extend the contract on the same terms for another 10-15 years to enable it to recoup the investment needed to further develop the field. The DOE has been non-committal. 

With only a few years left in the contract Chevron and Shell therefore decided to sell their stake rather than let it expire. Udenna jumped on this opportunity to buy out Chevron and Shell cheaply. 

Now Udenna would not have paid $1 billion to buy Shell/Chevron with only 2-3 years left in the contract. It must have some assurance from the DOE that the contract would be extended making the transaction very lucrative. Was there a conspiracy between certain officials in the DOE and Udenna in this regard? This is where the plot thickens.

Another thing: The BIR under a previous Administration had assessed the Malampaya consortium P50 billion for unpaid taxes, now over P100 billion with penalties and interest. The consortium filed for arbitration in Singapore and won. However the consortium needed PNOC-EC to file a petition with the Philippine Supreme Court to uphold the Singapore ruling (Shell and Chevron seemingly could not file the petition since they had chosen Singapore jurisdiction in the case). Although a favorable ruling would have benefitted the consortium in which PNOC-EC is a 10% partner, the latter has not done so leaving a tax cloud over the consortium. This may have been another lever to motivate Shell and Chevron to sell.

The questions that might be asked therefore are:

  1. Why did  the Government not exercise its right through PNOC-EC to buy or at least retain a controlling interest in Malampaya given the strategic nature of the gas field? The deal could have ben easily financed.
  2. Did the Government not exercise its right to allow Udenna to come in on the cheap?
  3. Why did the Government not solicit other parties to buy the Chevron/Shell stakes who were more qualified and more geo-politically independent?
  4. Did the Government skew the deal in favor of Dennis Uy by not extending the contract with Shell/Chevron?
  5. Will the Government now extend the contract with Udenna in place and on what terms?  We have seen instances – reportedly in Saudi Aramco’s “forced” sale of Petron some years back and arguably in the Manila Water deal – where Government induced local and foreign investors to sell their stakes to favored business interests by using its regulatory powers. This behavior will discourage new investment in the country.
  6. What is Udenna’s source of financing for the acquisition? Is the Malampaya interest mortgaged and so a Udenna default will effectively transfer ownership of the Philippines’ biggest gas field to lenders who may include Chinese banks and/or a foreign Government with questionable intentions for our country?
  7. What is the assurance Udenna will not flip all or part of its Malampaya stake to unfriendly foreign interests? The Legislature might pass a bill that would prevent such machinations.
  8. Did DOE officials and higher ups personally benefit from the deal?

Weighing the arguments it is unclear a civil and criminal suit can prosper: One, Udenna, Chevron and Shell are all experienced private entities. The civic petitioners are not party to the sale and therefore have no standing in court nor do they seemingly have a cause of action.

Two, the courts are unlikely to determine whether the DOE acted in concert with Udenna to “motivate” the Sellers to sell by not committing to a contract extension and not filing for a tax ruling in the Supreme Court.

Three, the courts will not opine whether the Government should have solicited other parties who are better qualified. Courts do not typically adjudicate national security issues, that is the responsibility of the Executive and Legislative Branches.

The DOE probably did not violate the letter of the law but did its spirit by allowing a transaction that puts our national security at risk. It failed to take advantage of a commercial opportunity to cheaply buy the Shell/Chevron stakes possibly to pave the way for Udenna. It did not solicit more experienced and independent parties to run the business. The DOE may have conspired to induce the Sellers to sell to the disadvantage of the country and the advantage of a private individual.

The Udenna/Malampaya deal is officially not a duck even if it walks and talks like one. It smells crony but unfortunately in this town cronyism is not illegal. 

Somebody Has To Be Ringo

Everybody wants to be John or Paul but sometimes somebody has to be Ringo.

This sums up the opposition efforts to find a common candidate. Team Leni had approached Isko, Ping and and Manny about unifying the field. The pitch was Leni would head the ticket with the others sliding down to #2.

Unsurprisingly the proposal did not fly. Leni vowed to fall on her sword if this would unify the field but now suggested the others do so instead. The premise was they were good enough to be Vice-President but not enough to be President. This was not a conversation, it was a notice of eviction.

Leni deserves to be President but this is a thesis not an entitlement. Leni is polling halfway behind Isko and Manny. With the full backing of the PNoy Administration she barely and controversially beat Bong Bong in 2016 for VP (the margin was 263,000 votes out of 42 million cast). Her base is the intelligentsia. Many of the D and E crowd who count are unaware of her many accomplishments.

Isko and Ping did not only decline the offer, they were visibly offended by it which is not in keeping with their otherwise cool and collected demeanor. That is how badly crafted was the approach. Ping was also upset at the reported attempt behind his back to lure Tito Sotto as Leni’s VP. 

Manny has not commented which does not mean he agrees only that he is too much of a gentleman not to say so.

