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Leni and the power to convene

/ 05:05 AM June 22, 2021

With the political class now focused on next year’s elections, it is even more important for us as voters and as citizens to distinguish signal from noise.

We are hearing a lot from allies of President Duterte and other members of his governing coalition; the President himself has been talking up (or talking down—same difference) about the possibility of running for vice president. The different factions are busy maneuvering for position. Much of what we hear is noise, but I think the following signals are clearly being sent: Davao City Mayor Inday Sara Duterte, Manila City Mayor Isko Moreno, and Sen. Manny Pacquiao are running for president. While long considering a run for the presidency himself, former senator Bongbong Marcos is now open to running for vice president again. Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano is thinking of higher office again, but he will run for the Senate, where like Marcos he will be a shoo-in. House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez is a strong contender for speaker, if he runs for a fifth term as congressman, but the appeal of national office, whether senator or vice president, is strong. Part of the appeal is the support of two presidents: Mr. Duterte and Gloria Arroyo. Also, Romualdez coming close to winning a Senate seat in 2016, with over 12 million votes, is signal, not noise.

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We are hearing much from the ranks of the opposition, and from those who have begun to distance themselves from the Duterte administration. I’m afraid the launch of the 1Sambayan selection process the other week generated more noise, but the following signals came through loud and clear: The left has embraced the 1Sambayan process more than the center; the excitement over Batangas Rep. Vilma Santos running for national office is genuine; the 1Sambayan process aside, only Vice President Leni Robredo seems capable of winning unified support.

But as frustrated Robredo supporters know only too well, the Vice President is not yet ready to decide.

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There was one other signal I heard in the aftermath of the 1Sambayan launch; to be completely candid, I’ve written on this exact point before, so it is possible that I heard it because I wanted to hear it. But bear with me: Robredo has the power to convene a genuinely unified Senate slate.

We heard Sen. Ping Lacson say nice-enough things about Robredo, but as far as his own plans are concerned, he says, now, that it is either the presidency or bust. We heard reelectionist Sen. Joel Villanueva downplay his father’s inclusion in the 1Sambayan short list, because of recent family tragedies; we also heard that Sen. Nancy Binay, who was reelected to the Senate in 2019, asked that her name be removed from consideration. But the reality is, 1Sambayan IS talking to Bro. Eddie Villanueva and former vice president Jojo Binay. All of those who were named as part of the short list of presidential and vice presidential candidates were in discussions with 1Sambayan. And some progress seems to have been reached in the search for campaign donations.

Above all, we heard Robredo say this, in Filipino, on her Sunday radio program the day after the 1Sambayan launch: “We need to understand why many are attracted to the President, why many are attracted to these politicians.” Also: “We cannot say … that we are the only good ones.” Not least: “That because others believe differently, then they are bad—that cannot be.”

This is the altogether credible language of unity; the opposition needs to bring different forces together. In its Senate slate, it must make room for those who have consistently opposed the Duterte coalition, and for those it can make common cause with: Lacson, the younger Villanueva, the older Binay, Santos and her husband Ralph Recto, and so on. In this sense, Robredo has the power to convene a true unified slate; given the opposition’s straitened circumstances, power is also duty.

* * *

I see that my colleague Manolo Quezon has, in his otherwise instructive newsletter marking Jose Rizal’s 160th birthday, again recommended the great Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno as a reference on, and for, the national hero. It is true that, especially in the 1960s, Unanumo’s reflections on Rizal commanded the attention of the country’s leading intellectuals. But as I wrote in “One who got it all wrong” (10/19/2010), Unamuno got it all wrong. I developed the argument in my “Revolutionary Spirit,” but the gist of it is that the philosopher who broke the (rather simple) code Rizal used in his diaries misunderstood Rizal completely. He thought Rizal was “an impenitent dreamer,” he called him “a weak and irresolute man for action and life,” he described the martyr as “a Quijote of thought, who looked with repugnance upon the impurities of reality.” In fact, Rizal was a man of many projects, who got his hands (literally) dirty, who made difficult decisions and took courageous action time and again. The worst of Unamuno’s reflections is that he accepted (and to use a current term, amplified) the view that Rizal saw himself as undone by presumption. This is the Spanish colonial view: Poor Rizal was only a Filipino, who overreached and was ruined in Spain and other foreign countries. Like I said,

Unamuno got Rizal all wrong.

On Twitter: @jnery_newsstand; email: [email protected]

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