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The decision of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte to withdraw his presidential bid confirms a three-cornered fight in the 2016 presidential elections.
The decision of the perceived strongman from Mindanao to flee from the fight leaves Vice President Jejomar Binay, Senator Grace Poe, and Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II as the serious contenders to slug it out in 2016. Other presidential bets could fill the political vacuum left by Duterte, but the presidency is a toss-up among Binay, Poe, and Roxas.
While Duterte felt that flight was the better choice over fight, the three contenders have chosen to throw their hats into the political ring, as indicated by the intense preparations their camps have been pursuing lately. Their strategies vary, but the ultimate goal is the same: the capture of Malacañang in 2016.
Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, son of the dictator that plunged the country into the morass of authoritarianism, was reported to have been mulling to run for the presidency instead of joining Binay as his running mate. But he is not taken seriously, as latest opinion polls did not show him visible on the political horizon. Whether he runs for president or vice president is immaterial.
Although Duterte did not explain his reasons for his decision to back out from the 2016 presidential polls, it was said that the anti-crime warrior did not appreciate the failure of those pledges of final and political support to materialize at his disposal. He deemed it prudent and smart to withdraw than slug it out in the open without the political wherewithal.
On the other hand, the three presidential contenders have been reportedly beefing up their war chests and organizing in the grassroots level to prepare their well-oiled political machineries in 2016. They are all in a fighting mode. But they have their own dilemmas. Unless they properly manage their difficulties, their candidacies would be doomed.
Whoever manages those difficulties emerges the winner in 2016.
Poe’s situation is probably the most unique among the serious presidential bets. Although she has yet to declare officially her decision to seek the presidency, she is already being hounded by lawsuits on the citizenship and residency issues confronting her.
Poe is the first presidential candidate in Philippine history to have renounced her Filipino citizenship and reacquired it to hold a political office. No previous presidential candidate was once an alien before she sought the presidency. Hence, she faces questions about her loyalty, aside from other issues like competence, integrity, and ability to withstand crises.
Critics said Poe’s renunciation of her Filipino citizenship on Oct. 18, 2001, the date she took her oath as United States citizen, constitutes an abandonment of her native country. It also constitutes a willful act that virtually disqualifies her from seeking the country’s highest political post. The presidency is different, according to critics, as they pointed out that even her family (husband and kids) remain American citizens.
Invoking the clean hands doctrine, critics said every presidential candidate could only seek the people’s mandate with clean hands. Any doubt on her loyalty to the country disqualifies automatically a presidential contender.
Poe’s legal strategy to meet head on the lawsuits filed by defeated senatorial candidate Rizalito David Jr. before the Senate Electoral Tribunal and the watchdog Commission on Elections remain unclear. Critics however averred that she faces rough sailing since her political enemies are using documents which she herself had signed, to back up their claims on her citizenship and residency issues.
At this point, the most plausible defense is for her lawyers to dribble those lawsuits, extend the discussions until the elections come, and convert all those residency and citizenship issues into political issues, which only the people would answer and decide through the ballot.
Raising the political issue doctrine is the surefire formula to counter her issue as a legitimate presidential contender. This is a tall order for her lawyers, but bringing those citizenship and residency issues beyond the legal parameters could also trigger political permutations, which nobody could fathom at the moment. The endgame could hurt her.
But this is the rational and sustainable strategy for Poe. Staying on a purely legal course could result in a political disaster for her. It could be said, however, that the viability of Poe’s quest for the presidency lies essentially in favorable decisions on those lawsuits. Nothing less than favorable would strengthen her presidential bid.
Binay’s political free fall
Not much has changed in the Binay camp. His political free fall continues, as his political enemies keep on filing one plunder charge after another against him. At the moment, Binay faces four separate plunder charges before the Office of the Ombudsman. That makes him the former or incumbent local official, who has the most number of plunder charges before the Office of the Ombudsman.
In brief, his presidential run is simply unsustainable. No voter in his right mind would elect somebody widely perceived as a crook. Binay’s political strategy is to keep in touch with the “unthinking masses,” who would still vote for him despite widespread perceptions that he is corrupt.
His strategy to meet those corruption charges has remained unchanged, too, even as the last day of the filing of certificates of presidential candidacy fast approaches. Binay has remained steadfast in his refusal to answer those corruption charges before the Senate, opting to believe and insist that those charges were the handiwork of his political enemies.
Binay is now experiencing the dreaded subtraction syndrome, where his erstwhile political supporters are leaving him fast, as if they are a bunch of rats jumping out of the sinking Binay ship. It remains unclear on who would benefit from the political fallout currently taking place at the Binay camp.
It appears that Binay could not sustain his provincial sorties, as his contacts and supporters in those select provinces make a diaspora to the other political camps.
Centripetal forces at Mar’s camp
While Poe confronts legal questions on her citizenship and residency and Binay faces plunder charges, his subsequent political free fall, and centrifugal tendencies in his ranks, Roxas and his handlers have to manage a far different dilemma, which is the emerging centripetal tendencies in his camp.
While political supporters keep on knocking and arriving at his camp, the ugly face of political opportunism emerges. Opportunism and political attraction are two sides of the same coin. One goes with the other.
Roxas has become the center of political gravity after President Benigno Aquino III endorsed him as his successor. He is the proverbial sugar candy, where ants form a line to have a taste of its sweetness. Hence, the ruling Liberal Party would have to distinguish the genuine political supporter, who would work for his election, from those opportunists, who are simply riding on his political windfall and taking advantage of the party in power.
It is a pleasant problem nevertheless. The LP could be compared to a baseball team with excellent pitchers. The coach could hardly decide on the pitcher he would field on a certain day. It is not easy to manage and counter those opportunistic streaks in a party in power.
To a large extent, every politician is an opportunist.
LP strategists have what could be considered modest goals for Roxas. They expect his popularity rating at 14 percent based on latest opinion poll to shoot up by two or three percentage points after the President’s endorsement. When it goes up to 20 percent by October, Roxas is in business.
Still, the political imperative for Roxas and the ruling LP is to solidify and conserve its energy and strength for the gruelling political run-up and campaign as its treads the tortuous route to electoral victory in 2016. They have to make serious judgment calls that could make or unmake their presidential candidate.
The flux and flow may favor them today but not tomorrow. Whom the gods would favor at the end of the day is always the question. – Rappler.com
Philip M. Lustre Jr. is a freelance journalist who covered the economic and political beats. He is now involved in book writing projects. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.