In 1978, at the zenith of the Marcos dictatorship, the Lakas ng Bayan or Laban political party was formed, to contest the Interim Batasang Pambansa elections.
Its founders included opposition leaders Benigno Aquino Jr. and Lorenzo Tañada. Its candidates, aside from Aquino, included Neptali Gonzales, Teofisto Guingona Jr., Francisco “Soc” Rodrigo, Aquilino Pimentel Jr. — and Alex Boncayao.
Pimentel, together with other political activists from Mindanao and the Visayas, including Samuel Oceña of Davao and Antonio Cuenca of Cebu, founded the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino (PDP) in 1982.
Tañada was elected, by acclamation, as honorary chair at the founding convention.
In 1986, the two parties, which had already formed a coalition, merged, to form PDP-Laban; it nominated Corazon Aquino as its candidate against Ferdinand Marcos in the snap presidential election; as part of a unification deal, she ran instead as the official nominee of the United Nationalist Democratic Organization, her running mate Salvador Laurel’s political party.
To this storied history of today’s ruling party, Pimentel’s son Aquilino III, the Senate president and the current president of PDP-Laban, would like to add the names of … Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, Special Assistant to the President Bong Go, and folk musician Freddie Aguilar.
These are some of the 20 prospective candidates for the Senate that Pimentel said his party would choose its 12 senatorial nominees from.
The other prospects include six reelectionists (Sonny Angara, Nancy Binay, JV Ejercito, Grace Poe, Cynthia Villar, and Pimentel himself), seven members of the House of Representatives (including former senator Pia Cayetano), a former interior secretary (Rafael Alunan), a former TV reporter (Jiggy Manicad), and a presidential adviser (Francis Tolentino).
Pimentel revealed the lack of principled vetting that marked his party’s process of shortlisting candidates when he explained Aguilar’s inclusion in underwhelming fashion.
He said the singer known internationally for his song “Anak” met all the qualifications of a senator: “He has all of them. And for sure, he has ideas on how legislation can solve some of our problems.”
The Constitution sets these minimum qualifications: natural-born citizen, at least 35 years old on election day, literate, registered voter, resident of the Philippines.
By Pimentel’s criteria, literally millions of other Filipinos can be considered candidates for the Senate, all with “ideas on how legislation can solve some of our problems.”
The difference is, Aguilar is a celebrity, a member of the party, and perceived as loyal to President Duterte.
Most of the others on the short list share that last criterion: Tolentino, once close to the previous president, is now close to the present one; Alunan remains allied with President Duterte, despite his vocal opposition to the Marcoses, whom the President is in the process of rehabilitating politically; Cayetano, the sister of the foreign secretary and a champion of feminism, continues to side with the President despite his antiwomen remarks; Go, whom the President declared to be a billionaire and is known as the “National Photobomber” because of his notorious selfies with the President and his famous guests or international counterparts, enjoys a fierce and reciprocal relationship of loyalty with Mr. Duterte; Roque is controversial for his astounding abandonment of former principles for present gain; and Uson, of course, is the President’s No. 1 cheerleader, bar none.
But loyalty to the President is no guarantee of electoral victory; the latest Pulse Asia survey of prospective senatorial candidates shows that even Uson, with her vaunted fan base of 5 million, is known to only 54 percent of the electorate; of that slice, only 1.4 percent said they would vote for her.
Go, with 60 percent awareness, has a 5.9 percent would-vote-for-him factor.
And Roque, despite his premature campaigning and island-hopping, is known to only 70 percent of voters, of which only 8.7 percent would vote for him.
So Pimentel, who is competing with his party secretary general, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, to fill the PDP-Laban slate with the 12 candidates President Duterte will choose, has managed to taint the party history with unbecoming prospective candidates and losing prospects. To use today’s language: PDP-Laban, anyare?