The emerging presidentiables

By Tony Lopez
The Manila Times

It’s fiesta time in the Philippines. The so-called presidentiables or those people with presidential ambitions and think can make it to the presidency have begun to fan out to the provinces in search of votes and voters.

The presidentiables make a long list, at least 11 as of this writing. But only four or five will eventually survive the winnowing process.

At the starting gate, the frontrunners, per recent surveys, are: Vice President Noli de Castro, 59, 31 percent; Loren Legarda, 49, 28 percent; Manny Villar, 59, 27 percent; Francis Escudero, 39, 19 percent Panfilo Lacson, 60, 14 percent; former President Joseph Estrada, 71, 11 percent; and Mar Roxas, 51, 10 percent.

Trying to close in on them with single digit ratings are two local officials, Mayor Jejomar “Jojo” Binay, 66, of Makati, and Metro Manila Development Authority Chairman Bayani Fernando, 63; and a corporate CEO, Chairman Efraim Genuino, 59, of the state casino monopoly Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor).

With barely 17 months or 500 days before the May 2010 presidential elections, anybody who wants to be president but has not yet gained national prominence at this stage has no chance to make it—as a candidate and more so, as a winner. But of course, miracles do happen.

Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro is a bar topnotcher and a decent public servant. Many would wish he could be president. He probably will make a good vice president.

Sheer name recall, without a well-oiled machinery and a credible party, does not guarantee victory. Note that despite his local and international prominence, four-time boxing world champion Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao failed in his bid as congressman of General Santos City. Even if a candidate has all the ingredients of popularity, machinery and party, he or she must have incredible energy to stump the length and breadth of the land.

A presidential candidate must visit at least once 81 provinces, 136 cities, more than 200 congressional districts, and 1,495 towns. Assuming a candidate will visit three towns in one day, it will take him or her 498 days or 17 months to make a single visit. Then you add the cities and the provinces. There are only two ways to skip this ritual of visiting major provinces, cities and towns to reach out to some 44 million voters in 2010: Use one’s immense popularity. And spend on media exposure. The cost for that effort: P4 billion.

Popularity has its limits. Voters also look for that all important quality—competence. Actor Fernando Poe Jr. saved a fortune because he didn’t need to advertise as much as his rival did. He also borrowed a political party with which to mount his candidacy. Still, he lost despite having started the presidential race with 30-plus-percentage points advantage over incumbent Gloria Arroyo.

Two qualities will define the presidential candidate of 2010. Youth or freshness. And experience, with money and machinery providing the right fillip. Two issues will define the presidential elections of 2010. The economy and corruption. Rice and fish, electricity and gas, governance and incompetence, in other words.

On the youth side are: Vice President Noli de Castro, Senators Chiz Escudero, Loren Legarda, Mar Roxas and Panfilo Lacson.

On the experience side are Joseph Estrada, Manuel Villar and Jejomar Binay.

In a close fight, the one who is perceived to have the right balance of youth, experience and popularity could snatch the presidency from the likes of an early favorite like Joseph Estrada or Noli de Castro.

There could eventually be a tossup between de Castro and Estrada, with the former having the slight edge. That is because the former president is not yet perceived as a candidate for president in 2010.

Once Estrada becomes the official candidate and de Castro is adopted by the ruling party as the anointed successor to Arroyo, the former actor and president will present a strong challenge to de Castro.

Except for having been convicted for plunder (which many people do not believe, anyway), Estrada doesn’t have the political baggage that de Castro has. If he runs on his own, de Castro will be hobbled by the stigma of being the continuation of the present administration, an Arroyo Part 3.

Though a banking graduate, from the University of the East, de Castro will have a tough time explaining why poverty increased and unemployment worsened at exactly the period when the economy expanded at its greatest in a generation.

Can a candidate de Castro remain clueless about the economic paradoxes and still hope to win? President Gloria Arroyo will be blamed for the economic mess that is not her fault. It is the result of a global meltdown.

An incumbent who has run out of luck on the economy cannot possibly endorse a successor without sounding hollow and incredible.

At this stage though, the economy seems still strong and dynamic. But fortunes could change come election time.

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