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.

A Gathering Storm?

“Double, double, toil and trouble. The fire is burning, the cauldron brewing.” – The Witches Chant, Macbeth

Is there turbulence brewing along the Pasig?

 Duterte die-hards, the so called Digong Duterte Supporters (DDS), who count themselves in the millions are reportedly up in arms over the bungling of the Sara candidacy that has led her to withdraw. Many of them have spent their own money and energy to back her campaign. They believe they have been disregarded and disrespected by the party operatives despite all they have done to keep the Duterte flame alive in the face of the economy, COVID and the scandals. They blame the leaders of the 1/2 PDP-Laban for the mess.

The DDS seemingly believe the party leaders have been gorging themselves rather than attending to the needs of the President. These leaders arguably alienated Manny Pacquiao leading to the party’s implosion. It is unclear which faction of the party will now be accredited by the COMELEC. They allegedly botched – deliberately or not – the Sara candidacy. They are supposedly terrified a Sara presidency will mean the demise of life as they know it. Like Santa, Sara knows who has been naughty and nice and she will clean house as she did when she replaced her Dad as Mayor of Davao. The group is more comfortable with a BBM presidency.

If not fixed, a big number of these erstwhile D30 fans are allegedly threatening to defect to Isko or Manny. The former has said he welcomes all colors to his campaign. He has publicly acknowledged he would take D30 into his Cabinet should he win. To the “true opposition” this proves Isko is simply a Trojan horse of PPRD. The narrative is also being promoted by the Administration trolls who label him as untrustworthy. The good news is for once everybody can agree on something. An enemy of your enemy is your friend. The bad news for BBM and Isko is Manny could reap the reward. 

For the record I would not want my daughter to marry Isko even if he meets my standards for cuteness. Like most politicians he has skeletons in the closet which will be exposed in due time by his opponents. You do not arrive from where he came without having sinned. He is a charming political animal but a political animal nonetheless who will engage with the forces of darkness as he will with those of lightness. He is no white knight but at least he has the courage and candidness to disclose his true self at the risk of alienating public opinion. While disturbing to some there is something refreshing and convincing about a politician who will tell it to your face when others will lie to it. As a voter I would rather listen to what I do not want to hear then hear what I want to listen.

The Cusi faction of PDP Laban is scrambling. They lost their leader when D30 suddenly decided to step down. They were so desperate they had to rustle up Bato de la Rosa (“Bato was not the best candidate but was available”) literally a few hours before the Oct. 8 witching hour. He came running to sign his COC as the party’s principal candidate decked in the colors of the HNP, the party of Sara, and the red of PDP Laban. Even at the last minute the poor man did not know to whom to swear allegiance. The anti-Administration supporters see Bato as a place holder for Sara. Actually she would rather be stoned to death than be caught leading what she has termed, more or less, a gang of crazies. No, Bato is warming the seat for somebody hopefully from heaven because that is what it would take to deliver his party.

 The Administration has until Nov. 15 to find a solution to the Sara candidacy. She has promised she will not reverse herself. She is also reportedly not well and we pray she recovers. With her father’s legacy and persona at risk from the ICC and whatever else; and her supporters on their knees she could still relent. She would instantly solve all of Dad’s issues. 

Sara is a friend of Imee so she will have to explain why if ever she decides to run but the Marcoses will not be unduly offended if BBM was to slide to VP. This position is actually more suited to BBM’s easy going manner particularly if the alternative – the mass defection of DDS – jeopardizes a BBM presidential run.

Bong Go would return to the Senate. On current polls, Tito Sotto would eat his VP lunch and Bong knows that. No, Bong is doing well enough as Chair of the Senate Health Committee, thank you very much.

If unresolved, the likely beneficiary of a major DDS defection will be Isko. Manny could take some of the DDS votes especially from Mindanao; but not enough to make a difference unless Manny gets his act together. His biggest problem is he is a one dimensional candidate working solely off his brand. He does not communicate well, has a businessman rather than an operator as his campaign manager, has no organization, no program and, worse, is seemingly unaware of what it takes to run a campaign. 

