February 2008

PerryScope

by Perry Diaz

The Imminent Fall of the Evil Empire

For the last seven years since she usurped the presidency from Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo built an empire that fed on greed. And over that period of time, she spun a massive web of corruption — and deception — that centered in Malacanang. Corruption was institutionalized at every level of her government — from the lowly paid clerk to the greedy influence peddlers and all the way to the top echelon of the Arroyo administration.

Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada’s testimony before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee was akin to the testimony of Joseph Valachi before the U.S. Senate McClellan Committee in 1962 when it investigated organized crime in the U.S. Valachi was the first Mafia insider who broke the “Omerta” code of silence and exposed the extent of the “Cosa Nostra” criminal empire. In the case of Lozada, he was the first “Evil Empire” insider who exposed the extent of corruption in the Arroyo government.

In his testimony, Lozada talked about a meeting that he attended last December 2007 with Romulo Neri and Senators Ping Lacson and Jamby Madrigal. At that meeting, Neri said of Arroyo: “She is evil.” Neri also told them that Arroyo allowed her business cronies to control certain industries. Lacson and Madrigal, however, would not divulge what Neri told them. They said that they promised Neri to keep the information he disclosed confidential. I think there’s more to it than keeping their promises.

According to Lozada, Neri named Lucio Tan, John Gokongwei, Enrique Razon, Tomas Alcantara, and the Aboitizes as some of the “oligarchs” who ruled the country under the patronage of Arroyo. It is interesting to note that on December 12, 2007, a consortium led by Enrique Razon which comprised the State Grid Corporation of China and Calaca High Power Corp. won the right to operate the government-owned TransCo for 25 years for only $3.95 billion. Critics said that the government would earn a lot more than that if Congress did not pass a law forcing the privatization of TransCo operations.

Last September 2007, after the ZTE-NBN scandal erupted, Arroyo quietly suspended more than $4 billion worth of projects funded by China. She also suspended the $460 million Cyber-Ed project which was also awarded to a Chinese company.

It is anticipated that some of Arroyo’s political allies would abandon her at the crucial time. But how about the military? Would the military’s top brass stick with her until the very end? I doubt it. Just like in 1986 and 2001, the military would do the right thing and support the leader who would emerge with popular support. After all, Arroyo’s presidency is considered by many as illegitimate; thus, giving the military a pretense in the event that they abandon Arroyo. Hey, they’re human too.

At a recent wreath-laying ceremony at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Heroes Cemetery) commemorating the 22nd anniversary of the “People Power” revolution, former President Fidel V. Ramos, in his speech, said that the gains of the “People Power” revolution in 1986 and 2001 were being lost to “greed, apathy, and corruption.” Those words must have shaken Arroyo — who was present at the ceremony — to the bones. And in what appeared to be a “call to action,” Ramos implored, “history might yet call us to come together again — to offer our lives and fortunes on the altar of our civic leaders.” Then he blasted the oligarchs, dynasties, and opportunists. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out who Ramos was talking about. After the ceremony, Arroyo took off without saying a word to the audience. Perhaps she was choking from the “noose” tightening around her neck while Ramos was lambasting corruption in her government.

A few days earlier, Vice President Noli de Castro said, “Nobody is above the law.” He said that government officials, including Arroyo, should be charged if they were found involved in the ZTE-NBN scandal. That’s a pretty strong message which told Arroyo that he is ready to take over in the event that she would resign or be removed from office. It is interesting to note that in 2005, de Castro stood squarely behind Arroyo and said that he was not interested in the presidency. In the end, Arroyo was saved only because nobody was ready to take over. This time, de Castro is ready. And all he had to do is convince the power brokers that he is ready, willing, and able to step up to the plate… and lead.

In an unexpected move a few days ago, First Gentleman Mike Arroyo hastily left for Hong Kong for an acupuncture treatment. But I doubt if anybody would believe him. Interestingly, he left four days after the Ombudsman opened its investigation on his involvement in the $329 million ZTE-NBN contract. Was he doing what his friend Joc-joc Bolante did — flee the country to avoid prosecution?

