POSTSCRIPT / February 13, 2007 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Will money & machine again decide poll results?

1-2 PUNCH: Judging from the lineups of administration and opposition candidates for the Senate, this early it looks like President Gloria Arroyo will see in the incoming Senate a carryover legislative problem.

From the tight corner where it is now being pummeled, the administration will have to resort to agile footwork and deliver a lucky one-two punch to emerge victorious before the 2010 bell.

Punch One: The administration has to win at least eight of the 12 Senate slots in the May election. Even with that, it cannot be assured of a working majority in the incoming Senate.

Punch Two: It has to device an air-tight warranty that its winning candidates will support the administration’s legislative priorities once they sit in the Senate.

On both counts, the GMA Team — despite its machinery deployed around the ring and the money tucked under its belt — is up for a difficult, bruising fight.

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PATCH-UP JOBS: The GMA and the Erap senatorial teams are evenly matched in that they are both patch-up jobs. They are the products of political accommodation and desperation.

Let us hope the people do not feel insulted with the tickets being offered and stay out of the polls.

On the positive side, both slates have a few good senatorial, even presidential, materials. But the tickets’ net worth is diluted by their being infested with lightweights, has-beens, political butterflies and opportunists.

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FRONTRUNNERS: It is too early to tell, but my initial gut feel of the frontrunners on each ticket is:

GMA Team (its seven top picks in alphabetical order) – Joker Arroyo, Ed Angara, Mike Defensor, Vic Magsaysay, Tito Sotto, Ralph Recto and Prospero Pichay.

Erap Team (also seven in the same order) – Noynoy Aquino, Alan Cayetano, Ping Lacson, Loren Legarda, John Osmeña, Kiko Pangilinan and Manny Villar.

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GMA VS ERAP: Pardon my referring to them as the GMA and the Erap Teams. My reasons:

1. Despite avowals to the contrary, I see the congressional and senatorial elections this May as a proxy fight. Their names are not on the ballot, but this is the final showdown between GMA and Erap.

2. Besides, the landscape is littered with party logos, coalition acronyms, tortured abbreviations of group names, and other atrocious political labels. The garbage strewn around is stifling.

3. There is no product differentiation between the two teams. One could vomit tasting the political chopsuey. Without the team name above the slate, one would not know what flea-bitten mongrel is at the end of the leash of whoever is holding it.

So to simplify and thus safeguard our sanity, why don’t we just call them the GMA Team and the Erap Team? Their temporary party labels are a bad case of false branding anyway.

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NO ASSURANCE: Assuming the GMA Team lands by hook or by crook, say, eight of the 12 soon-to-be vacant Senate berths, my crystal ball says that is no assurance that President Arroyo will have a more cooperative Senate.

A few of the top bets are fiercely independent. Their election under the GMA Team will not make them any closer to President Arroyo. Their running under her skirt is no different from — to borrow the words of Daniel Smith — consensual sex.

And then, can you imagine Tito Sotto and Tessie Oreta, in case they win with the GMA Team, suddenly becoming more loyal to GMA than to Erap?

In the case of Joker Arroyo and Ralph Recto, these senators who are sure winners cannot be expected to kowtow to anybody, even to Nuestra Señora Gloria de San Miguel.

Kung sabagay, the same thing can be said of such characters as Manny Villar on the opposing Erap Team. He is not loyal to anybody or to any party. He is loyal to himself and his burning ambition to become president.

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ERAP TEAM DEJADO: With their respective lineup having been introduced to the electorate in the Ringling Brothers tradition, the political machines will now take over. This is where the boys will be separated from the men.

Looking at the tale-of-the-tape, the Erap Team appears to be headed for the dumps — and the election protest tribunals. This is unfortunate, because there are some deserving young candidates on its lineup.

With his reputation and political fortune tacked on the team, Erap will be under pressure to pour it all out for this final showdown with GMA. But there is a limit to his resources and his command capability in detention.

His withdrawing his son J.V. Ejercito from the ticket may have lessened his felt responsibility, but he is still deep into the fight. And this is not because he brought into the cast his leading lady Nikki Coseteng.

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NO AUTOMATION: The opposition as a coalition has no ready nationwide machinery and no bulging campaign chest. Hence the need for Erap, the only logical rallying figure.

But having been out of power since 2001, whatever organization and funds that Erap still has cannot approximate even half of that of the GMA Team.

Being thus organizationally and logistically challenged, the opposition will have a hard time collecting and converting its votes to victory. It is not fair, but that is the way it is.

More so, because the operators at the Commission on Elections have ruled out automation or the use of computers at some stages of the election to speed up the process and minimize fraud.

The fallback to the manual preparation, casting, counting and reporting of the votes could mean a return to the tedious process that offers a bigger window for organized cheating.

Will the involvement of the Church and civic watch groups be able to reduce the cheating that any group may attempt? This is like asking if amateurs can beat professionals.

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MODERATES: Palace insiders say that the GMA Team emerged after initially hawkish talk in the Lakas-led coalition was overrun by the pragmatism of the moderates and progressives who hold that partisanship must give way to national unity and sustained growth.

Young Turks of Lakas-CMD like Gov. Ben Evardone of Eastern Samar say that while the coalition is likely to win big on the strength of its machinery and the message of a rebounding economy, President Arroyo will be hard put delivering on her promise of social payback for the masses without support from all sectors for her reform agenda.

Evardone and like-minded Palace allies say it was correct for the President to have pushed for a unity ticket to include opposition ex-senators like Tessie Oreta and Tito Sotto and reelectionist Ed Angara.

Angara chairs the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino, the only non-administration party with a nationwide political base and which the Comelec had recognized in past elections as the dominant opposition party.

Oreta and Sotto are, like Evardone, former stalwarts of Laban and were part of Angara’s party when it forged a coalition pact with Lakas-CMD in the 1994-95 period.

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SENATE REFORM: If the Oreta-Sotto-Angara troika wins in the elections, Evardone says, it will help transform the Senate from an expensive debating club into a performing legislative chamber.

“Sure, the economy is on a rebound,” he says, “but Malacañang will need all the support it can get from legislators, particularly those in the Senate, to support its programs and pass laws that will sustain and boost the momentum of growth.”

Evardone recalls that when Angara was Senate president, he forged a Laban-Lakas alliance that led to the passage of laws creating the Bangko Sentral; restructuring of the Department of Education, Culture and Sports into the Department of Education, Commission on Higher Education and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority; and the adoption of the dual-training program for job seekers.

Compare that, he says, to the present Senate — under Manny Villar and Franklin Drilon — “which failed to pass the national budget for three years running and managed to pass a mere one piece of major legislation per year in recent years.”

In her recent dialogue with governors, President Arroyo said that she would rather be with someone like Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, the erstwhile pro-Erap opposition leader who has become her ally, than someone like Sen. Pia Cayetano, who won under the pro-administration ticket, only to abandon the Palace after her victory.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 13, 2007)

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