Other long standing parties are undergoing their own changes. (Erstwhile?) Liberal Party President Leni decided to file as an independent in pink rather than as a dependent in yellow. This generated a swell of support – good for her – as well as questions of why the methamorphosis. She was perhaps uncomfortable with a party that was never really hers. She was like Cinderella an adopted orphan and in some ways may have felt treated as such. At the height of the Duterte tirades against her she was often alone. Her new coalition of Kiko, Frank, Bam, 1Sambayan and the Noynoy faction of the LP; seem ideologically, emotionally, intellectually, and socially more suited to her pace and style. The Liberal Party is now seemingly soulless and directionless waiting for the next generation of leadership. Kiko Pangilinan did file as LP but he is not what one considers a principal.

In striking out on her own we hope Leni understands the intricacies and travails of flying solo. An independent candidate is a romantic notion connoting inclusiveness, freshness and freedom from political baggage; but it also carries complications. 

A presidential run is legally, administratively and logistically complex. It requires a holistic approach, a slate of Senatorial, Congressional and local officials in 42,000 Barangays to push your image and messages across the nation. It needs an army of ground troops to generate and safeguard your votes. It is a massive machinery at work. It requires tedious and lengthy COMELEC paperwork the most important being the critical but unheralded Certification of Nomination and Acceptance (CONA). The CONA is required of all those who represent your candidacy from the elected officials running under your banner to the poll watchers safeguarding your votes. A CONA can only be issued by a nationally accredited party, not by an independent candidate. Although not a lawyer I gather Leni will have to be adopted by a party if she is to overcome a system that does not favor independents. How she will address this is another conversation.

Nov. 15 is a month away. By then we should know the final line-ups, the one-on-one match-ups. The field is fluid, the ground is moving, there will be more iterations, alignments, horse trading, winks and nods. The pollsters will be busy sampling what works and what does not. In this world of false news, trolls, innuendoes and head fakes the challenge for voters is how to distinguish between the real and the unreal, between the truths, the lies and the statistics; between the signal and the noise.

Correction: Sorry

in my last blog I wrote that the Isko headquarters are in the Araneta Center. I have been advised somewhat officially that this was the case until 2016 but they have left Farmers’ Market since. I apologize for whatever political misconceptions this may have created. I understand the family is no longer involved and does not wish to be involved in politics going forward and this should be respected by all.

Be Careful What You Wish For

“Those who forget the mistakes of the past are condemned to repeat them” – Philosopher George Santayana

BBM is one happy camper.

First, Leni just threw her hat in the ring which further divides the competition. Second, Sara decided not to run, God forbid not for health reasons (She could still do so but unlikely she will rain on her friend BBM’s parade). Life for BBM is suddenly beautiful.

So the line-ups are: For President (by alphabetical order so as not to be accused of bias) BBM, Isko, Leni, Manny and Ping. For VP Bong Go, Kiko, Tito and Willie. These could still change up to Nov. 15, the final cut-off for substitutions.

The “true” oppositionists including 1Sambayan were elated by the entry of Leni. She is arguably the most honest, caring, transparent and dutiful of the lot. Based on the polls she is also, Ping excluded, the least electable but hope springs eternal. Someone forgot elections are a contest for votes, not for virtues.

 It is unclear where Leni intends to get the serious money to finance her campaign nor the organization to bring out the vote. One half of the Liberal Party and its financial backers are allegedly with Isko whose campaign headquarters I understand are in the Araneta Center. Her people say they have 3 million social media warriors which will dispense with an expensive air game. They do not say who will man the critical ground game which requires a different set of skills.

Leni chose Kiko Pangilinan has her VP which neither added to her geographical reach, to her demographics, to her policy heft nor to her war chest. They both drink from the same pool of voters. Kiko was not even the first choice of 1Sambayan – Trillanes was – which speaks somewhat to her political quotient. Leni has the heart of those concerned about our country. Unfortunately the overwhelming  majority of Filipinos are today less worried about their heart than they are about tomorrow’s meal. Is this Otso Diretso 2.0 but this time in pink?

