Five – plus Aguilar – versus eight
Before he could be appointed Cabinet secretary, the position was first stripped of what remained of its ambitiously expanded turf. This was done by means of Executive Order No. 67 dated Oct. 31, essentially discarding the massive expansion of power of the office under EO 1 and 9, which had already begun to be reversed by EO 62 earlier this year.
So by the time Karlo Nograles took his oath as Cabinet secretary (and head of the Presidential Management Staff, one assumes) on Nov. 5, he was taking over an office reduced to its old scope: scheduler and keeper of minutes for Cabinet meetings.
All of this was done swiftly, in bureaucratic terms, Leoncio Evasco Jr. having barely left his office, as he is now a candidate for governor of Bohol. It marks the end of what was a very ambitious effort to build a power base for the creation of a movement that, ideally, could entrench itself in the bureaucracy and nurture national cadres capable of dominating the political landscape for a generation to come. But it didn’t come to pass: Such an ambitious plan threatened to derail the more transactional and far less ideological factions in the ruling coalition, and slowly, but surely, they made sure that Evasco’s plans failed to bear fruit. (Here’s an irony: Evasco is running under the Nationalist People’s Coalition, the very kind of political vehicle his briefers for the movement that never got off the ground criticized as contributing to the country’s problems.)
In the end, what materialized was a ruling coalition split in two: the President’s formal party, PDP-Laban, itself divided into two factions, while most other heavyweights stampeded to join Hugpong ng Pagbabago, which is more of a loose alliance of regional barons.
Over the holidays, the President couldn’t even be bothered to observe the niceties of party affiliation. He raised the hand of Freddie Aguilar even as Aquilino Pimentel III harrumphed that Aguilar’s PDP-Laban candidacy was signed by a rump faction. The President attempted to patch up the quarrel within PDP-Laban in the past; his endorsing Aguilar leaves Pimentel in the ridiculous position of complaining about procedures when the President, as the party member who matters the most, has already made his choice clear.
As it stands, the ruling party has even fewer official candidates than the opposition coalition: five (Pimentel, Go, Tolentino, Mangudadatu and Dela Rosa) versus eight. As I mentioned previously in this column, Hugpong as a messy whole has 14 candidates competing for 12 slots, while the part of the coalition that matters the most, Hugpong in Davao, has two lists. The addition of Aguilar will likely lead to the modification of these “official” lists.
For a time, it seemed the President was more interested in venting his spleen against the International Criminal Court while trying to convince the Armed Forces to seriously consider succeeding him, which would solve all his headaches: It would prevent succession by the opposition, deny power to allies like Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and achieve other delicious things. His using the Bureau of Customs as a honeypot to tempt either the naïve or the avaricious among the officer corps seems to have been met with near-universal skepticism (civilian politicians would hate it; honest military men would mistrust it). So now, he seems to be inclined to zagging back to campaign mode, after having zigged toward enticing the AFP to take power.
The President, as an instinctive politician, freely launches trial balloons and, if they’re shot down, immediately changes course and launches new ones. He is also not squeamish about putting subordinates he’s displeased with in their place, as Harry Roque infamously found out. In the end, having so far endorsed only two candidates — Go and Aguilar — the President has time to keep everyone guessing, and on good behavior, to court his nod.
The speculation and confusion serves to keep attention away from the opposition coalition, most of the candidates of which need to be introduced to the public. And yet, airtime for them, or anyone other than the President, really, is severely limited. The recent holidays would’ve been a good time — but, instead, everyone got fixated on the President’s opinions on sainthood.
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