Presidential wannabes: Outstanding but weird

Vice President Jejomar Binay, who has been figuring prominently in opinion polls, hinges his presidential run on the stupidity of the majority of Filipino voters, particularly the “unthinking masses.” Binay expects most voters, in a fitting display of political amnesia, to ignore allegations and complaints of plunder and corruption against him, and elect him as next president in 2016. 

Although he has yet to announce his presidential bid, Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. has premised it on the voters’ ignorance of historical antecedents, including the martial law regime to which his family name is notoriously attached. Bongbong hopes to capture Malacañang on his belief that more than 80 percent of voters would be 40 years and below in 2016. Ergo, most voters have little or no memory of the detested martial law regime, which culminated in a revolution that toppled the Marcos dictatorship.

Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte wants to be the next president based on his eerie belief that the key to national development is to kill criminals. His pursuit of vigilante justice and advocacy for a federal government seems to be the be-all and end-all of his presidential run, as he expects a groundswell of popular support that could lead to a political victory in the 2016 presidential elections.

Political orthodoxies

The political orthodoxies since the prewar years have not changed. 

Despite an elite-dominated political system that stifles nation-building, presidential wannabes generally present themselves to the electorate with key messages and accompanying political platforms that explain their respective programs of government.

Mainstream presidential bets and their political parties usually present their alchemy for national deliverance and expound in the clearest possible ways their intentions to run the country. To create traction in the national consciousness, presidential candidates talk of programs of government – elaborate and simplified – as they present themselves as the proverbial Moses, who would take the Filipino people to the Promised Land.

In other instances, they would not hesitate to bash other candidates in a display of slash-and-burn politics, or an unending cycle of political competition. They outsmart each other in the ensuing political processes to enable the electorate to select the better candidate. They are mostly centrist in their approaches or basically reformist, but certain candidates still present alternatives different from the mainstream. But they normally stay in the fringes. History shows they hardly win.

In 1941, Juan Sumulong opposed Manuel Quezon to present his version of social justice, but he lost. In 1957, Claro Recto ran for president on an essentially nationalistic, or anti-US political platform, but he lost too. In 1965, Raul Manglapus ran to pursue what he described as a “progressive” program of government, but Ferdinand Marcos clobbered him in the polls.

In 1981, Bartolome Cabangbang ran on a platform to integrate the Philippines as the 51st state of the United States, but he failed. In 1998, Emilio “Lito” Osmena sought the presidency to protest “Imperial Manila” and presented his version of federal government, but voters flatly rejected him; he landed fourth in a field of seven.

Political bashing

Presidential candidates win mainly because of their inordinate ability to capitalize on the weaknesses of their opponents. Hence, it is not unusual to see them launching vicious attacks against their closest rivals. The only question is who among them would the people listen to.

In 1965, Ferdinand Marcos won over Diosdado Macapagal after the former delivered his series of “Nakakahiya” (it’s shameful) speeches detailing Macapagal’s ineptness. In 1969, it was “Nakakahiya-Part Two,” as he accused Sergio Osmena Jr., his main rival, of committing acts of omission and commission as a senator.

In the 1986 “snap” presidential elections, Cory Aquino gave Marcos an outstanding fight, as she went on lambasting Marcos and accusing him of being the mastermind behind the murder of her husband Benigno Jr. In 1992, Salvador Laurel’s accusation that Ramon Mitra Jr. and Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco were “ka-rancho" or informal allies, helped pave the way for the victory of Fidel Ramos.

The accusation of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo that rival Fernando Poe, Jr. was only popular but not competent led to her victory in 2004, although critics alleged she cheated. In 2010, charges of “Villaroyo” – that the main protagonist Manuel Villar was a supposed Arroyo ally – was one of the factors in the political victory of Benigno Aquino III.

In brief, it is almost impossible for a serious presidential candidate to win without slitting the throat of his closest rival. Politics is a contact sport. Candidates who stay on the decent side and refuse to engage in dirty play like mudslinging, are destined to lose and suffer the ignominy of defeat.

Moreover, there is no second chance in Philippine politics. Presidential candidates who lose in their first attempt do not win on their second try.

Binay’s political cross

Despite his lead in opinion polls, Binay carries a heavy political baggage triggered by the spate of accusations and exposes of corruption and his continuing refusal to air his side at the appropriate forum, including the Senate. His cards are stacked against him. No one among the prominent political figures has accepted his offer to become his running mate, leading to perception that he has become a political pariah.

Meanwhile, the corruption issue against him refuses to die, as corruption and even plunder charges keep on piling up against him. The decision of the Court of Appeals to give way to the findings of the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) and subsequently freeze 242 bank accounts belonging to him and allies has exacerbated the situation. Shell-shocked by the new allegations of corruption, Binay and his allies remain in denial stage, as they could only give lame excuses.

Binay’s political identity is strange; he is neither fish nor fowl. He claims to represent the mainstream political opposition, but he is part of the administration, too. He is perceived as the company union, or the political opportunist, who does not hesitate to take advantage of every situation to gain mileage – and votes.

His enemies have made him their punching bag, as they throw everything at him including the kitchen sink and toilet bowl. In what could be viewed as cowardice on his part, Binay has stayed on the defensive mode, as he keeps on enduring those attacks. He has no counterattack; he neither engages in any counteroffensive.

Binay has become the proverbial village idiot, or laughing stock, as he could only give lame excuses to answer the corruption and plunder charges against him. He is now a lame duck candidate; he could not launch any counteroffensive without fear that his allegations would haunt him.

