The Scrum: VP Binay should stop listening to his family

Miriam Grace A. Go

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The Scrum: VP Binay should stop listening to his family
Looking at the presidency, Jejomar Binay allows what seasoned campaign strategists call the 'komite de pakialam' to make major decisions for him

The first time Ernesto Mercado faced the Senate last year to accuse the Vice President of milking Makati’s coffers, I was convinced of one thing: kasalanan ’to ni Mrs Binay (this is Mrs Binay’s fault).

Many people already know that, in 2009, Jejomar Binay broke his promise to endorse Mercado as his successor in city hall. What’s not widely reported was the reason the then-outgoing mayor took back his word.

Sources in Makati’s political circle told me at the time that, to be fair to Binay, he intended to hand the position to his longtime city engineer, vice mayor, and supposed partner in crime. “Doctora,” however, protested: why give the post to a non-family member? And so the junior, originally being groomed for the vice mayoral post, was instead fielded to replace the father.

When the campaign period for the vice presidential race came in 2010, photos of Binay in lovey-dovey moments with a pretty, younger women who wasn’t his wife circulated. Don’t tell me you didn’t guess who leaked them. 

But the catastrophic effect of the exposé was preempted by Binay’s strategists and they were able to steal the elections from the complacent Mar Roxas. 

Four years later, Mercado resurfaced to remind the Binays that you don’t just leave in the lurch somebody who might have the dirt on you. The funny thing was, in the melange of corruption charges he had made against the family, the former trusted aide couldn’t hide his special dislike for Mrs Binay

While he had straightforward statements about the Vice President, he couldn’t help but make side remarks about the wife: “Ayaw ho kasi ni Doktora na nakakaamoy ng mabaho at ayaw niyang may langaw na lumilipad-lipad doon sa kanilang mansiyon. Mataas ang pangarap ng ating Mayora dahil ang feeling yata ay magiging First Lady na siya ng Pilipinas sa darating na halalan.”

We can understand the Binays for probably not expecting a ditched loyalist to wage a protracted campaign against them. The first time they did the same thing to another ally, Nelson Irasga only ran against them in 1998, and disappeared from the scene after he lost.

Irasga, the Liberal Party candidate then, was also a city engineer, a trusted aide whom Binay promised to endorse as his successor. The mayor, however, ended up fielding Mrs Binay.

The wife always gets her way, according to those who know the Vice President. I could glean that as early as 2001 from the accounts of locals in Rosario, Batangas, when I was investigating the Binays’ undeclared property. A trusted farm supervisor resigned, they said, because Doctora frequented the farm more than the husband did, and she let her alalays throw their weight around.

When the Binay children rose to power themselves, they added to the mix of voices that the Vice President listened to – even if they ran counter to what political advisers said and what conventional political wisdom dictated. “Nagmamagaling” is how one adviser describes the children.

Since controversies erupted one after another, insiders say, two big decisions boomeranged on the Vice President, and both were made on the insistence of his children. One was when Binay backed out of the debate with Senator Sonny Trillanes in November; the latest, when party officials Toby Tiangco and JV Bautista questioned the residency and citizenship of survey front runner Senator Grace Poe supposedly on their own.

I try to psychologize the Vice President. Perhaps, growing up an orphan and fending for himself most of his life, he would tend to value family this much, he’d listen to these persons whose intentions and loyalty he is surest of. So never mind if they don’t have half of his smarts and eloquence – and certainly not much of the political savvy he has demonstrated in his decades in the public arena – he listens to them.

For sure, it’s not only the Vice President who’s seen his campaign suffer because family members interfere in matters best left to tacticians. The practice must be so prevalent that seasoned strategists I know have come up with a phrase for candidates’ relatives: “komite de pakialam” (committee of meddlers).

In How to Win An Election: Lessons From the Experts, veteran strategists say that the basic rule “is to hire professionals” for all aspects of the campaign – including communication – and allow relatives and trusted personal associates in only two areas: the “sensitive fundraising and fund management, and critical poll watching contingencies.”

Vice President Binay has breached this rule too many times. The irony is, he listens to family when they only became mayor, senator, and congresswoman because of his name, his machinery, his people, his astuteness. He made them.

They are not what he needs outside the home. In a battle as harsh and exacting as a presidential campaign, he should surround himself with people who bring to the field something he doesn’t have, something he doesn’t know, something that reinforces the advantage he earlier had.

If he does otherwise, then he has not learned the lessons from his miscalculations. 

“The Scrum” is Rappler’s take on issues and personalities of the 2016 elections. Derived from a media term that refers to reporters surrounding politicians to press them to answer questions and respond candidly, “The Scrum” hopes to spark smart conversations on politics and elections.

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Miriam Grace A. Go

Miriam Grace A Go’s areas of interest are local governance, campaigns and elections, and anything Japanese.