After Mike left for Hong Kong, Arroyo admitted that she was aware of allegations of high-level corruption in the NBN deal. However, she did not stop the signing of the deal claiming that she didn’t want to create a “diplomatic problem” with China. Whoa! This must be a joke. She placed the interest of corrupt Chinese officials — or as one of my readers said, her own interest — over the interest of the Filipino people. She could have come up with a good — and valid — excuse and told her Chinese friends that the review of the contract was still in progress. And what would the Chinese do otherwise — invade the Philippines?

Freddie Hernandez of Port Moresby wrote, “Loyalty has become a multi-million peso/dollar commodity for those who are close to the powers-that-be. To them, it is their dogged commitment to stick to the seat of power come hell or high water; it is a determined effort to simply play deaf to the prevailing public outcry that clamorously tells them such allegiance has now become a tool of oppression, and to play blind to the overlapping web of blatant corruption in their midst.” But like all things, the good would eventually prevail over evil. The fall of Gloria’s “evil empire” is imminent. Either she resigns gracefully now or feel the wrath of another “people power.”

One of Arroyo’s allies, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, in an article by Roger M. Balanza, said that “the ouster of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo could be hastened not by the political opposition calling for her ouster or military or police losing trust on the Commander-in-Chief, but students rising up with one voice in a ‘spontaneous combustion’ to demand she step down.” Indeed, a “spontaneous combustion” — just like the First Quarter Storm 38 years ago — could cause a massive turmoil that would either force Arroyo to resign or declare martial law. It’s her choice to make.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

Dear Folks,

The following is a reprint of my article, “Sleeping With The Enemy,” which was originally published on August 10, 2007, long before the NBN scandal erupted.

Recently, Gloria Arroyo admitted that she knew something was wrong with the NBN contract but went ahead and signed it because she didn’t want any “diplomatic problem” with China. Huh??? Is the avoidance of a “diplomatic problem” with China more important than the interest of the Filipino people? Or was it because First Gentleman Mike Arroyo would make a huge kickback — $70 million — from this deal? I tend to believe that it was the kickback that motivated Arroyo to sign it.

Gloria should not stay one day longer. Her betrayal of the Filipino people should not be condoned. Gloria’s evil empire must be dismantled. She must resign now!

Best,
Perry

August 10, 2007
PerryScope

Perry Diaz

Sleeping With The Enemy

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has a penchant for signing agreements with foreign countries while attending conferences. But her recent agreement with communist North Korea defies logic. What does she gain by entering into a contract with a rogue state?

During the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) held in Manila last July, two agreements were signed by Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Romulo and his North Korean counterpart. They signed an agreement to establish a “bilateral consultation mechanism” between the two countries. They also signed a cultural cooperation agreement to “further enhance ties between the two countries.”

But, as one diplomat was reported to have stated, what seems to take a more important aspect of the two agreements is in the area of “security.” The rationale being advanced was that “closer ties between the two counties could prevent any transfer of firearms from North Korea to armed groups” such as the communist insurgents, Muslim separatists, terrorists, and criminal elements. Now, this is really stretching someone’s imagination to the extreme. Does anyone really believe that North Korea would stop sending its only exportable product — weapons — to its clients in the Philippines? Or would it be reasonable to believe that North Korea could possibly send its handlers under the guise of “cultural cooperation” to further its arms business?

According to news reports, North Korea’s foreign minister, Pak Ui Chun, promised to “abide by his country’s commitment to end its nuclear weapons programme.” However, Pak did not specify when his country would dismantle its nuclear facilities. Clearly, there is a big difference between a “promise” and an “action.” As an old adage says, “Promises are made to be broken.” The bottom line is: If North Korea is going to dismantle its nuclear facilities, it would use that as a leverage with the nuclear powers — the U.S., England, France, Russia, and China — to gain political and economic concessions. It certainly would not do that in exchange for “cultural cooperation.”