What is perplexing is that Leni was committed to a united opposition and would step back if that is what it would take. To her credit she did conduct talks with Isko and Manny albeit unsuccessfully. I wonder what was the pitch, what was she offering that she assumed they would embrace? Was it to slide down to VP in her ticket ? Why would they do that since she has consistently ranked behind them both? 

Was it to swear to bury D30, to throw him to the ICC, to prosecute his band of Merry Men? Isko is a pragmatic politician: He did not go from “basurero” to presidential aspirant without learning to get along. He admitted to granting D30 a Cabinet post should PPRD win as VP. I guess that did not go down well with the purists. 

As for Manny, his feud is with the Cusi faction of the PDP-Laban, not necessarily with the President. As a man of God he may forgive D30 which again may have been unacceptable to Team Leni.

And what was Leni offering them in return? Whatever it was it did not sell. 

 Matters may still change even after Nov. 15. As the candidates face the reality of diminishing finances, organizational difficulties, stagnant poll numbers particularly in the latter stages of their campaigns, some of them may opt to leverage the remnants of their political equity and endorse a single contender; but that could be too little too late. Right now each of them will be spending three times to do the same thing.

Meanwhile back at the ranch BBM is chill. It could get even better if PPRD decides as he has been known to do; to jump back in as VP. A BBM/D30 combination would be formidable especially with the disarray among the contenders. The President did not get his first choice of Sara but his Plan B of a candidate who will protect his interests and that of his buddies; is looking good. 

The arithmetic of the elections on the current spread and polling could be something like this: The war chest, LGU network, control of electoral logistics, bully pulpit, Government election spending (AYUDA, Bayanihan 3, etc.) and COMELEC;  is conservatively worth 3-5% of the vote whatever the actual public sentiment. This is what I term the “incumbent vote”.

This leaves 95% of the natural vote for grabs. On current polls, Ping might get 5% of the total,  Leni 10-15%. This leaves 75% to be spread among BBM, Isko and Manny. All three have consistently polled equally within the margin of error of 2-4%; so say 25% each. Adding the 5% incumbent “vote” to BBM’s tally would bring him to 30% which in a tight contest would be enough to win. And that is before a Duterte family endorsement whose impact could be significant. Add this and we are looking at a likely BBM Presidency.

What could possibly change the result?

 The above scenario is based on current polls and will change with externalities – COVID, the economy, further corruption scandals – campaign strategies and money. In our assessment, a Leni bloc is the swing vote that could materially move the election needle. It would allow her endorsee to run up an early lead, offset the “incumbent vote” and Duterte factor, build momentum and establish his bona fides. But for this to happen Leni would need to step down because neither Isko nor Manny will. Leni has vowed she will not retreat from her run once announced. As time goes by this vow will be more difficult to reverse so it has to be done early if at all. 

Leni should think outside the box. In return for her support, she should extract firm assurances from Isko or Manny to protect her political integrity. This could take the form of a VP slot for her candidate (Tony Carpio or is that too far outside the box?), support for part of her Senate slate, key Cabinet positions for her nominees; and some policy and administrative promises. She will just have to trust her counterparts will live up to their word. 

Leni should act like she is piecing a minority Government. Her supporters will have to step down from their moral pedestals and back a united front however imperfect. They have to stop defining themselves as the “true” opposition. They have to stop thinking binary and start endorsing a “unity” Government. They must accept there will be ethical impurities, financial leakages and back-room deals but that is the nature of the Philippine political beast (in fact almost all political beasts.) They should look at the recent Israeli elections where PM Naftali Bennett had to wheel and deal, work with all elements of the political spectrum from the right wing Jewish fundamentalists to the left wing Arab Israelis; to successfully form a minority Government to defeat the long reign of Benjamin Netanyahu. Bennettt, an erstwhile extremist, is now delivering on his promise of a more inclusive administration. 

The Anti-Administration forces were gathering to beat Sara. BBM presents an easier task but not with a divided field. Leni’s supporters got what they wished for, a Leni candidacy. Now they just have to figure out what to do with it.