As it turns out, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno isn’t really with the opposition. The premise of the 1Sambayan convenor process was the search for a unifying presidential candidate who would oppose Dutertismo and its awful, consequential changes. My own summary of these changes include the so-called war on drugs, which has led to thousands of extrajudicial killings; the pivot to China, which has created an unpatriotic presidency subservient to Beijing; and the continuing rehabilitation of the Marcoses. To those opposed to the Duterte regime, the evidence for these changes is already established, the fact-finding already painstakingly done. After all, the Duterte presidency is already past its fifth year.
To hear Moreno speak after he announced his presidential candidacy, however, the existence of these changes, and especially their consequences, remain matters to be investigated. That betrays his political colors: If he were truly in the opposition, he would welcome the decision of the Pre-Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Court to formally investigate President Duterte for crimes against humanity. If he were truly in the opposition, he would criticize the President’s subcontracting his foreign policy to Beijing, and would not offer such a non-patriot a seat in his Cabinet. And if he were truly in the opposition, he would not pretend that his friends, the Marcoses, were somehow the victims who have been prevented all these years from adequately explaining their “side.”
Why did the 1Sambayan convenors include Moreno, whose real last name is Domagoso, in their list of candidates? I can hazard a couple of guesses: First, the mayor’s increasingly pointed criticism of the national government’s pandemic response made him a sympathetic figure. It didn’t hurt his image when he started criticizing the attempts to crown the President’s daughter, Sara Duterte-Carpio, as the heir apparent. Second, the convenors, or at least some of them, wanted the popular, charismatic ex-actor to BE opposition. In that sense, they were only reflecting the opinion of many.
But if anyone in the real opposition is still unclear about Moreno’s political positioning, just consider his view on the incarceration of Sen. Leila de Lima. He accepts the ostensibly objective view that the matter is now completely with the courts; if he were truly with the opposition, he would know, first, that her cases were politically motivated and that, second, he should rush to repair the injustice. Instead, we get pabulum:
“If … Senator Leila de Lima can avail such right, she should be given that kind of right.”
In talks I’ve given before different audiences, including diplomats, I classified three types of prospective presidential candidates for 2022: continuity candidates like Sara, change candidates like Vice President Leni Robredo, and career candidates like Sen. Manny Pacquiao. No real need to define the first two, but the third one requires an explanation. There are candidates like Pacquiao and former senator Bongbong Marcos who will regard 2022 as their best chance to become president; in other words, 2022 is a career opportunity.
As his last fight proved, Pacquiao is nearing the end of his illustrious career as a boxer. There can’t be too many big-ticket fights left. A clearheaded review of his lackluster, almost non-existent political career should lead to an inevitable conclusion: His chances of rising to higher office are dependent on his continuing boxing fame. Given that, and given that his money is still (largely) intact, it would make sense for him to run for president in 2022.
If Marcos runs for president next year, he would likely have the support of an incumbent president; if that support is total, it may be good for two or so million votes. He would be 65 next year, his father died at 72; the difference is about the length of a presidential term. Not the least of his considerations: Next year is the 50th anniversary of the declaration of martial law. What better way to seal his family’s rehabilitation than to be the commander in chief who presides over that anniversary? (For these reasons, I think Marcos will in fact run for president.)
In my classification scheme, I placed Moreno in all three categories. Some in the opposition believed that he was genuinely with the opposition; I do not know what they would say now, in light of Moreno’s (disastrous) pronouncements after the (impressive) rollout of his candidacy. But at least until last week, earnest arguments for including Moreno in the opposition could still be made.
I also argued that, at least until around July this year, Moreno was still among those favored by President Duterte, enough to be considered as a possible continuity candidate. Until July, the President had always expressed admiration for the mayor, at least since he slayed the political giant Erap Estrada in 2019. It was only after Moreno criticized Sara’s attempted coronation that the President started criticizing him in turn.
But Isko Moreno is also a “career” candidate. Having known both the thrill of celebrity as an actor and the pain of loss as a senatorial candidate (in 2016), and then scaled the heights of popularity as the go-getting mayor of Manila, Moreno, in my view, understands just how fickle political goodwill can be. If he defers running, there is no assurance that he will remain popular in 2028. Now is the time.
Precisely because he is running for the career opportunity that the presidency represents, he has been trying to appeal to all; it is remarkable how, since last week, he has refrained from using the tough language the current crisis needs. (Has he even been heard from on the Pharmally scandal?). But in extending the length of the fence he is sitting on, more people can see him for who he is: a fence sitter.
On Twitter: @jnery_newsstand; email: [email protected]
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