To go by the surveys, you’ll notice several curious things.
One is how little the charge of “dynastic politics” affects the candidates negatively. Unless their relatives themselves are thrown in a negative light.
The most obvious case of the latter is of course Jackie Enrile. His father, Juan Ponce Enrile, has been falling image-wise from his heights last year, weighed down by dissension within the Senate ranks (Antonio Trillanes, Miriam Santiago and Alan Peter Cayetano), various scandals including his Christmas pabaon for his favorite senators and hints of smuggling via the Cagayan free port. It hasn’t helped any that US Ambassador William Sullivan also tagged Jackie as the murderer of a youth in the 1970s, according to a WikiLeaks leak. All of which has caused him to go on a free fall.
But the rest of them are doing quite well. Bam Aquino has barged through the Magic 12 (in SWS), Nancy Binay and Cynthia Villar have climbed all the way up. Being related to someone who’s (reasonably) well thought of—yes, including Manny Villar who seems none the worse for being tagged the very literal architect of the daang-paliko-liko with the C5 fiasco; it’s Jamby Madrigal who’s down there—is not a kiss of death, it is a kiss of life.
Indeed, not being remembered as related to someone famous can be a disadvantage. Such is Jun Magsaysay. Jun is Ramon Magsaysay Jr., an epically magical name to an older generation. Being named thus in the 1960s did not just assure victory, it assured topping the list. Had the elder Magsaysay not died in a plane crash, he would almost certainly have been the first Filipino president to have won a reelection.
It is to Jun’s credit that he won a couple of terms as senator in the 2000s without greatly relying on his father’s name. But he carries the stamp of his father’s character. The simplicity is there, the modesty is there, the integrity is there. And on an equally epic scale. He left Gloria’s party after her legitimacy became questionable and launched the investigation of the fertilizer scam. Like father, like son: You wish that would be remembered by people. Hell, you wish that would simply be known by people. There’s no one I’d like to see return to the Senate than he.
Which brings me to two. Having once been a senator is no longer a guarantee you’ll be so again. Magsaysay, Dick Gordon, Madrigal and Ernesto Maceda were so but are currently outside the Magic 12, Maceda well outside. Only Maceda was last heard of as senator way back, in 1998. The rest are fairly recent. Magsaysay was senator until 2007, Gordon and Madrigal as late as 2010.
Both Gordon and Madrigal of course ran for president in 2010, and lost badly. Can the stigma of a crushing defeat in running for higher office explain their current debacle, giving them the aura of “damaged goods”? Maybe. But that explanation is also in huge part refuted by Loren Legarda not just being in the magic slate but being number one. She ran for vice president under Manny Villar and ended up third after Jojo Binay leaped out of the pack in the last two minutes and vaulted past Mar Roxas and herself.
Can it have to do with their abrasive personalities? Well, Magsaysay’s personality is by no means abrasive, he’s the most unassuming person there is. And Trillanes and Koko Pimentel may also be described as so and they’re in the slate—though some will call them more feisty than abrasive.
Can it have to do with the mounting impact of new technology, particularly the social media? Maybe too. That is a powerful medium, which is creating an information overload, which is making the past, even the more recent past, even easier to forget. Even 2010 now seems like ages ago, unless you maintain a presence in Facebook and in text messages. They might look like a technology that’s available only to a small minority today, but I suspect they carry a huge multiplier effect. Along the mainstream media, they are defining the national discourse.
But that’s just anybody’s guess. The point is that a hiatus of three years can make you ancient history today more than yesterday. Having been a senator just three years ago is no longer a guarantee you can be so again.
Three is that Legarda is number one. I myself thought she’d buckle under the weight of a cultural judgment, as Tito Sotto did in 2007. Sotto was FPJ’s campaign manager, and despite public sentiment that Gloria robbed Da King of the presidency, he ran under Gloria in 2007. He lost, for the first time in his life.
Legarda, along with Madrigal, was one of the senators who hounded Villar for the C5 detour, though it was Madrigal who called him “duwag” for not appearing at the Senate investigation. Then suddenly she made a turnaround, becoming his running mate. Her detractors swiftly accused her of practicing the “politics of prostitution.” I thought the same stigma would attach to her as it did to Sotto, if only temporarily—Sotto won in 2010 when he ran again. But, lo and behold, she hasn’t just fallen off the cart, she’s in the driver’s seat.
Now, either the public doesn’t quite see it as a betrayal, or one comparable to Sotto’s—going to the side of the person who robbed your boss, and the unloved Gloria at that—or personality trumps betrayal. I’ve been asking people who have told me they are going to vote for Legarda and not so for Risa Hontiveros why that’s so and their answer has been that Legarda seems the much warmer person. She smiles better, they say. That’s what our elections have come to, or since they’ve always been that way, come in a worse way to. Principle doesn’t matter, or Magsaysay and Hontiveros would be way up there. Personality, or what passes for it in the eyes of the voter, does.
Like I said, curious things.
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