William C. Triplett II, in his book “Rogue State: How a Nuclear North Korea Threatens America,” stated that “North Korea is a ‘gulag nation’ where millions starve under the cult of ‘Dear Leader’ Kim Jong-Il.” He explained that “North Korea functions as Kim’s ‘family-run criminal enterprise,’ with his henchmen (and -women) responsible for terrorist attacks and assassinations, as well as sidelines in narcotics trafficking, counterfeiting and kidnapping.” And here is the scary part: “Worst of all,” Triplett wrote, “North Korea has, or will soon have, nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and missiles capable of reaching the United States.” He also contended that “the real culprit is not so much the Kim dictatorship but Communist China, described as North Korea’s ‘master’ and ‘enabler,’ if not co-conspirator and participant in crime.” His book is described as “a stunning documentation that North Korea is not the crazy, unpredictable terrorist state of myth, but in fact the terrorist branch of the People’s Republic of China.”

We need to be cognizant of the fact that with the collapse of the Soviet Empire almost two decades ago, China is now the political center of world communism. North Korea, Cuba, and a few other countries are beholden to China. With the proximity of Cuba to the United States, China is incapable of exerting military pressure on the U.S. from Cuba. However, it could tip the balance of power in the Far East by using North Korea to do its “dirty work” while it does all the good public relations work. What a better way to pursue their hidden agenda than using “cultural cooperation” to disguise their ultimate goal; that is, to destabilize the non-communist countries in Asia, particularly the third world countries. It is interesting to note that the Philippines is the only country in the whole world that has an active communist insurgency. To China and North Korea, the Philippines is just ripe for the plucking.

Not too long ago, in April of 2007, the Philippine government awarded a $330-million project to a Chinese firm, ZTE Corp, to design and install broadband connections to more than 22,000 government offices throughout the Philippines. President Arroyo hopes that this ambitious high-tech project would bring the rural areas into the 21st century.

But it is not the feasibility of the project that has attracted a lot of flak, it’s the anomalous way with which the project was awarded. It appears that the contract was hastily executed — signed in Boao, China at the sidelines of President Arroyo’s speech at the World Economic Forum — without public bidding, although two companies have submitted bids for the project but were ignored. U.S. Ambassador Kristie Kenney stirred a hornet’s nest when she sent a letter to the Philippine government on behalf of two American companies requesting the Philippine government to reconsider its decision to award the project to ZTE Corp. She said that an “open competition and transparency is the best interest of all.” Another interested party was a company founded and owned by Jose de Venecia III, son of Speaker Jose de Venecia. One of the American companies, Arescom, claimed that its $135-million bid should have won the contract. AHI’s bid was $242-million. Recently, the Philippine Senate announced that it will investigate the awarding of the contract. Well, let’s see how the new opposition majority in the Senate would perform. This would test their mettle.

The ultimate question that would come to mind is: Does the Philippines need to spend this huge amount — the equivalent of 15 billion pesos — for the luxury of implementing high-tech capability to the vastly undeveloped rural areas? A large portion of the Philippines is still trying to get into the 20th century. Why the rush to bring them into the 21st century? As the old saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

What President Arroyo should do to achieve her dream of an “Enchanted Kingdom” in 20 years is to address the basic needs of the people. With insufficient housing, widespread poverty, high unemployment and underemployment, and mediocre educational programs, $330 million would go a long way if spent wisely. The last thing that the people would like to see is another fiasco of the magnitude of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant which was never put into operation. It took the Philippine government 20 years to pay off the $2.3-billion loan plus interest of $155,000 a day. Instead of wasting $330 million on another white elephant, President Arroyo should spend it on projects that would uplift the lives of the Filipino people.

(PerryDiaz@aol.com)

PerryScope
by Perry Diaz

It’s time for Gloria to face the music

If only President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo knew that Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada would surface and spill everything that he knew about the ZTE-NBN corruption scandal, she would have kept Jose de Venecia as Speaker of the House of Representatives. As the saying goes, “Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer.” That’s what she should have done with de Venecia, after all de Venecia had always been a loyal supporter of Arroyo — from the time Arroyo was de Venecia’s vice presidential running mate in 1998. In that election, Arroyo won and de Venecia lost to Joseph Estrada.

