By Perry Diaz
With the 2016 campaign season officially starting on February 9, the “rumble” among the five major presidential candidates and their VP sidekicks has begun. And for the next 90 days of intense campaigning – and plotting – the race is pretty tight particularly among the top three contenders: Vice President Jejomar Binay, Sen. Grace Poe, and Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte. The other two, former DILG Secretary Mar Roxas and Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago don’t appear to have an iota of a chance – short of a miracle – of winning.
Meanwhile, Grace Poe who is at a statistical dead heat with Binay — the top contender — is fighting for her political life trying to convince the Supreme Court (SC) that she is a natural-born Filipino citizen, which is a key criterion for anyone who is running for president of the Philippines. In addition, she’s also trying to prove that she meets the 10-year residency in the Philippines, which she has a hard time coming up with the right calculus to prove it.
The third contender, Rodrigo Duterte, who is just a tad below Poe in the polls is dividing the people into two groups: (1) Those who passionately love him, and (2) Those who hate him with a passion. And so far, the Duterte-lovers are just a few steps ahead of the Duterte-haters, who are trying to paint him as a gangster and not a gang-buster.
On the other hand, Mar Roxas must already know by now that “nice guys finish last.” Instead of doing something spectacularly impressive to voters, Roxas earned the moniker “Mr. Palenke” (Mr. Marketplace) for his penchant for visiting public markets. He said that he spends a lot of time in public markets because they are the “centers of commerce” in a community. But shouldn’t he be telling the voters how he would lead the country and leave the “palenke” business to others?
As for Santiago, whose poll numbers hover around the 5% mark, having ran for president more than two decades ago and lost by a small margin to former prez Fidel V. Ramos, her attempt for a comeback is not only wishful thinking but ridiculously quixotic. And to pick Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. as her running mate makes the late dictator’s son and namesake look like Sancho Panza, Don Quixote’s sidekick.
Recently, there were talks of “secret alliances,” not among the presidential candidates but between them and the vice presidential running mates of other presidential candidates. Sounds confusing? Let me explain. First of all, unlike the U.S. where straight-ticket voting is required for the presidential candidate and his running mate, in the Philippines split-ticket voting is allowed, which could end up with the election of president and vice president from opposing political parties. This happened in 2010 when Benigno “P-Noy” Aquino Jr. and Jejomar “Jojo” Binay, who belong to opposing parties, won in the presidency and vice presidency, respectively. Aquino’s vice presidential running mate, Mar Roxas, lost to Binay while Binay’s presidential running mate, Joseph Estrada, lost to Aquino.
But what is really strange was that the split-ticket election victory of Aquino and Binay was the result of a “secret alliance” between Aquino and Binay – it became to be known as Noy-Bi – that was engineered by then frustrated presidential wannabe Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero. However, Aquino never admitted that he was privy to the Noy-Bi clandestine pact. Aquino insisted that he only worked for the victory of the Noy-Mar (Aquino-Roxas) tandem and disclaimed any knowledge of the Noy-Bi “underground” campaign. Roxas grudgingly accepted Aquino’s word. But what else could he have done?
Surmise it to say, it was because of Aquino’s “utang na loob” (debt of honor) to Roxas that compelled him to “anoint” Roxas to be the Liberal Party’s presidential standard-bearer for the 2016 elections. It’s a payback for Roxas’ withdrawal from seeking the LP’s nomination in favor of Aquino who suddenly became a “presidentiable” when his mother, the late President Cory Aquino, passed away in August 2009.
But Roxas’ anemic poll numbers make Aquino wary of Roxas losing the presidential election, not out of loyalty to Roxas — although he professed so – but because of what fate awaits him when he steps down from the presidency.
Aquino is probably having nightmares about what the future bodes for him. Indeed, he has every reason to be scared because of what happened to former presidents Joseph “Erap” Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who were both detained on charges of crimes – including non-bailable plunder – that they allegedly committed while in office.
It’s interesting to note that it was Arroyo who pursued the plunder charges against Estrada that landed him in jail and it was Aquino who put Arroyo in detention awaiting trial for a series of plunder cases. Could Aquino’s successor pursue plunder charges and other crimes against him after he leaves office? With the pattern that Arroyo started, Aquino’s successor might send him to jail, too. And there is every reason to do so unless his successor is someone who wouldn’t do it to him… like his pal Roxas. But with Roxas seemingly unelectable, who among the top three contenders would spare him from prosecution? Or is it persecution?
By process of elimination, Binay would most likely go after Aquino because he might – and it’s very likely – be of the belief that Aquino had so much to do about what he claimed was a series of “demolition jobs” against him, including the Senate Blue Ribbon Subcommittee investigation that resulted in its recommendation that criminal charges be filed against Binay and his son, dismissed Makati Mayor Jejomar “Junjun” Binay Jr. The conventional wisdom is that if Binay won the presidency, he would pursue criminal charges against Aquino including the non-bailable offense of plunder for his involvement in the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), which the SC had ruled unconstitutional and illegal. Aquino is also accused of being responsible for the massacre of 44 Special Action Force (SAF) commandos in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on January 25, 2015.
“Survival of the cheatest”
Grace Poe, who is Binay’s closest rival, could be kind to Aquino if she were elected president. She could be Aquino’s “insurance” against incarceration. Indeed, many suspect that Poe is Aquino’s “secret candidate.” However, with the disqualification case against her pending before the SC, Aquino couldn’t rely on Poe beating the disqualification case and then beating Binay in the election.
But lately, there is some turnaround of opinions among the SC justices. For one, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno made some remarks that seem to signal her willingness to cut Poe some slack on her status as a “foundling.” She said that the SC had previously ruled that foundlings are presumed to be natural-born Filipinos. She cited two cases where the SC had ruled that the respondents were “presumed to be Filipino citizens even in the absence of evidence that their parents were Filipino citizens.” But here is a crack in Sereno’s argument: The SC ruling merely “presumed” the respondents to be “Filipino citizen,” not “natural-born Filipino citizen” as the Constitution requires of persons running for president of the Philippines. But if a majority of the justices agrees with her, then Poe would be delivered from limbo and allowed to run for president.
The only issue that remains to be dealt with is the 10-year residency requirement. But if the SC could rule that a foundling can be “presumed” a natural-born Filipino, then it would surprise no one that it can also come up with some mumbo-jumbo mathematical equation that would add up to 10 years of residency.
Should Poe get the nod of the SC, all she has to do is beat Binay in the May 9 elections. Indeed, Aquino is hedging his future on Poe winning the presidential election. But there is no certainty that Poe could beat Binay… except for one thing: There are no losers in Philippine elections, only the winner and those who were cheated. It’s survival of the cheatest indeed.