The True Opposition (TO) does not get it. I mention this not as a judgement on the movement which is composed of good people but as an occasion for self reflection. Something did not go well and it is important to understand why because while increasingly distant there is still room for future talks. The alternative is a likely win by the forces they seek to overcome.

Was it the audacity of the proposition; the “intellectual dishonesty” as described by Isko’s campaign organizer and ex-LP stalwart Egay Erice; the entitlement; the height of the high horse; or the manner – take it or leave it – in which the proffer was made? I understand the True Opposition is on a crusade but they cannot assume that only they have a monopoly on purity of purpose especially since they are not without sin. 

The Senate slate that Team Leni unveiled is a case in point. It is, I am afraid, not the picture of moral ascendancy. Even some of the most ardent Leni supporters were dismayed. 

The TO’s slate is narrow in its ideology but wide in its ethical embrace. Included were old friends, old enemies and just old people. The spread was said to reflect the inclusiveness of the team. It was political expediency at its worst. It did not matter that one was a thief as long as one was committed to the overthrow of anything walking, talking or smelling like a Duterte or a Marcos. It stamped the TO not as an arbiter of morality but as a motley of traditional politicians strung together for electoral convenience. The TO beamed with pride that only three candidates were members of the Liberal Party which may be an admission some of the other party members did not want to be seen in such company.

Whatever happened to principles, programs and vision?

Is this what the New Government, the Second Coming of Christ, is supposed to look like, a dromedary designed by committee pieced together from the recyclables of the political cauldron? ? It looks more to me like an Old Boys’ Club fashioned by a cadre of Senate alumni.

Other parties are having their share of teething problems. Malacanang has no Presidential or Vice-Presidential candidate to speak of after Sara decided she was not about to join the circus of the Cusi faction of PDP Laban. Bong Go has no chance as VP against Tito Sotto. Short of the return of his prodigal daughter the President will just have to entrust his fate and that of his band of brothers to BBM who will probably be good for his word. D30 could still re-enter the fray as VP but even that is no longer a slam duck. With COVID, the corruption, the economy and what not, the President’s numbers are on the wane although this could change if the vaccines kick in, the economy recovers and the power of the incumbent is unleashed. Even if he was not to win against somebody like Sotto who is polling 10 points above him, his candidacy could keep his base together for whoever he decides to anoint as President.

Isko is witnessing a natural shedding as allies are brought in with their own ideas, money and people. It is still pre-season and the starting line-ups are being short listed. Isko is running on a message of “If I can do it, you can do it” marinated with populist programs like lower gas taxes and opportunities everywhere. Isko is the biggest risk taker of all the candidates and he is not scared to go to the left of the ideological spectrum in social and economic programs that will scare the conservatives but attract the votes that matter.

Manny Pacquiao has the simplest message. He is going with Corruption and to his credit is not sugar coating it. He is frontally attacking Marcos for the family sins, the DOH for its outrageous looting. He may need a strategy that goes beyond this and doling out P1,000  bills. The latter works but is not sustainable even with his considerable wealth. He needs a partner he can dance with, an organization, a program and more money. I love the guy for his clarity, his temerity, his principles and his innocence of purpose. I only wish there was more from where this came. 

BBM (his new “nom de guerre” instead of his surname in case somebody remembers) is a candidate looking for a message (Meantime he is going with “heal and unify” which is where every body else is). Absent one he has cleverly decided to keep mum while watching his opponents devour themselves. BBM is a remarkable example of how to succeed in politics without really trying. He has never broken into a sweat, has a CV that was scripted at child birth and yet here he is at the cusp of the Presidency. As Woody Allen said sometimes in life all you have to do is show up. 

BBM is getting to like his position as arguably the leading Presidential contender. He is re-energized, he is organizing in scale, and has the money. All he wants for Christmas is for Sara not to return. 

The non-Administration candidates’ best hope is for the Duterte base to break up with the absence of Sara which would benefit mainly Isko and Manny. Their other hope is for a Come to Jesus moment where they agree to run as one which is increasingly unlikely.

Nobody wants to just be Ringo.

Leni: Queen or Kingmaker? 

“Oxymoron: A combination of contradictory words” – Websters Dictionary

 Is an “Inclusive True Opposition” an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms as in “Loving Hate”, “Only Choice”, “Growing Smaller” or “Alone Together”? I think so. Many will not like this answer but it could be the start of a conversation about who we are and what we want hopefully without the blinders and the vitriol.

Leni filed in pink but is clinging to yellow (Leni remains Chair of the Liberal Party).

Leni declares she is an independent but her spokesperson Teddy Baguilat admits it is only in name. It was “tactical” meaning transactional and not ideological meaning not something she necessarily believes in. It was designed to bring parties to the table who do not want to be classified as “dilawan”. It is being exclusive in its ideals while claiming to encompass those of others. She might have been better off staying Liberal and just preside over a Rainbow Coalition.

The result is a branding problem, a political chameleon that is confusing in its nuance.

