The two principal political coalitions labored mightily over their senatorial slates and produced… a mouse. Or, rather, a pair of very familiar mice. Can we blame anyone for responding to the sight with indifference or even contempt?
After all the brave talk about pursuing the agenda of reform or offering a genuine alternative, both the administration coalition led by President Aquino’s Liberal Party and the United Nationalist Alliance led by Vice President Jejomar Binay are presenting lineups forged in the basest smithy of them all: political convenience.
Perhaps the inclusion of former senator Jamby Madrigal in the LP slate and that of President Aquino’s aunt, Margarita “Tingting” Cojuangco, in the UNA lineup are generating the most outcry, but with a few exceptions, both sets of candidates are cast from the same old mold used in all previous nationwide elections. The diligent Filipino voter may well ask: Is there no one else?
Politicians who have outlived their once-formidable political reputations, like former senator Ernesto Maceda. Wives of politicians who have run into the brick wall of term limits, like former congresswoman Cynthia Villar. Siblings of incumbent senators, like congressman JV Ejercito and reelectionist senator Alan Peter Cayetano. Children of other incumbent senators, like congressmen Juan Edgardo Angara and Jackie Ponce Enrile. Heirs of a political family, like reelectionist senator Aquilino Pimentel III or previous senatorial candidate Jose de Venecia III or President Aquino’s cousin, Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV. Even former leaders of failed coup attempts, like reelectionist senators Gregorio Honasan and Antonio Trillanes IV. These and other candidates for the Senate may all be running out of a sincere desire to continue serving the public—but they are not the only ones who are driven by that desire. So it isn’t commitment to some cause, however defined, or even performance in public office, however measured, that served as the main criterion of selection. It was, it must have been, electability.
Consider the special case of what we can call the Fernando Poe Jr. bloc: the three candidates who will be fielded in common by both the LP coalition and UNA. Grace Poe Llamanzares, chair of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board, is of course the daughter of the late movie actor and presidential candidate. Sen. Loren Legarda was his running mate in 2004, and Sen. Francis Escudero served as his campaign spokesman. All three, and especially the last two, enjoy the privilege of being common candidates because of their wide popularity.
The rival Senate slates remind us of the first attempt in the post-Marcos era to form an alliance based on the politics of cynicism. In 1995, the first midterm election conducted under the 1987 Constitution, the administration’s Lakas-NUCD party brokered an alliance with the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino—it was, in President Fidel Ramos’ infamous joke, a marriage of political non-virgins. That merged slate did win eight of 12 seats at stake—but it also gave rise to the first “dagdag-bawas” (add-subtract) election fraud cases, involving its own members.
Its ghost continues to haunt Philippine politics. One of only three LP members in the current LP slate was part of that so-called marriage: former senator Ramon Magsaysay Jr. But other names in the two slates are a throwback to that time: Pimentel and Enrile, whose fathers ran (uneasily) together. Today, Enrile’s father, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, is one of the three masterminds behind UNA. Other non-virgins from the 1995 race are back in the Senate—Franklin Drilon and Sergio Osmeña III—while the most successful, the one who topped the Senate contest, is now facing charges after nine controversial years as president: Gloria Arroyo.
Last April, reviewing the list of prospective Senate candidates being floated by UNA, we wrote in this same space: “The only thing that animates this grandly touted alliance is naked political expediency. No honest principle or policy belief appears to bind these politicians to one another except the need to further game an already corrupted system …”
The truly sad thing is that, today, as the Commission on Elections begins receiving certificates of candidacy, those lines can also apply, by and large, to the administration coalition. That Madrigal was floated as an UNA candidate in April, and now finds a home in the LP, just about says it all.
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