Thursday, June 25, 2009

A nation of presidentiables

Only in the Philippines do we talk of presidentiables, a term Filipinos often use to refer to individuals who are either potential candidates for the presidency or who may look like a president. Drawing the line between the two is not easy. In almost all instances, someone who may be a potential president by virtue of his résumé should also look like one in stature, demeanour and manner of speaking. The latter is really like a pretender while a true presidentiable has the wherewithal to become one.

Everybody seems a presidential contender in our country today. Despite all the talk of the town that won’t go away about changing the present government to a parliamentary system, many have already placed their names on the table hoping people will start betting on them. Elections or no elections, there’ll never be a dearth of presidentiables.

Being a senator is pretty much an automatic qualification. There are at least six senators being mentioned as presidentiables. Joining the fray are an ex-president, a vice-president, a cabinet secretary, a city mayor, and perhaps a sitting president who does not want to fade away like an old soldier.

In the olden days, there were only two major candidates for the presidency. Of course, there were also others running, but none were really contending, since most of them were nuisance candidates. Nowadays, the presidency is a toss-up, for anyone of the mentioned presidentiables can win it all.

No presidentiable is eliminated from the race unless one backs out voluntarily. Sex scandals or allegations of graft and corruption can’t torch any of the candidates. In a Catholic country where morality is a big thing, even infidelity, or the number of wives one has, cannot tarnish a candidate’s image. It’s the nature of Philippine politics: the more, the merrier. It’s like one big market where the people are given a grocery list of choices to select their president.

Incumbent president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo continues to be silent about her future plans whether to seek re-election under a new system of government or run for Congress in her son’s seat in Pampanga. Either way she will be toast. Amending the Constitution eleven months away from the presidential elections is next to impossible. Running for Congress is fraught with moral or ethical issues. Imagine a former president of the land running for a congressional seat in order to take refuge from possible criminal or civil prosecution the moment she steps down from the presidency.

Joseph “Erap” Estrada, the former president Gloria Arroyo replaced and pardoned after being forced to resign because of the sheer scale of his wrongdoings in less than two years in office, is also bent on running again for president. Is he really serious? Estrada sounded his interest to run only if the opposition could not unite and field a single candidate. Rumours are that he already bought two brand-new helicopters and 20 vans to be used for his political campaign. Many political analysts, including incumbent elected officials, admit that Estrada has the lead among the present crop of presidential aspirants because he is still a magnet that could make people in every corner of the land flock to him.

Those scared of Estrada are flouting the argument that he is barred by the Constitution from running again, which seems absurd because he is not the sitting president. In any case, the Supreme Court may be asked to intervene whether Estrada could take a stab again for the presidency. But the right question the people should be asking is whether the presidential pardon given by Arroyo really cleansed all Estrada’s guilt that he is now all but morally up to the task of president of his country.

Then there is the president-in-waiting, Vice President Noli de Castro. Just like his boss in Malacanang, the vice president is also mum about his presidential aspiration. De Castro believes he is the putative heir apparent and worries about Estrada as a possible tough opponent.

Among the opposition, those who have announced their presidential bids include Senators Manuel Roxas II, Manuel Villar, Panfilo Lacson (for the second time around), Richard Gordon, Loren Legarda and Francis Escudero, and Makati City Mayor Jejomar Binay. Defence Secretary Gilbert Teodoro, a former three-term congressman and a Harvard-educated lawyer, has also thrown his hat in the presidential circus.

The political opposition has been turned into a big tent. Everybody is a presidential contender. Being in the opposition guarantees a shot at the big pie. With Gloria Arroyo’s dismal record in office, anyone but her as a replacement seems acceptable.

Imagine Noli de Castro and Joseph Estrada sparring for the presidency. How many wives just between the two of them do they have?

Legarda-Escudero or Escudero-Legarda, which is the winning combination? That depends on who you’re talking to. But with Danding Cojuangco’s full blessings, either tandem would give their rivals a run for their money.

Senators Villar and Lacson are possible drop-outs. Villar is under probe by the Senate for his involvement in a controversial right-of way project, while Lacson continues to be hounded by allegations that he masterminded the murder of a publicist and his driver in 2000 when he was chief of the Philippine National Police.

The presidentiables from the senators’ rank are either scions of political dynasties or have close links with big business and the Philippine Roman Catholic Church. Mayor Jejomar Binay shares a track record with Joseph Estrada for surviving charges of graft and corruption. Defence Secretary Teodoro shares a political dynasty with his wife who is also a representative of the province of Tarlac in Congress.

There used to be a poignant image of a former president with his sleeves rolled up to his elbows, his pants folded up to his knees, and his feet deep in the mud while planting rice with farmers on a ricefield. Perhaps, we should also ask all the presidentiables to dive in the mud and do the same, or de-flea a carabao, at least, as a test of their preparedness for the presidency. With all these presidentiables, God knows there are worse possibilities.

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