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Hope springs eternal

opinion / Columnists
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There’s the Rub

Hope springs eternal

/ 01:30 AM September 17, 2014

I was curious to see how Jojo Binay would answer the charges being hurled against him at the Senate and postponed writing first thing in the morning last Monday, as is my wont, to listen to him. He was supposed to talk at 2 p.m. at the Philippine International Convention Center. His camp had advertised it beforehand as a 15-20-minute thing that would be “presidential” in tone and style. Not unlike, his spokespersons said, a State of the Nation Address.

Alas, nothing. Toward noon, I learned that it had been dropped until further notice, Binay had decided instead to go to the provinces of Isabela and Cagayan to inspect the ravage Typhoon “Luis” had wrought. Before he left, he scoffed at suggestions that he was avoiding confronting the issue of corruption head-on by this cheap trick. You can see the character of these people making the suggestions, he said. Can there be a higher priority than for me to bestir myself to see what has happened to our blighted countrymen and to send the message to them that they have a government willing to fly to their side and help them in their hour of need?

It was a huge gamble and I don’t know that Binay won it.

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On one hand, he must have figured that a presidential tone and style are better seen in deed than heard in word. To begin with, the whole point of speaking at the PICC rather than appearing at the Senate, quite apart from not allowing the enemy to choose the field of battle, was to appear presidential, to strike the pose of being above petty concerns. What better way to show that than to be busy attending to pressing needs?

On the other hand, he cannot afford to ignore what’s going on in the Senate, and the longer he takes to answer the accusations, the more weight they gather, which should threaten his electoral cause, if not his freedom. At the very least they could gather momentum, the effects of which on his standing could resemble the ravaging he would have seen in Isabela and Cagayan by Typhoon Luis.

Proving that he is guilty of overpricing the Makati parking building and skimming off 15 percent of every contract in the city can only affect his freedom, or whether he gets jailed or not. The accusations in themselves, without being proven, can, and will, affect his chances of becoming president.

However, the words are not openly used, crook and thief are what he is being called in the Senate today. The normal Pinoy reaction to this is to be violently angry at the defamation of character, the paghahamak sa pagkatao. The normal Pinoy reaction to this, presidential or not, is to call out the accuser and make him eat his words. The lack of an emotional response from Binay, other than to look sad and hurt, will not strike many Pinoys as presidential. It will strike many Pinoys as guilty.

As it is, the cracks have begun to show. Or the Teflon looks near to wearing out. Whether people believe Binay is guilty of the charges against him or not, there is a rapidly growing consensus in the opinions in the social and mainstream media that he is far from being fit to lead this country. Taken in conjunction with the company he kept in UNA—Erap, Juan Ponce Enrile, Migz Zubiri—a thing that bears recalling, the aura of corruption about his person won’t be so easy to dispel.

The result would be that his numbers could take a dive.

My own sources tell me they already have, by a sizeable margin—well more than 10 points. Unfortunately for the Liberal Party, his loss hasn’t been Mar Roxas’ gain: Roxas’ numbers have apparently fallen as well, such as it is possible to fall from seven points.

If all this is true, then the 2016 race has just been busted wide open.

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It’s now become more than a hint, as I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, it’s become a distinct possibility. Binay’s formidability is eroding, and could erode fast. Things that start like a house on fire have a way of burning up fast. Or momentum has a way of making things happen faster than you would expect. If what I hear is true, which we should know some weeks from now, it will be an early Christmas gift for the many Filipinos who have been despairing of the lack of a real choice in 2016.

It’s been a chicken-and-egg all this time. The reason Binay has had a lock on the presidency is that he has no strong rivals, and the reason he has no strong rivals is that he seems to have a lock on the presidency. This development breaks the vicious cycle.

I leave the others to take up the cudgels for their favorite alternative. My own, as I have been pitching for some time now, is Grace Poe. For a couple of reasons. The first is that she is the strongest candidate to put up against Binay. You put up a weaker one, and all the Senate effort to put Binay away notwithstanding, he will remain a force to reckon with—and could remain on course for Malacañang. She is the only one with a larger-than-life story or narrative the Pinoy voter can relate to, the fulfiller of an unfulfilled promise. Her showing in the last senatorial elections is proof of it.

The second is that she is big on two things, which are education and fighting poverty, which she professes to be the concerns she got from her father. I suspect the latter will be a national obsession after Pope Francis visits this country in January: The national agenda will shift from growth to ending poverty, which is the overriding papal concern.

Of course, the problem is that Poe remains reluctant to run, which owes in part to an awe of the office and in part to an awe of Binay’s commanding lead. But the way things are going right now, who knows? Binay’s increasingly precarious situation promises to be a game-changer. And a clamor for someone to run, parang awa mo na, a real clamor and not a clamor-clamoran, has been known to move mountains and reluctant candidates.

Hope springs eternal.

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TAGS: “Luis”, Jojo Binay, Liberal Party, Mar Roxas, Philippine International Convention Center, Senate, State of the Nation Address
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