Arroyo and de Venecia became close political allies, each one needing the other to maintain their hold on power. In 2001, when Joseph Estrada was deposed as President, Arroyo was elevated to the presidency and de Venecia was elected Speaker. In 2005, when Arroyo was on the brink of losing her grip on power during the “Hello Garci” election cheating scandal, de Venecia together with former President Fidel Ramos, several congressmen, and local officials rushed to Malacanang and stood behind her. She survived.

Now, with the blistering testimony of Lozada, Arroyo is once again mired in another scandal, the magnitude of which is much greater than the “Hello Garci” scandal. Lozada testified before the Senate and implicated First Gentleman Mike Arroyo and former COMELEC Chairman Benjamin Abalos in brokering the overpriced $329 million ZTE-NBN contract which was allegedly padded with a $130 million kickback for Abalos and Mike Arroyo.

Lozada also claimed that government security people abducted him — he insisted he was “kidnapped” — at the international airport on February 5 upon his arrival from Hong Kong. Philippine National Police Director General Avelino Razon, Jr. claimed that the family of Lozada had requested for security. But when Razon was asked why he ordered Lozada “secured,” he said that Environment Secretary Lito Atienza made the request on behalf of Lozada himself. However, on February 15, Romeo Hilomen — chief of the Police Security Protection Office — admitted that Lozada’s family did not make a request for security for Lozada. Hilomen further admitted that he asked Lozada to sign a “letter of request seeking his protection.” Recently, an airport surveillance video was released showing Lozada in the company of five men, one of whom was positively identified as a member of the Presidential Security Group (PSG).

Lozada’s testimony implicating Mike Arroyo and Abalos lends credence to the testimonies of Jose “Joey” de Venecia III and Romulo Neri, former head of the National Economic Development Authority, before the Senate last October. Joey claimed that Mike Arroyo and Abalos brokered the ZTE-NBN contract. Neri testified that Abalos offered him a P200 million bribe for his approval of the $329 million deal. Neri said that he called President Arroyo and told her about Abalos’ bribery offer. He said that the President told him not to accept the bribe but to go ahead and approve the contract. When he was pressed by the Senators for details, Neri invoked “executive privilege.”

Recently, Neri publicly stated that he had suspicions that the ZTE-NBN contract was overpriced. He claimed that at the time he approved the deal, he didn’t have any evidence or documentation to support his suspicions. That’s hogwash. He should know better that there are no paper trails in this kind of deals. They’re all sealed with a handshake and a kickback.

But betrayal happens all the time especially when large amount of money is involved and that’s what happened in this sweetheart deal. Originally, Joey de Venecia was part of the deal and ZTE was not. But because he couldn’t go along with the $130 million “commission” for Abalos, his bid was rejected. He said that to pad his Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) proposal with that amount, he would lose money on the project. Abalos then went to ZTE officials who were more than willing to accommodate his demand for a humongous kickback. Since the ZTE proposal was not a BOT, all ZTE had to do was add the “commission” to the contract price. And to secure Malacanang’s endorsement of the overpriced ZTE-NBN deal, Abalos allegedly offered a $70 million grease money to his good friend Mike Arroyo. So all that Abalos needed was Neri’s approval of the ZTE-NBN deal.

The testimonies of Jun Lozada, Joey de Venecia and Romulo Neri have damaged the credibility of President Arroyo beyond repair. A direct link to Arroyo was established by Neri. Joey de Venecia linked Mike Arroyo to Abalos. Lozada linked Mike Arroyo and Abalos to ZTE officials. Is it then fair to presume that Gloria Arroyo already knew what was being cooked when she told Neri to approve the deal? For all we know, she could have told Neri, “Don’t accept Abalos’ bribe; approve the deal and Mike will take care of you.”