His strategy to stay defensive is unsustainable. The conventional political thinking is that no presidential candidate wins unless he attacks his political rivals and presents himself as the better alternative to the people. Voters do not like weak and effete candidates in an essentially rambunctious, freewheeling Philippine politics.

Binay could not accuse his opponents of lacking integrity because he is not perceived as a man of integrity. He could not accuse them of corruption either because he himself is not cleared of those corruption charges.

In brief, he does not stand on a moral high ground. 

In fact, Binay is perceived as a counterflow to history, as he lacks a definite stand against corruption. While prominent political leaders are coming out with a strong anti-corruption agenda, Binay has none and even quietly evades discussions on it.

Binay however believes that only the middle class understands these corruption issues, while an overwhelming majority of voters, mostly ordinary citizens, are oblivious of the charges hurled against him. He believes that the so-called unthinking segment of the population would catapult him to the presidency.

Bongbong’s demographics

Bongbong does not anchor his presidential bid on his vision of government. He has none of it; he does not have the pretensions of a born-again democrat. His main political weapon is demographics, which indicates that more than 80 percent of voters would be 40 years and below. He wants to capture a sizable segment of that voting population to reach Malacañang and relive their days of glory there.

His presidential candidacy is premised on the wrong foot. Other presidential bets would take pains to explain and enlighten the public about their political platforms, but Bongbong would take advantage of their ignorance about the Marcos dictatorship. The more the voters do not know about its abuses, the better for his presidential run.

His camp believes that young voters have faint or no memory of the over-centralized graft, wanton human rights violations and abuses, and crony capitalism committed by his dictator father Ferdinand, and the embarrassing acts of extravagance committed by his mother Imelda. They are non-issues.

Bongbong has mediocre record in Congress, but his presidential bid is being supported by rabid Marcos loyalists, who believe that he personifies the resurrection of the Marcos legacy. Although Bongbong earlier said in 2010 that his senatorial bid was not premised on the possible vindication of his father, it could be inferred that he wants to present a better public image for his father.

The fact that his fanatic supporters have launched vicious propaganda campaigns on social media to present his father as a great, if not the greatest, president indicates that the Bongbong camp has initiated those campaigns as a launching pad for his presidential bid. Hence, an improved perception of his father could be the starting point of his presidential bid.

Those ill-bred, foul-mouthed Marcos loyalist propagandists have hardly created any dent to improve the sullied image of his dictator father. Proof: Bongbong’s ratings in opinion polls have hardly improved; he is one of the cellar dwellers. Yet, Bongbong has to ride on the name of his dictator father.

Duterte and a silver platter

Duterte’s faulty reasoning goes like this: We need a criminal to run after. We kill the criminals and crooks in government. In the process, we hasten economic development in the country. Forget the rule of law. Forget the justice system.

Duterte is quite intelligent to avoid any declaration of his ambitions and intentions. Playing coy or hard to get, Duterte has been saying that he has no presidential ambitions, adding that he is unqualified to become one. 

But he wants the presidency on a silver platter. Whether he admits it or not, Duterte, a one-dimension politician, is just waiting for some political groundswell to announce his availability in 2016. He wants to have a critical mass of supporters.

As explained by his supporters in social media, a Duterte presidential run is anchored on vigilante justice. His attraction to some people is a function of his belief – or even his defenders' belief – that acting fast on criminals, killing them, or crippling their ways to harm people is the surest way to usher the nation to unprecedented progress. 

Following Duterte's flow of thought, or his supporters', what this nation needs is the local version of Pol Pot, a mass murderer of murderers, grafters, drug addicts, drug pushers, jaywalkers, swindlers, snatchers, petty thieves, rumor mongers, adulterers, exhibitionists, online estafadores, owners of paltik, tirador, balisong, and other deadly weapons, and many others.

This has raised eyebrows and triggered many questions: Should the country give power to a reported killer? What if he jails and kills the wrong people? Would he admit to wrongdoing and face the consequences of his illegal acts?

These are not all. Other questions: If Duterte runs for president, what is his political platform and program of government? What does he know on key issues like diplomacy and foreign policy, national security, economic development, taxation, industrialization, agrarian reform, health program, food security, globalization, telecommunications, and social security?

Does he understand privatization, deregulation, demonopolization and competition policy, military alliances, communist insurgency, Muslim autonomy and even separatism, veteran affairs, barangay affairs, local governance, among others? Does he have the training and background on these key issues?

His admirers keep on saying that Duterte is the answer to what he termed "Imperial Manila" – to indicate their disdain with the way policies and issues are handled by the Manila government. They do not know how the people reacted to those blandishments of independence from "Imperial Manila" by brothers Lito and John Osmeña. Lito lost miserably in 1998.

Duterte could be partly successful in Davao City. In the absence of any political big guns in that southern city, Duterte is the political kingpin, giving credence to the old adage that "in the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed is king." But he knows Metro Manila and other major cities are different. He knows, too, that he would be treated differently the moment he throws his hat into the political ring.

Duterte has a steady mass base, as shown by his near impressive showing in opinion polls. In fact, hate groups, which thrive on their disdain of the slow moving justice system, has gravitated to Duterte. But just like the hate groups in other countries, they are a minority and could not influence the course of political developments in the country.

The presidency is a political post that requires a different perspective, ranging from a sense of history to magnanimity and loftiness. A president looks with his vision, thinks with his conscience, and lives with his soul. He is a different material from a pistol-whacking, armalite-toting local official who has presidential aspirations. –


Philip M. Lustre Jr is a veteran journalist with more than 3 decades of experience writing on economic and political affairs. Email him at