A crowded senatorial field

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PerryScope

By Perry Diaz

Just like past midterm elections, the political exercises halfway through the six-year presidential term is a harbinger of how the next presidential football is shaped. Who are the quarterbacks? Who are the players? Who are the coaches? And who will be traded?

It is a game where the opposing teams give no quarter and take no prisoners. The stakes are high… very high, indeed. Whoever wins will control the nation’s politics for a long time to come. And the losers will be thrown – sad to say — into oblivion, never to resurface again for a long, long time. Such is the life of a loser in Philippine politics.

The political football began on July 23, 2018 when former President and Congresswoman Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo staged a coup d’état against the Speaker right in front of the President who was about to deliver his State of the Nation Address (SONA), members of Congress and their wives and mistresses dressed and ready for any surprises that would spring out. Poor Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, reputedly President Rodrigo Duterte’s right-hand man in the House of Thieves — short for Representathieves — who suffered the ignominy of being thrown out of his own House.

Musical chair
How did Gloria do it? Known for seizing an opportunity before anyone else can, Gloria reportedly used the rift between Speaker Alvarez and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, the president’s daughter, to pursue her Machiavellian goal. It was said that the rift was fueled when Alvarez allegedly called Duterte-Carpio a part of the opposition when she formed a separate regional political party, Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HNP).

That was the season-opener for the 2019 midterms. Sara told reporters that HNP was willing to forge alliances with other political parties. It encouraged some lawmakers from the ruling PDP-Laban to consider jumping ship to Lakas-CMD, which was Arroyo’s political party during her presidency.

What we’re seeing now is the start of the game played by turncoats, popularly known as the “balimbings,” whose loyalty is not to their party or their candidate but to themselves. To a lot of them, it’s a matter of self-preservation… or survival. It’s like a musical chair; if you’re not fast enough to switch, you’re out of the game.

Sara makes a move
On August 13, 2018, Mayor Duterte-Carpio announced the formation of a super-coalition of three national parties and six local or regional parties. The three national parties are the Nacionalista Party (NP), Nationalist People’s Party (NPC), and National Unity Party (NUP). The six local parties are:

Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HNP), a regional party founded by Duterte-Carpio not too long ago; Ilocano Timpuyog; Alyansa Bol-anon Alang sa Kausaban (Abaka); Aggrupation of Party for Progress (APP); Kambilan; PaDayon Pilipino (PP); and Serbisyo sa Bayan Party.

Joining forces with Duterte-Carpio are big political quarterbacks Sen. Cynthia Villar of the NP, former President and now Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and tycoon Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr., founder the NPC when he ran for President in 1992.

Duterte-Carpio told the media that it was her father, President Duterte, who gave her and her supporters the go-ahead to form HNP. But it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what President Duterte had in mind. He sees in Sara someone who is a natural heir to his expanding political domain that has the prospect of becoming the country’s next preeminent political dynasty, if not already. Actually, Sara is the only one among Duterte’s three children by his first marriage who is ready to step up to the plate and carry out her father’s political agenda.

In a calculated move last September, Sara denied that she would be running for Senator this year. “I am not running for senator. We are just really trying to unite everybody who wants to help the administration of President Duterte until 2022,” she said. She should have added, “…and beyond.”

Sara’s game plan
In my article, “How high would Sara go?” (September 7, 2018), I wrote:

“She [Sara Duterte-Carpio] would be Duterte’s political heir in 2022 when his presidential term expires. The question is: Is she prepared and ready to take over from her father?

“She might not be as prepared to run for president but she is ready. She has the gumption to fight an intense and contentious presidential campaign.

She got that from her dad. But she should also be aware that some of her rivals in the presidential derby might be her allies today. As we all know, political turncoats or ‘balimbings’ would emerge from the murky shadows of political expedience.

“But if Sara plays her cards right, and with her father’s strong political influence, she just might end up with an unbeatable Royal Flush hand. But there is a caveat when you’re playing high-stake politics. If you fall, it would be with a big thud in which you’re unlikely to recover.”

The Senatoriables
The senatorial field is crowded. There are 62 candidates vying for 12 Senate seats. There are 51 male candidates and 11 female candidates. Among them are seven reelectionists and seven who are seeking a comeback, including 95-years-old Juan Ponce Enrile.

Interestingly, Sara’s HNP is supporting two Senate slates. The first one consists of the eight bets it will endorse nationwide, while the second HNP list contains the 14 senatorial candidates it will endorse in the Davao Region, her bailiwick.

There are a lot of wannabes in the senatorial field but eventually it would be a battle between the administration and the opposition candidates. Grace Poe tops the senatoriables with 67.4% but it is doubtful if she’d run this time around. Rep. Pia Cayetano who placed second with 55.7% might be tempted to run for president and fall back to vice president if she fails. Sen. Cynthia Villar who placed third with 50.1% might throw her name for president but would quickly settle for vice president. Sara Duterte-Carpio, although a non-candidate, is fourth place with 46.2%. And Imee Marcos placed 14th with 29.9% but she vowed that she’d win. But right now, it’s a no-brainer; the bets are on Duterte-Carpio and Robredo running as administration and opposition candidates, respectively.

As for Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, nobody knows what she’s vying for. But right now, we’ll just have to take her word that she’d be writing her memoirs, which I surmise will be titled, “Why I failed to become Prime Minister?” I understand it’s going to make it to the “Best Selling Fictional Stories.”

And how about President Duterte and Bongbong Marcos? Bongbong was once Duterte’s “manok” for President. Well, from what’s going around in the rumor mill today, Duterte promised Bongbong that they’d still be “Best Friends Forever.” Bongbong should know better, “Blood is thicker than politics.” And besides, whoever believes that there are permanent friends?

Not even permanent enemies. The only thing that’s permanent is self-interest.

And to the “balimbings” who didn’t make it, all I can say is, “Hey, better luck next time. Never give up.” Someday, you’d be running for President.

Most of those who became President were “balimbings.”

And remember, in Philippine elections, there are no losers, only the winners and those who were cheated.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

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