There is no denying that the ZTE-NBN deal was endorsed by President Arroyo. Although Arroyo canceled the ZTE-NBN contract after Joey de Venecia exposed the graft, attempts to cover up the stinking deal have brought to the forefront of debate Gloria Arroyo’s moral ascendancy to govern the Filipino people. She betrayed the people and transformed the country into her family’s fiefdom.

But the façade of invincibility that she built around her administration is now showing some cracks. Demands for her resignation have intensified. The people want to know the truth. Yes, President Arroyo has to tell the people the truth about the ZTE-NBN deal. But for her to tell the truth, she has to ultimately face the music and ask the people for forgiveness, and abdicate the presidency that she usurped in 2001 and extended in 2004 by cheating in the election.

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo have had her chance to clean up the corruption that pervaded at every level in her government. But instead of stamping it out, she turned a blind eye to the corruption around her. She used patronage — and bribery — to maintain her political supremacy. Arroyo must resign now. For the sake of the country, that’s the only option left for her.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope

by Perry Diaz

It’s All About Power and Money

The ouster of Jose de Venecia as Speaker in the wee hours of February 5, 2008, demonstrated once again President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s insatiable lust for power. Indeed, Arroyo has amassed and consolidated more power than any other president except Ferdinand Marcos. But she did it without martial law. Through a series of Machiavellian maneuvers, she achieved absolute power. And as Lord Acton said more than a century ago, “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It was true then, it is still true today.

The Philippine government was patterned after the U.S. form of government which has three branches — Executive, Legislative and Judiciary. Each branch is independent from the other branches, a mechanism that provides a “check and balance” in the government. But with de Venecia removed as Speaker — and 80% of the congressmen controlled by Arroyo — the House of Representatives would become a rubber stamp of the Executive branch just like it was with the Batasang Pambansa (National Legislature) during the Marcos dictatorship.

The new Speaker, Prospero Nogales — said to have been handpicked by Arroyo herself — would just be a glorified lapdog of Arroyo who’ll do anything that she wants out of Congress. Arroyo’s two sons, Congressman Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo and his younger brother, neophyte Congressman Diosdado “Dato” Arroyo, would make sure that Nograles will do exactly what mama wants.

The question that comes to mind is: Why did Arroyo get rid of de Venecia? De Venecia has been a loyal lieutenant of Arroyo who — together with former President Fidel V. Ramos — rescued her from imminent fall in 2005 as a result of the “Hello Garci” election cheating scandal. At 5:00 p.m. on that fateful Friday afternoon on July 8, 2005, with Arroyo losing her grip on power and ready to flee Malacanang and follow her husband Mike and son Mikey into exile in San Francisco, former President Ramos, Speaker de Venecia, several congressmen, and local officials rushed to Malacanang and stood behind Arroyo. To save her neck, Arroyo promised Ramos and de Venecia that she would go along with their plan to transform the republic into a parliamentary system in 10 months! But as soon as the “people power” siege was over, Arroyo reneged on her promise and pursued a different course. Mike and Mikey came back from “exile” — or was it R and R? — and everything was back to normal. Once again, La Gloria has conned all the boys. Ha ha ha…

Given de Venecia’s loyalty, and with two years left in her presidency, Arroyo could have kept de Venecia as the House head honcho until she steps down gracefully from the presidency at the end of her term in June 2010. That would have been the right thing to do. Instead, she started a war with de Venecia and anyone who stands on her way. This war — the “War of the Dynasties” — would go beyond 2010 where the Macapagal-Arroyo dynasty would battle with anyone who would dare challenge their supremacy. For Mikey and Dato, the “whacking” of de Venecia was their “baptism of fire.” They have “made their bones,” so to speak. They allegedly did it in retaliation for the expose’ made by de Venecia’s son Joey de Venecia III who accused their father Mike Arroyo for involvement in the NBN $329 million deal in which President Arroyo was forced to cancel to prevent the scandal from blowing in her face and scorch her presidency. According to Joey, Mike Arroyo and then COMELEC Chairman Benjamin Abalos brokered the deal with the Chinese outfit ZTE Corp.

