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The 2010 Polls: Battle Of Political Heavyweights?

September 17, 2009

gibo and noy montage

Filipinos’ favorite dish, politics, is being served in large servings today following the selection of Defense Secretary Gilbert ‘Gibo’ Teodoro as the administration’s presidential standard bearer in next years polls.

Even the COMELEC is posturing that the PaLaKa (Partido Lakas Kampi) risked being censured for premature political campaigning ahead of the official period, and even absent the approval of the mergers of Lakas and KAMPI.

But I digress because what people are really talking about if the upcoming face off between Teodoro nd second cousin Noynoy Aquino.

Veteran journalist Rodney Jaleco of ABS-CBN Global’s North America News Bureau shares his take with our readers:

I think most Pinoys want to see a Gibo-Noynoy fight for 2010.

It has all the trappings of a telenobela hit – scions of rich, powerful, feuding families; young and telegenic, appealing to women and drawing men with their non-threatening demeanors; diametrically opposed political foundations; their worlds ahead of them.

But they are also political lightweights.

They’re both untested, unknown variables in national politics. They have very little inherent strengths aside from that provided by a potent historic legacy for one, and a seemingly impregnable machinery for the other.

One is on the right side of history, the other on right side of the political fence.

Is legacy/machinery enough of a qualification to serve as president for six years?

Both started off as congressmen and moved on to the national scene, Noynoy by being elected senator and Gibo by being appointed Secretary of National Defense.

Noynoy has a dismal record in Congress – a distinction, someone told me, he apparently shares with his father, the martyred Sen. Ninoy Aquino who reportedly had only one bill in his name (although he co-authored many others). But Ninoy fostered the appearance of doing more by speaking out forcefully against the Marcos administration.

Gibo is credited with prosecuting institutionalized reforms in the Armed Forces of the Philippines and ridding Mindanao of the Abu Sayyaf threat – but these are not things he started. The reform program was designed to deepen professionalism in the ranks and eliminate the dangers of military adventurism and abuses. Yet only recently, the Abu Sayyaf bloodied government troops who attacked their fort in Basilan. And he’s failed to resolve the abduction and torture of Fil-Am Melissa Roxas, allegedly by soldiers and militiamen.

On their own, they do not have the political clout of a Villafuerte in Bicol or an Osmena in Cebu or a Romualdez in Leyte; nor do they have the intellectual depth of an Enrile or the mass appeal of an Erap Estrada.

Both Noynoy and Gibo are too fresh in the political scene to have any real network of their own. They are raw and hollow through no fault of their own, and worse, politically vulnerable.

But I guess so was Barack Obama when he launched his presidential ambitions from the Chicago legislature and later from the US Senate.

Because they barely tip the scales, I ask where do they get the necessary political heft to transform them into winning gladiators?

They have to get it from somewhere. I’m a big fan of Stephen Hawkins. First law of thermodynamics: You can’t get something for nothing.

I got a chance to size up Sec. Teodoro during his recent visit here (is there a chance Noynoy will be passing by DC too?). He struck me as smart and confident. But part of his platform was a little disconcerting, although I certainly understood why they were there.

His priority is amending the Constitution, to effect structural change in the way the Philippines does business. He said he would convene a constitutional convention in his first few weeks of office to avoid controversy over term extensions, vested interests etc.

But he also declared that he would not go after his predecessors, arguing he will have a forward-looking administration, he will be healing president. He indicated that he wanted to break the cycle of presidents launching a “campaign of vengeance” on their predecessors.

Now, this is the part that I found truly disturbing. I asked him if he was trying to send a signal? At the time, I was thinking if he were not sending a signal to President Arroyo (this was before he was selected by the Lakas-Kampi) but he gave what sounded to me as a generic answer that apparently covered Presidents Marcos, Ramos and Estrada who all faced allegations of varying degrees of wrongdoing while they were in office.

Did I give a vague question or was he evading a proper reply?

That could well be a crux of the 2010 election campaign cycle. Will Gibo protect Pres. Arroyo and her family when they leave Malacanang? Noynoy has already indicated that he is solidly behind accountability. Is this where they will clash the loudest?

What do they have to offer the electorate? Change? But how far? Justice? For whom?

The campaign will be a key test for both. Obama, aside from presenting the superior idea, was able to build a formidable campaign infrastructure that mustered the creativity and energy of America’s youth. I suspect Gibo and Noynoy will get their real education and political seasoning on the campaign trail.

But unlike Obama who got the political weight from the ardor of his supporters and dominance of his vision of change, Noynoy and Gibo will, I predict, derive a large part of the political weight from the key politicians and operators around them.

But ultimately, I’d like to believe that Noynoy and Gibo (and perhaps my one other favorite, Chiz Escudero) will build their own political mass and weight. Just like someone working out in the gym, they can grow some political muscle of their own in the eight months before May 2010. Make them less dependent on the power brokers around them, make them less vulnerable.

Maybe Gibo won’t have to depend on a Ronnie Puno running another Sulo Hotel or Byron Hotel operation for him. Maybe Noynoy can proclaim his intentions as president, other than reminding people of his parent’s legacy.

The electorate itself will have a major role to play in the maturing of the candidates. I for one, demand full disclosure and an exhaustive debate of the issues.

I believe Filipinos have the good fortune this time around, of having two intellectually capable protagonists for the coming elections. They are young, untarnished, they have the stamina, and I believe they have the heart.

The campaign should draw out the best in them, and maybe, just maybe, Filipinos can finally have a good president who will truly serve them.

— Rodney Jaleco

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