The political world was abuzz with the recent outburst of Sara Duterte. Her statement read:
“I apologize to my mother (Elizabeth Zimmerman) for this statement. (The public should) read my message from the point of view of a politician and nothing else.
The President personally confirmed to me he will run for VP and Bong Go as President. It was not a pleasant affair. I was left with two letters for consideration, one, why I should endorse the Go/Duterte tandem and, two, I take in Bong Go as my VP.”
Sara proceeded to say, roughly, that the crazies in PDP-Laban, the President’s party, should leave her alone and take their circus elsewhere. It was unclear whether the crazies included Sen. Go, Manny Pacquiao and/or her Dad.
Many believe Sara’s statement is simply a sarswela, another political head fake to portray her as her own person rather than the daughter of her father. Years of “jet skiing to the Spratleys”, “running amok at the whiff of corruption”, and “no sacred cows in the Administration” have taken their toll on Malacanang pronouncements. This skepticism has now moved to Sara, rightfully or not.
I feel Sara deserves a little more credence than that. Here is my take:
- Politically not all is touchy feely in the Duterte extended family.
- The tension is not so much between Elizabeth and Honeylet Avancena as the media is portraying, as between Sara and the President’s men.
- Elizabeth wanted Sara not to wash their dirty linen in public but Sara has just had enough of it. Hence her apology to her Mom.
- Sara does not appreciate being muscled by anybody, not even her father. She does not want to be told to endorse Bong Go for President if she does not run nor accept him as her VP if she does. That conversation was not ”a pleasant affair” which in the Duterte family temper scale was probably a shouting match. She is not believed to have punched anybody.
- Malacanang is too small for Sara and Bong Go.
- It is not personal to Sara, it is simply business. (“Read my message from the point of view of a politician and nothing else”.) Sara may have something to say about how her Dad left her Mom but she is not dragging it into the political arena.
The President has a slight problem. He needs legal and political cover after May 2022 not only for himself but for his people; either through a Sara or a Bong Go presidency or a Sara/Go or Sara/Digong ticket. The President knows Sara will shelter him but maybe not his brothers-in-arms Go, Duque, Cusi & Co. who have many secrets. In 2016 when she returned as Davao Mayor, Sara replaced her father’s staff wholesale with her own. Her message: There is a new sheriff in town. Go to Manila if you want to be with your boss.
The President is seemingly annoyed Sara is not buying his problem. She is no idiot. She sees what the President’s men have been upto in the last six years. The last thing she wants is to have them shadow her Administration if it comes to that. The President’s only choice may be to run for VP to ensure his and his team’s security which says goodbye to BongBong Marcos’, Tito Sotto’s and other vice-presidentiables’ hopes. Buwisit.
The PDP-Laban is in a frenzy. This erstwhile two headed juggernaut with Digong and Manny Pacquiao as titular heads has now become a headless chicken. In the latest move, the Pacquiao faction just fired the President as its Chair. This is after the Duterte faction fired Manny as its President. The cabal is now heading for the exits or to Sara’s HNP party (Hugpong Ng Pagbabago) if she will accept them, which she likely will not.
In the meantime the presidential race is now distilling to 2-3 electables (Sara, Isko and Manny) and one outlier (Lacson). Bong Bong Marcos will not run as President but will happily settle for VP with Sara which could potentially put him up against D30, Isko or Pacquiao. BBM will struggle against all of them. He may prefer to literally hang out as Senator.
Leni is said to be announcing her candidacy on Sept. 5 but now is re-considering if Sara runs. With little money, no organization and modest poll numbers, she probably knows she will not win. A Liberal Party bloc has reportedly moved to the Isko camp which has further under mined her footing. She has a clearer path to the Senate or, my recommendation, as Camarines Sur Governor where she could make a difference. We need to rebuild our politics from the bottom up.
Isko, a data nerd, is looking at the polls. He believes he has a chance with the Central, Southern Luzon and NCR votes- his so called Leyte to Lingayen corridor – and the Visayas with the help of the LP breakaway faction. If he could add a VP to carry Mindanao (Manny?) that tandem could be competitive against a Sara ticket. Isko will be pummeled by the Administration who already has a file on him. His dilemma is does he give up the certainty of a Manila mayor re-election for the uncertainty of a presidential run? He could also be a presidential king maker which will stand him in good stead in 2028.
Manny Pacquiao is a presidential contender despite his pugilistic loss. Contrary to common wisdom, I believe the loss actually boosted his popularity. The story of a man who at 42 years did his best to make his country proud is a compelling narrative. Manny still suffers from the image of not having the intellect nor policy chops to be a good President. He needs to translate his popularity with the ‘masa’ into a viable campaign by surrounding himself with a credible economic team and on-boarding a VP who could deliver Luzon (Isko, Grace or Vilma?). Ronald Reagan was not the brightest bulb but proved to be one of the most effective and popular U.S. presidents because he acknowledged his deficiencies. Manny’s other option is to accept, against the calling of the Almighty, the Vice Presidential ticket where he stands arguably the best chance of all the candidates. As VP he could learn the job and run in 2028.
GMA is not a player, more of a coach. She is trying to merge the solid south of Sara with the so-called solid north of the Marcoses and her own Luzon bailiwick but things are getting complicated. She brings to a Sara presidency her economic disciples of Reps. Salceda and possibly Stella Quimbo and Garin.
Money is going to be a problem for anti-Administratio candidates. It is estimated a presidential campaign will require some P40-50 billion to seal the deal. This may sound like an awful lot of money except it is not. The return on investment could be less than a year. Let me explain.
The addressable market for corruption in the Philippines is (A) the National Budget (P5 trillion) and (B) the sweetheart deals- the franchises and permits granted or denied, the favored business transactions, the tax leakages, the regulatory reach; which are correlated to our GDP (P19 trillion). Assuming the leakage in (A) is 10% of the Budget or P500 billion (which is small compared to the overpricing we see in the PPEs) and the corruption in (B) is 2.5% of GDP (the allowable pilferage rate in supermarkets) or some P500 billion; the annual take from corruption is close to P1 trillion and even this could be a low ball estimate. The loot must be shared with “the boys” in the Executive branch, Congress, the Judiciary and private business partners; but even a 20% carried interest (the performance fee charged by hedge funds) would amount to P200 billion a year and 1.2 trillion over 6 years.
A take of P200 billion a year is 4 times the P50 billion one would spend in an election i.e. the latter would be recovered in 3 months.
Considering the P50 billion election kitty was itself sourced from corruption, the return on investment is actually infinite. It is what investment bankers call a leveraged buy out where you purchase a company by raiding to death the funds of the company itself. If that sounds like the plunder of our country, it is.
But to the original question, Sara, tango or sarswela? My modest opinion is the Duterte Thanksgiving family dinner may this year be a little more tense than usual.