POSTSCRIPT / October 18, 2015 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Opinion Columnist

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Surge of presidential bets: What it means

WE DO not know if we should cheer or jeer at the bumper crop of 130 presidential candidates that the Commission on Elections reaped during the five-day filing of certificates of candidacy for the 2016 elections.

At first blush, we see in this record-breaking turnout some signs:

• The faith of a growing number of Filipinos in the sanctity of the ballot has been gravely eroded. More and more people seem to think elections are, if not a dirty game, a big joke.

• The spectacle of just too many clowns, amateurs, and idiots being elected to key government positions has convinced bystanders that just anyone can hack it – and even make millions in the process.

• The initial field of certified presidential candidates having been seen as consisting mostly of lightweights and some mentally-challenged characters has encouraged others to also throw their hat into the ring and join the fun.

For some time before the deadline last Friday for the filing of COCs for president, many disillusioned people have been saying that, if the ballot would allow it, they would vote NOTA (None of the Above).

Such attitude sprang from the then lackluster lineup of the main presidential aspirants, namely Mar Roxas (LP), Jojo Binay (UNA) and Grace Poe (Ind.). Btw, their number then could even be reduced to just one (Roxas) after the Big Machine detains Binay and disqualifies Poe.

For a while there, we saw as an Alternative to NOTA the anticipated entry of Davao Mayor Digong Duterte and Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago. Either of the two feisty contenders would have been a game-changer pumping adrenaline into voters desperate for change.

But Duterte disappointed his followers by not showing up at the gate. That only Santiago filed her CoC was good enough for those looking for a serious alternative to the early starters.

Teaming up with Sen. Bongbong Marcos as her vice presidential partner, Santiago has reignited the waning excitement of people grown tired of “more of the same” crap being served them by the administration.

Winnowing the list, we now see four serious pairs for the 2016 race, namely Roxas-Leni Robredo, Binay-Gringo Honasan, Poe-Chiz Escudero, and Santiago-Marcos.

Without bothering to present something new, Roxas offers “more of the same” governance that President Noynoy Aquino has served in the last five years. Those who love what they are going through now can vote for Roxas. Those who do not, can junk him.

Binay also promises a “more of the same” template he had used in Makati. Those who like or dislike what he had done in Makati can vote accordingly – assuming he is not thrown into jail first and out of contention.

Too bad, neophyte senator Poe cannot offer a “more of the same” presidential menu, because her executive track record is blank. But it may not have to come to that as she could be disqualified soon enough on citizenship or residency issues.

As for Santiago, who has served in all three branches of government, we expect her to tell the people soon how she – in tandem with Marcos as vice president – proposes to save the nation from “more of the same” corruption and incompetence that have sapped the nation’s vitality.

Mar has initial lead, but watch Miriam

THE REALISTS among us predict a Roxas win, the beneficiary of the Liberal Party-administration advantage of machinery and money. This could be the reason for the trade mark complacency of Roxas that had cost him the vice presidency in 2010.

Binay loyalists, meanwhile, insist that the Makati kingpin enjoys a bedrock of votes of 32 percent that no amount of demolition can erode. All that UNA has to do, they add, is to guard this core vote and keep adding to it.

Found in a Jaro church like Moses among the reeds in the Nile, Poe dreams of leading her people from the bondage of poverty. She appears to be banking mainly on popularity. One wonders how her emotional advertising campaign can overcome her citizenship and residency tests.

Starting late in the game, Defensor still has to formalize many details, including her partnering with Marcos, but she is expected to come out soon with a booming first shot.

My own assessment, which is as good/bad as anybody else’s, is that the Roxas-Robredo team now has the edge as it enjoys the endorsement (some call it a kiss of death) of a President scared of being hounded by the next administration.

But there is really no reason for President Aquino to worry. There is no need to force the victory of an LP-administration by foul or automated means as many quarters, especially the opposition, fear.

Mr. Aquino may not believe them, but all his political adversaries with a potential of capturing Malacañang in 2016 evince non-combative intentions.

Despite the relentless demolition he has to suffer, Binay remains a family friend. I dare say that Mr. Aquino can be sure that Binay, more than Roxas, will be too willing to cover his tracks when he leaves the Palace.

During the courtship for Poe as Roxas’ VP partner, the senator had long and deep conversations with the President. Sources said the understanding that emerged was that if she wins, Poe will be kind to him.

As for Santiago, she has not indicated how she would handle Mr. Aquino, but we expect her instincts as a former judge to guide her. Note also that her partner Marcos, unbidden, has declared a program of reconciliation and an end to the cycle of retribution and vengeance.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 18, 2015)

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