The “true opposition” (TO) claims to be inclusive but only if you agree with them. It is inclusiveness in a straight jacket. The TO wants to control the process, not share the process. It is my way or the highway.

The TO is absolute and uncompromising. Anything or anyone Marcos or Duterte related, past or present, is a stigmata. ANC’s Headstart reports Sara endorsed Leni when she ran for VP in 2016. Where does that leave either of them?

Karen Davila asked Baguilat why Leni did not court Tito Sotto who is polling 10 points ahead of everybody for the VPship. Leni and Tito would make “strange bedfellows” he replied whatever that means. Sharing Leni’s presidential bed now has conditions and electability is clearly not one of them. Actually, to be fair to Tito, maybe he did the spurning, maybe he thought he could do better elsewhere.

With its stringent make-up the TO risks becoming a cult, a kinder and gentler version of the trolls but a cult nonetheless. Cults are defined as extreme communities wailing at the unfairness of the universe, not mainstream organizations that win national elections. Every movement has and needs such storm troopers but they should not be the tail that wags the dog.

Team Leni is largely composed of decent, honest and intelligent people. I am just afraid all this brainpower may be overthinking what is a simple question i..e. how do win this fricking election?

My Dad had a few life lessons for me: One, never act when in anger or fear. They blind your vision, they stem your creativity, they sap your energy. Two, don’t get mad, get even. Three, know what you want and focus on the prize. The TO may want to heed this counsel.

The TO is driven by hate of anything Marcos or Duterte when maybe it should not be about them but about the Filipino people. Juan de la Cruz gets the corruption, the accountability and the incompetence but right now he just wants a job, three meals a day, an education for his children, affordable health care, a roof over his head, safe streets and, if there is anything left, a cold glass of beer. Everything else take the fight outside.

The TO’s anger and fear leave no room for compromise and politics if anything is about compromise.

The TO believes Duterte is a dictator who tramples human rights, steals, is incompetent, misogynistic, a goon, and a China pet. Check. It fears Isko is a cover for the President, a MiniMe who will not hold the President accountable for his sins. Let us examine this thesis.

Isko might be a womanizer, maybe even dishonest – who in politics is not – but his 23 years in office have not shown him to be guilty of the other charges against D30. On the contrary most agree he has delivered on health, security and jobs in Manila. Isko’s higher education was allegedly financed by the U.S. so geopolitically he is probably America centric. Isko is supported by many Filipino-Chinese with Taiwan connections who are concerned with the Mainland’s intrusion.

Isko may indeed strike a deal with D30 on the ICC and others but putting a 76 year old in or out of jail should not override our more pressing concerns like turning this country around. As for recovering any PPRD hidden wealth, sure but understand we have been trying to do just that on Marcos’ stash for 30 years and that was before Bitcoin. In that time our country will be a ghost town unless we get moving.

What about Manny? He does not have the associations of a Duterte or a Marcos even if he was President of PDP Laban. He is generally considered to be a patriot. Why did the unity talks not prosper? I suspect it is about his alleged intellectual and management limitations but these can be overcome with proper help, the backing of a capable VP as COO, key Cabinet positions and non-interference in economic policy. An eight-time world champion, Manny appreciates the value of good coaching. Leni may believe she is better than him even if not as electable but she might clarify to Filipinos why she cannot support a Pacquiao Presidency.

The gut issue is does the TO wish to defeat Marcos/Duterte or only on its terms? It has been suggested the opposition coalesce around the candidate with the highest ratings but the TO seems to disagree claiming polls are an unreliable measure of public sentiment. Can they suggest a better formula? Leni has said: “If we cannot unite the personalities we will unite the people.” I don’t get it.

Leni vowed she will back down if this means uniting the opposition. By running for President she has divided the opposition. Ironically she could be the very cause of the outcome she most dreads. Studies reportedly show if Leni was to step down 80% of her votes would move to Isko. If the latter was to do likewise his votes would be distributed mainly to BBM and Manny. Maybe Leni believes she can still pull it off but the numbers albeit early have still to prove it. The latest Pulse Asia survey shows Leni at 9%, Isko 18%, Manny 16% and BBM’ 48%.

Her advisers have convinced Leni she has a shot at Malacanang but have not said how long a shot. Incidentally these are the same advisers who dreamt up Otso Diretso now a classic on how not to run a campaign.

 Leni might reconsider her role in what is the most existential election in our history. That role may be not as king but as kingmaker. Leni has a strong base that could be the swing vote in a close race but she has to get real, see the whole court and not just what is in front of her, play the odds and not the emotions.

The Philippines is in the biggest game of its life. We are behind by one point in the last 10 seconds of the last game of the Championship series. Leni has the unique opportunity to make the play that brings home the trophy. But she has to be part of a team, part of something bigger than who she is or likely to be. She cannot dribble the ball, she cannot hog the ball. She has to pass it to the player with the hot hand who can make the shot because that is not her.

And then we pray.