POSTSCRIPT / January 27, 2008 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Many ramifications of Erap-Villar team

TEAM-UP: The utterances and body language of former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada and Sen. Manuel Villar suggest that they may be planning either an Estrada-Villar or a Villar-Estrada team for the 2010 presidential elections.

(But the Estrada in the latter tandem where Villar is the leading man is not necessarily Erap. It could be his senator son Jinggoy, as Sen. Franklin Drilon once warned.)

Erap has said that he might run for president if the opposition fails to unite behind one standard bearer. Since it is certain that there will be more than one opposition candidate, will Erap end up running?

Yes, if he sees an opening. No, if the legal gatekeepers decide this country has had enough of Eraptions.

* * *

PRO-POOR?: At the height of speculations that he was set to “run again” for president, I asked Erap whom he preferred as vice presidential partner. The politician in him naturally sidestepped the question.

Interviewing Erap is like engaging him in a drinking bout. Just keep talking, asking, sometimes even kidding him, and sooner or later he loosens up and drops hints of what he really has in mind.

After more questions about other things, I circled back and asked what he was looking for in a running mate. He said he wanted somebody who was “pro-poor.”

A few more remarks, and suddenly he said that Villar was “pro-poor.” He added that Villar came from humble beginnings, that his mother was a market vendor, et cetera.

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HOME GROUND: Reading the lips of the former actor is tricky as he could just be reeling out a trial spiel. But his remarks about Villar — and no one else — told me that something was going on between them.

The impression that the two may have already struck a deal was reinforced this week in Bataan where they descended from the sky on a helicopter, a surefire crowd-getting device in the provinces.

There, Erap heaped praise on Villar, again pointing out that he is “pro-poor.”

Bataan is actually home ground for Villar as his mother came from there. That family item, plus the Erap factor, made that sortie of the emerging partnership a success.

* * *

TWO OPTIONS: But the real story is that Erap still has to hurdle a legal obstacle under Section 4, Article VII, of the Constitution which says “The President shall not be eligible for any re-election.”

Various intriguing scenarios have been drawn around this section.

The broad line has Erap running for president, with Villar as running mate. But until he files his Certificate of Candidacy, there is no legal basis for questioning his intention before the Commission on Elections and the courts.

Once his bid is challenged, either: (1) The Supreme Court gives him the green light — not for reelection but simply to run again, or (2) Disqualifies him as he has already served one term and he cannot run for any reelection.

* * *

TIME ELEMENT: The big question is what happens if and when Erap is disqualified.

The deadline for presidential candidates to file their CoC is a day before the start of the 90-day campaign period before the May 10, 2010, elections. His candidacy can be questioned only within five days after his filing, not before.

The case goes to a Comelec division which has 30 days to rule on it. Whoever loses may move for reconsideration with the Comelec en banc where the case may last another 30 days.

(Election lawyer Romulo Macalintal tells us that almost 40 percent of disqualification cases are decided by the Comelec en banc after the election. But in this case, the poll body might work faster.)

* * *

TO SUPREME COURT: That is just the Comelec stage. Whoever loses in the poll body goes up to the Supreme Court .

Although the SC has given lower courts deadlines for resolving cases, the High Court has no similar deadline for itself. The case could last some time, or the justices would work overtime as this involves presidential candidates.

Whoever loses in the SC can move for reconsideration. By the time the tribunal hands down a final and executory decision, it may be just one week before the May 10 elections.

Suppose by that time there had been several surveys showing a groundswell for Erap returning to Malacanang? What will the Supreme Court do? Will it render a political decision?

* * *

SHUFFLE: What if Erap loses the case, as is widely expected — because the Constitution bars any reelection and there may be bias in the elitist strata of society against his being president all over again?

Here is where the scenario of a reversed Villar-Estrada tandem suggests itself, reminiscent of what Drilon had described.

Under this scenario, Erap bows out (actually as planned), Villar moves up to replace him as standard bearer, and Jinggoy comes in as the party’s vice presidential candidate.

* * *

NO PUEDE: But lawyer Macalintal says it may not be that easy. He calls attention to a Comelec resolution prohibiting one who has withdrawn his candidacy to substitute for any other position.

Besides, he says, any disqualified candidate cannot be replaced, because it is as if no Certificate of Candidacy was filed by him.

He says this is based on the decided disqualification case of Jose “Pempe” Miranda who ran for mayor of Santiago City in 1998. But because this new case involves presidential candidates, the Comelec or the SC may see it differently and decide otherwise.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 27, 2008)

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