POSTSCRIPT / December 14, 1997 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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De Venecia bluff pays off

WITH due respect to Foreign Secretary Domingo Siazon Jr., whose competence and patriotism are beyond question, the publication by The Manila Times of the draft security agreement with the United States is not, as he said, “a gross disservice to the national interest.” On the contrary, it is a laudable contribution to making sure the people are informed fully and our officials guided accordingly.

The secretary said the draft was confidential. Yes, but only because he says so, not because the contents are that confidential. We saw nothing in the document that we had not known or discussed before in media. In the bureaucracy, even press clippings are sometimes stamped “confidential.”

The people must be informed what their leaders are about to sign away in their name. So-called diplomacy is too important to leave to diplomats.

The foreign secretary has his job. We the press have ours. Let the people decide who had served their interest best.

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THE entry of Senator Francisco Tatad as a presidential prospect on a platform grounded on moral leadership is welcome development.

The common element of the major problems plaguing this nation is a lack of morality ‑ private and public, individual and social. Kaya tayo nagkakaganito ay dahil sa napakatinding moral decay.

It is time somebody of presidential stature raised the morality issue as an alternative rallying point, a foundation for good government and national development. We’re not clean ourselves, so we’re glad that Tatad is doing what we’re not qualified to do.

His entry places him in direct opposition to Vice President Joseph Estrada who still ranks high in popularity surveys despite his known womanizing. Estrada had challenged his critic Tatad to run so the people could say who’s right. Let’s tell him.

* * *

EVERYONE in Manila is now suddenly a political analyst. It seems everybody has a theory, if not a juicy inside story, on why Speaker Jose de Venecia was chosen by President Ramos as Lakas-NUCD standard bearer for the 1998 elections.

Earlier reports said Mr. Ramos wanted to nip a party revolt that De Venecia threatened to lead if he were not anointed. To prevent a split, the story goes, the President had to endorse De Venecia.

It was incredible that Mr. Ramos fell for that bluff. A practical man, De Venecia himself knew he and former Defense Secretary Renato de Villa would be wiped out if he ran despite a presidential endorsement of the former defense secretary.

Mr. Ramos later explained that he chose De Venecia because he had the best chance of winning in 1998. Apparently, Mr. Marcos thinks that money and machinery can force an unpopular trapo on the electorate. That’s bad.

* * *

IT was evident that De Venecia was the more seasoned infighter and media manipulator.

With De Villa presumed to have the inside track, De Venecia plodded on. He mobilized his extensive network, pumping it with incredible resources (read: money). In the weeks before Dec. 8, he performed simultaneously on several stages to project “winnability.”

He was everywhere, brokering peace with disparate rebel groups, welcoming the return of police officers captured by dissidents, making statements on every momentous issue, praying to the gods at Mt. Makiling, meeting with Cardinal Sin and other power brokers, pushing critical legislation that President Ramos wanted so badly, etc.

To make sure his whirlwind caught the eye of the President, he commanded media coverage. His statements and pictures landed so prominently on the front pages that one is tempted to conclude he had bought space. There was no escaping him, drooping eyebrows and all, even when one hopped from one TV channel to another. Radio was resonant with his now familiar bombast.

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IN contrast, De Villa was low key even after the party consultations were abbreviated, many thought, to favor him. When big issues erupted in media, he was hardly heard from while even two-bit politicians had some paragraphs in the banner stories.

The big to-do about a crime surge, especially the kidnapping-for-ransom of businessmen, was tailor-made for somebody in the mold of General De Villa to exploit. But he failed to wade in and be noticed.

Within the party, De Villa was handicapped in that he was a Johnny-come-lately, while De Venecia was one of the founders, the all-powerful Secretary-General, and whose one hand was on the purse strings. The non-political De Villa joined in only months ago when President Ramos egged him on to consider running.

* * *

UNTIL yesterday, De Villa was still reported to be weighing the option of breaking away to make a go for the presidency on his own. He should rush out from his tent and announce something. Fast.

Of course he needs time to assess the field, including his financiers (are they still willing to bankroll his campaign?), the organization (can he put together fast a national network outside Lakas-NUCD that will get the votes and have them counted?), the power brokers (can they be persuaded to stick with him and deliver?), the mood of the electorate (can he still catch the voters’ attention amid the gathering bedlam?), and the real plans of President Ramos (will he tell De Villa the real game plan and does De Villa figure in it?).

But the slower De Villa is in announcing his decision, the faster he will sink into political oblivion.

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