POSTSCRIPT / January 3, 2008 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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My forecast: Erap sure to run and likely to win

WINNING FORMULA: That was an inspired winning formula that former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada has thought up for recovering his lost presidency and repairing his damaged reputation.

Saying he may consider running again for the presidency if the opposition failed to unite and field a common candidate in 2010, he unwrapped an offer that many presidential wannabes would find very tempting.

Erap said that if he ran and won in 2010, he would claim only the unserved three-year remainder of his 1998-2004 term that he said was “stolen” from him.

After serving that period, he would quit and turn over the balance to his vice president, who would then become a president in his own right and still be qualified to run for another term much like Gloria Arroyo did in 2004.

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LODESTAR: There should be a scramble to join Erap as vice presidential mate, but the leading presidential lights in the opposition had to play coy.

Nobody knows for sure what cards Erap holds close to his chest. But this early, I repeat my fearless forecast made upon his pardon last October that he would run in 2010.

Erap has all the qualifications and none of the disqualifications (regardless of what Palace lawyer Sergio Apostol says), a campaign chest (cash on hand and promised contributions), the motivation (he wants to prove and redeem himself), the opportunity (provided no Charter Change is forced upon the scene), and the minimum command votes (the same votes that elected his wife Loi and his son Jinggoy to the Senate, and his friend Fernando Poe Jr . almost to Malacanang).

With that, Erap becomes the political lodestar to which all opposition elements can now gravitate in their hope for a big win in 2010.

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NO ADMIN BET: Suddenly the administration court looks empty, except for Vice President Noli de Castro, who may not be able to pose serious and intelligent competition.

The only recourse of the administration to foil an Erap victory is to ask the Supreme Court to disqualify him on the tenuous thread of interpreting “reelection” (which is denied a president) to mean “to run again” for the same post.

(The view of this non-lawyer is that “reelection,” prohibited under the Constitution, refers to an incumbent president running for the same office. Not being an incumbent, Erap will not run for “reelection” but will simply “run again.”)

Failing that, the administration could take the risky path of rushing Cha-cha and installing a parliamentary system, much like then President Ferdinand Marcos replacing in 1972 the Constitution that barred his reelection to a third four-year term.

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LIKE LIGHTNING: The Erap declaration was met with deafening silence from the notable presidential aspirants — senators Mar Roxas, Ping Lacson, Nene Pimentel, Loren Legarda and Manuel Villar.

The Erap formula was actually a welcome mat being rolled out for them. But it hit them like lightning from a clear blue sky.

It is not easy for anyone of them to abandon on short notice a personal presidential timetable and play second fiddle to the former president emerging from detention to take center stage.

On the other hand, the rewards of jumping onto the Erap wagon are tempting. Winning with him ensures his Vice President a stint as a full-fledged (not acting) president with an option to run for his own term in 2016.

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WHO’LL BITE?: Based on their track records, I would say that if there is anybody among them who would snap up the Erap offer, the first would be Villar.

Villar is the type who jumps at every opportunity, never mind party loyalties and personal friendships, to advance even just one step toward his obsession of becoming president and installing his wife as First Lady.

Ping Lacson may consider burying the hatchet (there had been bad blood between him and his former Boss) and team up with Erap. But that depends on how much Erap is still willing to trust him.

Loren snuggling up to Erap would be a dream cinematic pair, but Loren may not be ripe for the presidency, even after an apprenticeship that winning with Erap would afford her.

Pimentel, despite his holding the microphone during the swearing in of Gloria Arroyo in 2001, would be a good pair for Erap. Even the late Ninoy Aquino once paid tribute to Nene and predicted that he would one day become president.

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MAN TO BEAT: I doubt if Liberal party president Mar Roxas would toss everything overboard and rush to Erap’s side. He is a viable candidate on his own, so why would he play a supporting role to the man who was driven out of the Palace and convicted of plunder?

I mentioned Mar last because if he pursued his appointment with destiny and ran in opposition to whoever Malacanang fielded, there would be at least three serious candidates — including Erap and the Anointed One of President Arroyo.

That could again splinter the opposition votes and improve the chances of the administration candidate, who would be the beneficiary of the vast resources of government and the usual contributors taking their a cue from Malacanang.

Actually 2010 is still a long way off. But I dare say this early that Erap is the man to beat in 2010.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 3, 2008)

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