Noli or no Noli? by Lito Banayo

In one of his recent acts of political forecasting, Speaker Prospero Nograles said that VP Noli de Castro "is a very strong contender, but I am not discounting the possibility that the leadership might replace him as standard bearer".

Apropos the same column item, Speaker Nograles, while holding loft the possibility of a Kampi-Lakas-NPC grand coalition for 2010, said the administration could also field, aside from their vice-president, Senate President Manuel Villar, or Senators Chiz Escudero, Mar Roxas and Loren Legarda. All of these names are in the realm of the possible as standard bearers of the administration coalition.

Curiously, none of the four names mentioned, all of whom claim to be in the opposition, declined the possibility. They just kept silent. It was a cast-away, an "untouchable" in the kingdom of the Arroyos, Senator Panfilo Lacson, who issued a press statement the other day thanking the heavens that he was not within the possible sight of Nograles and his masters. To Ping, it was a great honor not to be included in the potential "presidents" MalacaƱang would anoint. "A blessing," he said, which means he is a true oppositionist.

Lacson obviously does not believe Amang Rodriguez' political adage that "politics is addition" which has become the mantra, the singular philosophy of traditional politicians.

I remember when Erap was piling up millions upon millions of votes over Lakas-NUCD's Joe de Venecia. This was about the third week of May, when it was all over but for the proclamation of Congress. During the campaign, it became clear that Erap had Joker Arroyo in mind as the next speaker, when he became president. The Zamoras were for Joker, and Jojo Binay, Erap's NCR campaign manager, more obviously so.

But between Election Day 1998 and the opening of Congress, some new developments were a-borning at Polk Street in North Greenhills. Mrs. Cynthia Villar became a regular visitor. At about this time, Ronny Zamora had instructed guys like Jimmy Policarpio, the incoming legislative liaison officer; Elmer Mercado, the incoming DENR undersecretary who had worked for Ronnie in the House, and myself, that Joker was it. (A week after the elections, the president-elect had announced that I was to be his general manager for the Philippine Tourism Authority, the kind of work I truly preferred. But two weeks after, he asked me to concurrently be his adviser on political affairs).

But lo and behold! One Sunday in June, I got a call from Polk St. Fifty congressmen, mostly from Lakas, would swear in as LAMMP (the Erap coalition in the 1998 elections), and I should be there. I called up Ronny, who confirmed the mass turncoatism. "It's Manny Villar the president has chosen", he said. I recall having said, "E bakit hindi pa si Bibit (Duavit, the congressman from Rizal, a long-time buddy of Erap) kung hindi rin lang si Joker?" Later I was to know the reason. Apparently, running without any credible opponent, Villar was able to set his sights on the speakership, regardless of who won the presidency. So he went around the country, doling out much-needed last-minute funds to congressional re-electionists and candidates whose chances for victory were bright. Early on, he wrung commitments, while Joker did nothing of the sort. Other than have an occasional drink with the presidential candidate, Arroyo hardly moved from his Makati ivory tower during the election period. For Manny Villar though, pera meant addition. So true, especially when he was dealing with members of what Teddy Boy Locsin, Joker's successor in Makati, used to call the "party of thieves" before he became congressman, of course.

Presented with the commitments, along with the soft-sell but purposive ever-presence of wife Cynthia, Manny Villar got Erap to change his mind. So he brought along his 50 turncoats, and the rest, as they say, became part of the short political history of the Erap presidency.

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