With the official start of elections in two days, Filipinos are looking for the perfect candidate. The person would combine the integrity and compassion of Leni, the ruthlessness of Rody, the brand of Manny, the grit of Sara, the fearlessness of Ping, the charm of Isko and, while we are at it, the competence of Tim Cook and the wisdom of Solomon. Think Mother Theresa on steroids with a Harvard degree and a permit to carry.
Well good luck with that search.
In an imperfect world we should instead be looking for the imperfect candidate. This person should be electable, somewhat competent, somewhat caring and somewhat honest. Elections are a contest for votes not for sainthood.
The purists have framed next year’s elections as a fight between the “true” Opposition and the Administration, between good and evil. For them it is binary, you are either with me or against me. This is a Western, two-party concept, not applicable to a floating multi-party system as we have in the Philippines. Interestingly these same purists have welcomed into their tent personalities as ethically diverse as the Binays and Robredo.
This narrow approach to politics limits the addressable voter market. It does not appreciate that, one, politics is about addition and, two, the voters who count, the D and E crowd; do not care about party or ideological affiliations. They want food in their mouths, the imperative and dignity of a job, an education for their children, a roof over their heads, safe streets and hope for the future. They believe all politicians are corrupt and they can do nothing about it. The failure to appreciate this political dynamic explains the abject performance of Otso Diretso in 2016.
After six years of extremism and noise, this country could use the predictability, civility, inclusiveness and quiet of the political center. The imperfect candidate understands this. He/she believes politics should not be about the incumbents and the challengers but about the Filipino. He/she will work with the best of what anybody offers regardless of provenance. He/she is pragmatic, forthright, will deal with the darkness and probably charge; but many will accept that as long the person delivers justice and, most important, on his promises.
Certificates of Candidacy have to be filed by Oct. 8, 2021. However substitutions may be allowed up to Nov. 15, 2021, the cut off for printing the ballots. Specifically:
- Candidates can file for only one elected position.
- Under Sec. 77 of the Election Code substitutions are allowed within the deadline provided the candidates are from the same party. However one can resign from one party and join another within the deadline.
- Substitution from death or disability may be allowed up to Election Day provided the alternate carries the same name as the substituted individual.
We will see the first pass of slates by Oct. 8. Depending on the field there could be a reshuffling of candidates as campaign managers, a la Ryder Cup, figure out the best match ups, President vs President, VP vs VP, Senate slates vs Senate slates. On current announcements the leading Presidential match ups are BBM vs Isko vs Pacquiao vs Ping. For VP it is PPRD vs Willie Ong vs Tito Sotto. We should see the final line-ups on Nov. 15.
I believe the Administration will realize – if it has not already – that BBM is not competitive against Isko. Even BBM seems unsure of his footing. He will need a Duterte to carry him at a time when the President’s ratings have declined double digits. With all due respect a BBM/D30 ticket looks like a stodgy, weary tandem with the baggage of COVID, the economy, crime and corruption. Pitted against them is a young, cool, energetic challenger offering hope and change to a voting demographic that is 30% aged 18-29 and over 9 million seniors who remember Martial Law and are facing the loss of their health benefits from Administration scandals. It is a choice between a grumpy, old uncle with a checkered past and a fresh, charging young gun.
The Administration needs Sara back in the starting line-up. This means, if we are to believe her, PPRD must step down (to Davao Mayor) with BBM sliding to number two to preserve the “solid north” of the Marcoses.
Isko has the momentum and the vibe. He has the compelling narrative of a “basurero” done good and he tells it well. He speaks the language of the poor and the young who make up over 80% of the vote.
Isko will have a Senatorial slate of eager and recognized names from media, entertainment and religious fundamentalists. They will make the Administration team of tired and tainted Cabinet members look like geriatric fuddy-duddies wondering where they are.
Isko could use more money. He will have the support of at least one business group that was disenfranchised by this Administration. A Manila port operator reportedly financed his mayoral run. Upset with Sara over the Velasco Speakership, Alan Cayetano and his financial backers, a mining family, could support Isko. As Isko gains traction serious money will follow. The U.S. financed his academic stints in the U.S. and Harvard early on. Foreign electoral donations are barred by law but who is looking.
Isko is a data nerd. He told me the first thing he looks at every morning are the COVID and crime statistics in Manila. This is his playbook: He believes he has Luzon ex-Ilocos Norte which accounts for more than half of the 62 million registered votes. Calabarzon alone houses the single most number of national voters. He is competitive in the Visayas (21% of the vote) where he is allegedly backed by the Roxas faction of the LP. Isko’s mother is a Waray so he can claim to be a favorite son. Team Leni could follow.
Cebu, the province with the most votes, is up for grabs. D30 did well there in 2016 but as President.
Isko could use some help in Mindanao (23% of the vote). He tried to enlist Grace as VP to leverage FPJ’s popularity in the South but it was awkward because Tito Sotto is practically family. Grace also figured she could probably not beat PPRD. She may revisit her decision if D30 and Sotto drop out. Then there is Pacquiao.
Manny will file his presidential CoC but, inshallah, he may still pivot. He should appreciate his brand alone cannot carry him through. He needs an organization, money beyond what he has, and a management team. He has the Pimentel half of the PDP Laban but even its accreditation is questionable. The VPship looks the more natural slot: It will enable him to learn the business with the promise of an Isko endorsement in 2028, serve the country in the Cabinet, gain stature in the comfort of the Vice-Presidency; and preserve his pocketbook for retirement. An Isko/Manny ticket would demographically be very competitive even against a Sara/BBM tandem. Willie Ong will then move to the Senate race where he ranked a respectable 17th in 2019.
Ping and Sotto will officially declare but must know their ticket will not fly. If Manny does not accept his VPship and Willie does not respond at the early polls, Isko could offer that position to Ping. Otherwise it could be a Cabinet position for him (DILG?) and Sotto (DFA?).
Leni is holding out but I think will not declare choosing instead to be Governor or Senator. She truly believes the challengers must run as one.
In short the race could be down to Sara/BBM versus an Isko led ticket, imperfect candidates against imperfect candidates.