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There’s the Rub

Fall and rise

/ 10:48 PM October 21, 2013

This is by far the steepest P-Noy has fallen in the ratings, a friend said. She couldn’t remember anything comparable in the past.

I said I could, but then P-Noy wasn’t P-Noy then, he was just Noy, the candidate who came out of the blue to zoom past everyone who was being touted to become the next president. He came streaking in like a meteor.

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And almost ended up like a meteor. After blazing forth in the electoral firmament, notching record ratings in all the reputable surveys, which made him a shoo-in to Malacañang, he started slipping steadily. By late-January 2010, he had taken so steep a dive he was only three points away from Manny Villar, the survey-takers proclaiming they were in dead heat.

That was when P-Noy, or then Noy, really stared at the precipice. Eventually of course he rallied, pulled away from Villar, and finished well ahead of the pack.

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How did he do it?

What had brought him down to begin with was forgetting his roots. From being the only alternative, the one who carried the torch of Edsa, he became an ordinary candidate, just a notch better than his rivals. What made him so were the people around him, Mar Roxas, Butch Abad and the other Liberal Party stalwarts, originally assembled to make Roxas president. They took over the campaign, shut out the volunteers, and stamped trapo politics on everything. Overnight, the “Noynoy phenomenon” evaporated.

What turned things around was the Noynoy campaign recovering the Edsa spirit, aided in no small way by the campaign running through the Edsa anniversary. Roxas, who had begun thinking he had made a mistake stepping down because his ratings had soared when he had tacked his fortunes on to Noy, persisted in the same path that had brought the campaign crashing. He paid the price. By the time he discovered his folly, discarding his blue shirt for yellow, it was too late.

Just as well, what turned things around was the Noynoy campaign managing to show Villar not just as a poor second but as night to day. When the smoke cleared, Villar wasn’t just biting Noynoy’s dust, he was biting Erap’s. His fall was so hard it could be heard from Aparri to Jolo.

History repeats itself, the first time as near-tragedy, the second time as complete farce.

Can P-Noy extricate himself from this sticky rut, rally back and get to the finish line with room to spare? The 2010 campaign shows how. But it won’t be so easy this time.

The second tack, which is showing up his enemies the way he showed up Villar toward the end of the campaign, is the easier one. There’s a limit to how far that opposition can keep up its barrage against government. There’s a limit to how far it can take the public for a ride. The people are not fools, their attention may be seized by golpe de gulat for a while, but their sense of proportion will reestablish itself eventually. Despite the P-Noy government’s own transgressions, it is still worlds better than the one it replaced. And the one that is likely to come.

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Certainly it is still worlds better than the world Janet Napoles and the senators and congressmen who stand accused with her represent. The best defense is offense, and two can play that game. Once the Senate hearing on Napoles begins, once the hearing of the senators and congressmen begins, indeed once the trial of Gloria Arroyo herself begins—lest we forget, the justice department has already charged her with plunder—the public gaze is bound to rivet back to the ones that have done this country the biggest harm.

Provided of course government’s communication doesn’t bungle it, provided of course government controls its own damage by scrapping pork and the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).

It’s the second, rediscovering the roots, the idealism, the vision, that’s a lot more problematic. That is because of the company P-Noy keeps.

More than pork, the DAP and the P50 million that went the way of the senators who voted against Renato Corona, it’s P-Noy’s lieutenants that stand in the way of his repeating his Houdini, or Lazarus, act in the campaign. They are Roxas, Abad, and the other stalwarts of the Liberal Party, the same people who brought P-Noy’s campaign crashing down, the same people who turned him into little better than the disease he proposed to cure. As they did during the campaign, they have taken over government today, shutting out everyone who is not one of them, putting their stranglehold on everything.

It’s not just giving cannon fodder to P-Noy’s enemies, it’s feeding bile to P-Noy’s supporters. I’ve heard it again and again from those who gave of themselves freely, unstintingly, enthusiastically to help in P-Noy’s campaign: “Was this what we did it for? To this day, I trust P-Noy, but I do not trust the people around him. To this day, I believe P-Noy means well for the country, but I do not believe the people around him do.”

These are the people who until recently, when they got hit by tumbling ratings, have been reveling in the thought that even better than Gloria and her people, they were going to enjoy 12 years of power. A belief encouraged by P-Noy defending them at every turn—this is the only government where the President’s men will not take a bullet for their President, they will have their President take a bullet for them—commending them to the world at every turn. Which raises all sorts of questions: Is our President the president of the country or the president of the Liberal Party? Are Mar Roxas, Butch Abad and the Liberal Party the greatest legacy he means to bequeath to us?

The hardest to see is not what’s far, it’s what’s near. The biggest enemy is not outside, it is inside. Fall and rise? Maybe. But it’s hard to rise when there’s deadweight pulling you down.

It’s hard to float when your feet are tied to a hollow block.

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