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There’s the Rub

Last hurrah

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Erap says his run in Manila will be his last hurrah.

“I was born in Manila, I first became a famous actor in Manila, so my career has come full circle. This is my last hurrah.” He owes it to the poor, he says, for being there for him throughout his public life, even well after he was ousted as president. “The poor did not leave me and supported me all the way. I am returning the favor.”

That’s all very well, except for one thing. He may not even make it past Alfredo Lim. Asiong Salonga meets Dirty Harry, with the end still being debated by the scriptwriters.

That, not quite incidentally, has no small implications for the prospects of his sons, Jinggoy and JV. Jinggoy especially. Though he has come into his own in part on his own, he remains greatly dependent on the popularity of his father to get ahead in (political) life. He bathes on borrowed light—not quite as totally as Jackie Enrile who is merely the moon to his father’s sun, but considerably so as well. Erap loses in Manila, Jinggoy can kiss his vice-presidential, or, heaven forbid, presidential, plans goodbye.

Erap’s current plight in Manila, which hints at a dimming of his own light, reveals a couple of things.

One is the difference between local and national politics, particularly for popular candidates. If Rudy Fernandez made the bid to become senator then rather than mayor of Quezon City, he could have made it. But he ran against Sonny Belmonte and got the sensation of banging his head against a wall. National politics is about image and popularity, which is why the decisive element there is the media. Local politics is about logistics and organization (quite apart from terrorism; I wouldn’t be surprised if it is currently being employed in Manila), which is why the decisive element there is money.

Arguably, Erap doesn’t lack for money. But neither does Lim, and Lim is the incumbent. Erap ran for president (again) in 2010, and if P-Noy hadn’t been there, who knows how far he’d have gone? Now he’s running for mayor of Manila, and heaven only knows how far he’ll get. He actually shot out of the gates like a prized horse early on, leaving Lim biting his dust. But Lim has caught up with him since, no small thanks to P-Noy campaigning for him, leaving the fight a tossup between the two.

Image-wise, well, gone are the days when Erap was still associated with Manila. He’s now associated with San Juan, at least for the current generation of Filipinos. It’s my generation that can still remember him as Manila’s favorite son, no small thanks to his movies which linked him inextricably to Tondo and the more shadowy parts of Manila. One such movie, a blockbuster then, was “Ito ang Maynila,” which he made with Fernando Poe Jr. The title says it all. I saw it, of course, and thrilled to it. I’ve always been a fan of Joseph Estrada the actor, I’ve just never been a fan of Erap the president.

If Erap loses in Manila, it will be no small irony, the sum of his hubris consisting not of questing for the impossible dream but for the seemingly possible one, not for the quixotically big but for the pragmatically small.

Two is the steady erosion of Erap’s claim of being the champion of the poor, a claim encapsulated in his campaign phrase, “Erap para sa mahirap,” the idea of which at least, if not the slogan itself, he continues to parlay to this day. He maintains to this day that he was ousted by the elite because of what he was doing for the poor.

That fiction, which has gotten a little worn out over the years, will get even more frayed in days, or weeks, or months to come.

Not the least of the reasons for it is the fairly dramatic accomplishments of the new government. That accomplishment is not naturally associated with the poor, and it remains a debate whether the patent growth will redound to the patent benefit of the poor. But it does raise issues of credibility, trust, confidence. So long as Erap was making his pro-poor claims against Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, so long could he remain sufficiently believable. Now that he is making those claims against, or at least under, P-Noy, they are thoroughly not so. Especially since the economic accomplishment was wrought under the banner of “pag walang corrupt, walang mahirap.”

You don’t want the poor to be poor, don’t be corrupt. Your heart is for the poor, don’t steal.

Just as well, the emergence of someone like Pope Francis—and this country is more devoted to its religion than to its movies—raises all sorts of questions about genuine and fake. For a long time, Erap was the quintessential example of how to sustain a claim on the basis of image and suggestion alone. What exactly he did to show he was of the poor, by the poor and for the poor, you’re hard put to find. Other than that, every now and then he would share a poor man’s repast in a hovel with a photographer in tow. Indeed, other than the suggestion that he stole from the rich to give to the poor. Alas, the second part of that equation was never as patent as the first.

Pope Francis, along with people like Chito Tagle and Tony Meloto, are an open challenge to Erap and every other public figure, politician, businessman and cleric who propose that their hearts go out to the poor. The real thing has a way of exposing cheap imitation. These are people who have reached the pinnacle of power and influence but who continue to walk with the poor, talk with the poor, break bread with the poor—without photographers in tow. Their whole record speaks of it, their whole actions speak of it, their whole demeanor speaks of it.  Hell, their whole being speaks of it.

Erap is running as mayor of Manila. You can believe him when he says it will be his last.

You just don’t know if it will be a hurrah.


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