On February 7, two days after de Venecia was ousted by the Arroyo brothers, Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada, Jr. — surrounded by nuns — surfaced and held a press conference at 2:00 a.m. at the La Salle Greenhills campus and exposed Mike Arroyo and Abalos of their involvement in the failed NBN deal. Lozada said that he was a consultant for the NBN project and was asked by Romulo Neri, who was then the Director-General of the National Economic and Development Authority, to review the project. The price tag of the NBN project was originally $262 million but Abalos wanted a $130 million kickback. Thus, the price was increased to $329 million to make sure that Abalos got his kickback. It is interesting to note that Joey de Venecia, in his testimony before the Senate last October, told the Senate panel that Abalos promised Mike Arroyo a $70 million kickback. If that would have been the case, Abalos would have kept a hefty $60 million for himself. After his press conference, members of the office of the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms arrived and whisked him away to safety.

The following day, Lozada testified before the Senate for seven hours. He told the Senate panel that Neri “instructed” him not to involve Mike Arroyo in the NBN issue. Neri’s instruction was relayed to him by President Arroyo’s Malacanang aide Medy Pobaldor while he was in Hong Kong. Interestingly, Lozada said that the government sent him to Hong Kong because “they couldn’t find a legal remedy to stop the Senate” from requiring him to testify on the NBN deal. Isn’t that what also happened to Joc-Joc Bolante during the fertilizer scam investigation by the Senate? Lozada also said that he met with Mike Arroyo, Abalos, and Neri during a dinner with ZTE officials. Lozada said that the ZTE officials told him that they had advanced some money to Abalos. I supposed the “advance” money was not refundable which would have angered the ZTE officials when President Arroyo canceled their contract. The question is: Did Abalos split the “advance” money with Mike Arroyo?

With de Venecia licking his wounds and Lozada singing like a canary in front of the Senate, what’s going to happen next? Would de Venecia do to President Arroyo what Governor Chavit Singson did to former President Estrada? If de Venecia were smart, he would have kept a dossier of damaging information on all the corruptions and shenanigans in the Arroyo administration, just in case he might need them someday. Well, that “someday” is today. De Venecia has to strike while the iron is hot.

We all know that Charter change (Cha-cha) has always been in Arroyo’s mind. It’s the only vehicle for her to stay in power short of declaring martial law. As a matter of fact, she proposed last year to change the government to a federal system by 2012. Many believed that Arroyo’s ultimate goal is to extend her term beyond 2010. Had the Supreme Court not rejected Arroyo’s flawed people’s initiative, she would have become the Prime Minister in 2010 under the parliamentary system that she proposed. Now, with the House of Representatives under her control, Cha-cha could easily sail through the House. But she would face stiff opposition in the Senate in which case she could once again resort to a people’s initiative. This time, she would not repeat the mistake she made with the first people’s initiative.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope

by Perry Diaz

Independents: The Swing Vote in 2008

Recently, the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) released its study, “California’s Independent Voters” which showed that between the 1988 and 2004 presidential elections, “decline to state” — or independent — registration doubled from 9% to 17.7%. Conversely, Democratic registration for the same period fell from 50.4% to 43% and Republican registration fell from 38.6% to 34.7%. In terms of actual numbers, Democratic registration shrunk from 7.1 million in 1988 to 6.6 million today while Republican registration shrunk from 5.4 million to 5.2 million. On the other hand, the independents have grown from 1.3 million in 1988 to 3 million today and their share of the electorate has increased to 19.3% — that’s one out of five California voters.

The PPIC survey showed that independents are politically “flexible.” They can either vote Republican or Democrat. It also showed that 39% of independents considered themselves politically moderate while 31% considered themselves liberal and 30% considered themselves conservative. Interestingly, 67% of Republicans call themselves conservative and 53% of Democrats are liberal. It would then be fair to presume that one-third of Republicans and one-half of Democrats are moderate which would tend to indicate that they have the propensity to cross party lines in the general election. Remember the “Reagan Democrats” in the 80’s?

