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Isko’s ‘gift’ to Leni

Isko Moreno has been rebranding himself over the past few weeks, seeing opportunity in the unfolding political events. After Sen. Bong Go declared his withdrawal from the presidential race, making an “orphan” of President Duterte, Moreno seized the opportunity to court Mr. Duterte’s endorsement, declaring that he would vote for Mr. Duterte as a senator and offering to include him in his Senate slate.

The Pink Caravan was quick to deride this move, with a lot of “I told you so’s” repeating the charge that Moreno is a secret Duterte candidate. Many people who saw Moreno as a “centrist,” “middle” or “moderate” candidate must now have given up this perception, ensconcing themselves squarely in the Pink Caravan.

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Isko knows he is losing part of his support to Leni Robredo, but he has his sights on the orphaned base of Rodrigo Duterte who was presumably committed to Go before he quit the presidential race. Clearly, Moreno no longer courts the opposition vote that has clearly solidified around Robredo since she announced her candidacy. To Moreno, the grass is greener on the administration side of the fence, and that is also where the candidate to beat, Bongbong Marcos, is at.

Moreno is making a timely pitch, before Mr. Duterte changes his mind and endorses Marcos Jr. who is, after all, an erstwhile political ally and the teammate of the President’s daughter Sara. Mr. Duterte directed some hurtful words in the direction of Marcos Jr. before Go quit, after the latter had ceremoniously been upgraded from vice presidential to presidential candidate through the substitution rigmarole.

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Moreno made his overtures to Mr. Duterte where they made the biggest waves, in Cebu province, where the President obtained 1.2 million votes in the May 2016 presidential election. The cordial meeting of Moreno and Harry Roque in Cebu seems to show that Moreno easily turns enemies into friends, a rare quality in the deeply polarizing electoral campaign.

Should the disqualification case against Marcos Jr. prosper legally in the Commission on Elections and eventually in the Supreme Court, or reflect negatively in the arena of public opinion, the Marcos Jr. vote will not swing to Robredo’s side but to Moreno’s. Mr. Duterte’s endorsement of Isko will influence the direction of the swing of the Marcos Jr. and DDS support in case this happens.

Who will Rodrigo Duterte endorse for the presidency? This turns on who will be better able to guarantee his avoidance of the long arm of the International Criminal Court in the next administration—Marcos Jr. or Moreno.

If Marcos Jr. wins, most likely it will not be credited to a Duterte endorsement. It will help, but it will not be necessary. Some even consider it a kiss of death. On the other hand, Moreno, armed with a Duterte endorsement, could possibly trounce Marcos Jr. The endorsement will be necessary, and not only helpful.

This asymmetry in the value of his endorsement may incentivize Mr. Duterte to make sure that Moreno wins by pulling down Marcos Jr. from his pole position in the electoral campaign. This move will be reciprocated. The more Mr. Duterte endorses Moreno, the more Moreno will be beholden to and embrace Mr. Duterte and what he stands for.

For Moreno, a Duterte endorsement must be a win-lose proposition. He will adopt Mr. Duterte as long as the President does not also become a guest candidate of other presidential aspirants, meaning Ping Lacson, Manny Pacquiao, and Marcos Jr. Moreno has taken a dig at the arrangement by which the “Generic 5 senators”—Richard Gordon, Francis Escudero, Miguel Zubiri, Jejomar Binay, and Joel Villanueva—are all common guest candidates of presidentiables Robredo, Lacson, and Pacquiao.

Cutting down Marcos Jr. and flipping his prospective votes may boost Moreno’s candidacy. But it benefits Robredo as well—an unintended “gift” for her. Curiously, instead of rejoicing, Robredo supporters have heavily criticized Moreno, hurt by his “betrayal.”

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So far, Moreno’s offer has tickled Malacañang. Presidential spokesperson Karlo Nograles said that Moreno’s overtures prove the President continues to enjoy the trust of the public and that Mr. Duterte can continue to serve the nation.

Even if Mr. Duterte keeps quiet and endorses no one for president, Moreno’s overture is good optics—an outgoing President joining the Senate slate of a mayor. But there might be a fall-out in this gambit. Should Mr. Duterte join Moreno’s slate, even as just a guest candidate, the move might unsettle valuable Moreno allies and supporters, like the respected and outspoken Samira Gutoc.

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TAGS: Elections, Isko Moreno, Leni Robredo
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