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‘Mukhang’ OK

Greg MacabentaBy Greg B. Macabenta

SAN FRANCISCO Even before the formal filing of candidacy of presidential candidates, which is in November, the battle lines are now being formed and we are beginning to see several distinct forces massing to support their respective champions, based on their perception of who can “save” the Philippines from what they see as a sinkhole into which the administration of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has brought it. The “masses” – the “mahirap” or poor – whom Erap Estrada rallied to give him a resounding victory over Jose d e Venecia appear to have gravitated to him again. One wonders what or who it was that forced Estrada out of office the last time. Even the reasons for his ouster have now been effectively blurred. If the charges of corruption and plunder were what caused his ejection, Erap’s masa appear to be convinced now that it was either a frameup or, at worst, a “forgivable” instance of corruption and plunder, paling beside that which Arroyo has been accused of since assuming power. In the Philippines, there is such a thing as “forgivable corruption.” In the case of Erap, the fact that he received a presidential pardon has given him a platform on which to claim exoneration of any wrongdoing. In the Philippines, too, Marc Anthony’s theory that “the evil that men do lives after them; the good is of ten interred with their bones,” does not hold water. The reverse is what holds true. We are a very forgetful and forgiving people. A true Christian nation. No wonder we keep being abused, re-abused and re-re-abused by the same leaders over and over again. There is, on the other hand, an emerging sector, part masa, part impressionable youth who appear convinced that the Philippines’ equivalent of Barack Obama is Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero. There certainly are similarities between them. He is also a freshman senator, largely untested in terms of governance and with no striking record of performance, whether as congressman or in his present post. But he is young, simpatico, intelligent and has that indefinable quality called “star appeal.” Of course, there is also the cynic’s attitude that appears to be justifying his choice as the next president. He is seen as not yet developing the bad habits of the tradpols – the traditional politicians – who have aspired for the presidency before and these eyeing it now. In other words, he may be the choice of those who would rather say, “NOTA” – none of the above – if they are constrained to make a choice. It helps that he is rumored to have the financial support of some very deep pockets that have a record of funding past presidential hopefuls. Senator Manny Villar is still hanging in there, among the top contenders, but it is significant that he has slipped in ratings, after laboriously overtaking the hitherto top ranking VP Noli de Castro. Villar is said to have already invested big bucks in his campaign. But there are enemies, right within the Senate, who would rather see him lose. From reports, he has also begun to experience the problem that plagues the leader of a presidential race who is perceived to have deep pockets: a surplus of advisers and experts, each with a great idea on how to further increase his lead. That may have simply served to muddle his message, along with a label of corruption that his detractors have painted on him. Senator Mar Roxas, who is said to be the choice of the business community, appears to be improving his rankings, coming from single digits to double digits. But he still has to develop the charm of Escudero, spend like Villar and have the magic of Erap to be able to catch up. Again, from feedback on his initial foray into TV advertising, there is a disconnect between how he is trying to portray himself, i.e., a “man of the masses,” and how the masses actually know him, namely, born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Noli de Castro has slipped markedly, from a 27% high early this year to being in fourth position behind Escudero. Perceived as pang-masa when he ran for senator and for vice-president, his hesitance to clarify his presidential ambitions appear to have persuaded the bettors – aka known as financiers – to withhold their support. With more and more presidential noises flooding the airwaves, De Castro’s top-of-mind awareness has diminished. And with Erap beginning to surge, the pang-masa mantle appears to have been wrested from De Castro and placed on Erap. The youth and the intelligentsia find no common ground with De Castro and the business sector considers him no big loss, having already given up on a premise, early into the attempts to impeach Arroyo, that he would have made an acceptable president in such an eventuality. Since it has become clear that Arroyo will hang in there till the official end of her term (it is even feared that she may “outlast” the term), De Castro as acceptable spare tire, has been rendered irrelevant. Senator Loren Legarda, the way it looks, may eventually have to settle for being someone’s vice-presidential candidate, once again. Mayor Jojo Binay of Makati, who actually has a more impressive track record as a public administrator and executive than many of the presidential candidates, may find the climb to the top of the heap too difficult and expensive. He may settle for being the vice-presidential candidate of Erap. The fate of MMDA chairman Bayani Fernando and Senator Dick Gordon, both of whom have impressive performance records in their respective turfs, may be clearer as losers than as winners, if the polls are to be believed. Not so, says Gordon, who continues to believe in an “intelligent” Filipino vote and is hoping for the support of overseas Filipinos. But in Philippine politics, money is the gasoline that fuels a campaign. It is questionable whether either Fernando or Gordon can attract the financiers. We understand that El Shaddai’s Mike Velarde, Jesus Is Lord’s Eddie Villanueva and Pampanga priest-governor Ed Panlilio are hoping for the a ctive support of the Good Lord, not to mention the sizeable constituents of the first two. But if there is any reason to believe in that, it still has to show in the polls. Senator Jamby Madrigal has also announced her plan to run for president, but nobody, as yet, seems to be taking her seriously. But now comes another force that is reported to be massing. One that we shall, for the sake of convenience, refer to as the “Moral Force.” This is the group that has, even at this early stage, already given up on the current list of presidential hopefuls, derisively describing them as being cut from the same cloth. Those behind this incipient “movement” – I am still uncertain that it has gained the momentum to be defined as such – want someone pristine, beyond reproach. A Moral Compass. Alternately being mentioned are Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno and Gawad Kalinga founder Tony Meloto. As of now, the question is not yet whether or not they are “winnable” but whether or not either one will agree to run. Personally, I would have no problem seeing either one of them become candidates for the presidency, as well as business magnate, Manuel Pangilinan. But, my own appeal to fellow voters and the media is to demand that the presidential candidates should tell us, in clear terms – divested of Motherhood statements – how each one plans to put our poor Ship of State on even keel. Unfortunately, everyone – including those who constitute the “Moral Force” – are still operating on pure gut feel. In other words, the think So-and-So should be the next president because “mukhang OK.” Yeah, sure. Weren’t they all – until they became president? (gregmacabenta@hotmail.com mc/compose?to=gregmacabenta@hotmail.com)

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