The PPIC survey concluded: “With less than a majority of California voters registered in either major party, independents play an increasingly important role in deciding statewide elections. For example, in the 2004 presidential election, Republicans and Democrats supported their party’s candidates. Because 56 percent of independents supported the Kerry-Edwards Democratic ticket, Kerry-Edwards beat the Bush-Cheney ticket in California by 10 points (54% to 44%). In the 2006 gubernatorial election, Republicans and Democrats supported their party’s candidates, while 54 percent of independents backed Schwarzenegger, who won his reelection (56% to 39%).”

It’s interesting to note that the last Republican presidential candidate who won in California was George H.W. Bush in 1988 who managed to keep the “Reagan Democrats” on his side. However, in 1992 the “Reagan Democrats” deserted the Republicans and went back to the fold of the Democratic Party. Bill Clinton won in California. Since then, every Democratic presidential candidate had won in California. Is the Democratic candidate going to capture California again in November? Not necessarily.

The battle for the independents started in earnest in the Iowa caucuses last month when the independents flexed their collective strength for Obama; thus, defeating Hillary Clinton, the pre-caucus favorite. In New Hampshire, McCain won resoundingly with the support of the independents. But it was the Florida primary last January 29 that gave McCain the victory he needed to establish himself as the Republican frontrunner going into the 22-state “Super Tuesday” primaries on February 5. Since independents were not allowed to vote in the Florida Republican primary, McCain’s five percent advantage over Romney proved his strength in his own party. With the withdrawal of Rudy Giuliani after his defeat in Florida, and his subsequent endorsement of McCain, McCain’s lead over Romney has increased to eight percent.

Prior to the New Hampshire primary, McCain had been written off by political pundits. But he struggled to keep his campaign alive and stayed in the race. Then came the New Hampshire primary where independents were allowed to choose whether to vote in the Republican or Democratic primary. McCain’s upset victory caught his rivals off-guard. According to exit polls, a whopping 37% of those who voted for McCain identified themselves as “independent.”

In the South Carolina primary — where independents and Democrats were allowed to vote in the Republican primary and independents and Republicans were allowed to vote in the Democratic primary — McCain proved his ability to draw support from non-Republicans. He beat Huckabee 33% to 30%. Romney fared poorly with only 15% of the vote. Ironically, it was in South Carolina where McCain was blown away in his quest for the presidency in 2000.

McCain’s stunning victory in the winner-take-all Republican primary in Florida — where only Republicans were allowed to cast their vote — put him ahead in the Republican pack leading to the 22-state “Super Tuesday” primaries on February 5. Indeed, McCain proved in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida that he can attract Republicans, Democrats, and independents to vote for him. No other candidate, Republican or Democrat, has achieved what he did.

At the Republican debate last January 30 at the Reagan Library in California, McCain projected himself as the Republican leader who can lead all Americans. His “reaching across the aisle” style reminds me of the late President Ronald Reagan who was able to work with a Democratic-controlled Congress and got all his key programs passed.

On the Democratic primary, Clinton has a razor-thin edge over Obama and it’s too close to predict who would win on “Super Tuesday.” However, political pundits have predicted that Clinton will nevertheless win the nomination of her party. With McCain and Clinton leading in their respective primaries, it appears that it is going to be a McCain-Clinton battle in November.

The late President Richard Nixon once said that you have to run to the right to win in the Republican primary and then run as fast as you can to the center to win in the general election. In 1992, Bill Clinton took the cue from Nixon and ran to the left to get the Democratic nomination and then ran to the center to get elected. But McCain seems to have changed the rule, he has one foot on the right and the other foot in the center; thus, maintaining his conservative base of support while attracting the moderate independents early in the game, thereby pre-empting Hillary from getting to the center after she has captured the Democratic nomination.

Never in the history of American politics did independents play a pivotal role in electing the president. They are the swing vote this year. Whoever gets the majority of the independents would clinch the presidency. The question is: which candidate would the independents support?

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)