'Her' man

By LITO BANAYO
Ang Pahayagang Malaya
January 7, 2010

THE last reputable surveys done after the filing of certificates of candidacy show three presidential candidates at the top: Noynoy Aquino in the mid to high forties, Manny Villar and Erap Estrada in a virtual tie at 20 or 19 percentage points. And Gilbert Teodoro, the man anointed by the once humongous Partido Lakas-Kampi founded by Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, incumbent and long-staying president of the benighted republic, at low single-digit numbers. The rest are also-rans, at 1 percentage point or even lower.

Why the regime’s anointed is languishing at bottom lows, despite the vaunted party machinery, the well-placed ads projecting competence and intelligence ("galing at talino"), and despite inarguably better speaking and debating skills than the competition, is attributable to the public belief that he is "Gloria’s man", the chosen "one", the person she deems most fit to succeed and most acceptable to her. Unfortunately for him, the person who chose him above all else happens to be most distrusted by the population. That distrust for his patroness drags Gibo down, never mind his personal qualities. It carries over to his persona, reinforced in no small measure by his having expressed not only the usual paeans of gratitude, but a public admiration for her "many achievements," something clearly the people do not share. To do a volte face at this time will no longer be credible. Gilbert Teodoro’s chances are virtually nil. Even Ronaldo Puno’s vaunted skills cannot resurrect flagging hopes. Nor Virgilio Garcillano’s magic do the trick. Perhaps if Norberto Gonzales succeeds in discombobulating everything and upsetting the applecart of elections… perhaps, but that’s a big if, and assuming the guy and his patroness can pull it through, will the people ever be so supine as to take such adventurism lying down?

It does not help Teodoro one whit that his patroness has filed her certificate of candidacy for the second congressional district of Pampanga. The undisguised attempt to pull strings even beyond her wished-for political demise, ruling beyond the grave as it were, makes Teodoro look all the more the puppet that he is unfairly made to be.

Yesterday, the papers carried Speaker Prospero Nograles’ inclusion of the call for a constitutional convention, as if to further stress the GMA plan so obvious. But because Gibo’s presidential ambition is singularly anchored on the support of her party and its minions across the archipelago, he cannot publicly balk. In fact, he is on record as supporting a change in the Constitution. While amending the fundamental law is right, espousing it at the moment when people so clearly distrust the sincerity of the incumbent is off-key. Gilbert cannot even publicly state that if elected president, he will wield his influence to ensure that GMA does not become his Speaker of the House. So whether for better, or predictably for worse, Gloria’s distrust rating will be the albatross around Gilbert’s neck. His goose is cooked, never mind how often Prospero Pichay and Mitos Magsaysay whistle in the dark.

Which brings me to this story: A few days before Manny Pacquiao knocked down Ricky Hatton in early May, the spouses Cynthia and Manuel Villar flew to Spain. Likewise, Gloria flew to Egypt and Syria for official visits. Why she had to go to these North African countries the public was never clear at, but in any case, they took it as just one of her usual flights of fancy. The Villars were waiting in Spain for cues from a well-placed Gloria crony, who was supposed to arrange a rendezvous with her in some warm Mediterranean coast.

Fortunately, this writer found out about the Villar travel plans. And so, just as Doña Gloria landed in Egypt, the cat was out of the bag. Expectedly, Malacañang made denials. Senadora Jamby Madrigal got into the act, and denounced Villar for desperately seeking La Gloria’s support in his attempt to derail the Senate ethics probe. This, after all, was Villar’s immediate problem. The attempted rendezvous panned out.

But then, and here our travel facts jibe with the veracity of highly reliable sources, a top-level meeting was supposed to have yet pushed through here in the country. And GMA, wanting for a strong contender her PaLaKa simply could not pull off from its hat, warmed up to the idea of Villar as her "secret" candidate. Classified as opposition, though not an "obstructionist" or a GMA basher as the rest of the presidential pack, Villar qualified as an acceptable alternative bet. Moreover, he was already ahead of her vice-president, Noli de Castro in the May surveys. Better yet, he had wherewithal to the max, the result of "smart" transactions capped by an even "smarter" IPO of his real estate empire the year before. Noli she had to spend fr, but with Manny, she gets a free ride.

The result of the "transaction" as my source confided is that GMA would endorse a "weak" but credible enough candidate, and not "encourage" Noli to run for president, a prospect that the not-so-ambitious vice-president was not inordinately "lusting" for. And on his part, Villar would keep dangling a "repeat vice-president" string, loaded with generous freebies, to his bosom friend Noli, a "red herring" of an offer. If GMA would have a weak official candidate, Manny with his huge war chest would prevail in the 2010 derby, the ideal surrogate. Neat.

After all, Lacson had withdrawn; Escudero had no money and would have to rely on Danding and Ramon Ang’s promises; Mar Roxas and Loren Legarda were languishing in single-digit survey static; and Erap would be disqualified. And true enough, when the SWS polled in mid-June 2009, it was a statistical tie among Villar, Chiz and Erap, with Noli behind, Loren and Mar even more so. Teodoro had launched his clumsy disaster preparedness infomercial a month before, its debut timed with Hatton’s early knock-out from the Pacman’s fists, and while everybody shook his head at his "late" entry and doubted his chances, most agreed he had intellectual credentials, credibility as candidate but not enough to win. Gravitas, but not votes.

And then the Lord writ his providence with sad tidings. On August 1, Corazon Aquino died after a long bout with cancer, and the political stage shook underneath. Forty days later, a game changer came in with Noynoy on the presidential trail. All previous assumptions changed, including the fortunes of Gloria’s pre-arranged surrogate. Likely unstoppable winner became a distant second, despite tons and tons of creative advertising and a bevy of turncoats. From September till December of the year past, Noynoy kept his commanding lead. Escudero withdrew, Erap persists, but Gibo continues to languish in the political netherworld.

And that is where the woman of the decade finds immediate political dilemma at this point in time. Her anointed has not risen, and her alternate, though far from victory, presents the single most "possible" threat to the front-runner she could not accept because he is the least likely to "transact."

If creative advertising and a well-run because well-funded campaign pulls Villar up in the next three months, and a demolition job somehow pushes down Noynoy’s lead considerably (or so the evil are planning), then it’s game for Manny and goodbye for Gibo. Garci and the "operators" should be able to do the trick, with Smartmatic laying the predicate.

But would Manny the new president be faithful to his "no me impune" assurances? Why not?

They would need each other most after a certifiably controversial "election". She with her residual powers as "commander-in-chief" between May 10 and June 30 just might be able to quell the tumult of the rabble. That’s why Del Bangit and the Class of ’78 are in the "proper" places. And he would at least be able to recover his billions, while stopping prosecution for "smart" deals made as congressman, Speaker, senator and Senate President, charges with enough documentary evidence to prosecute, but parried successfully by "smart" propaganda so far. Never mind if he has to deal with "her" congressmen with her (misma!) as Speaker. If he is off to wobbly start, he would not get his bearings composed, and she, as "Speaker" and alternate "power center", just might be able to pull off her parliamentary dreams of becoming the prime minister.

There you are – "her" real man for the May elections. God save this country.

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