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Deadline pressure on Poe

/ 12:48 AM August 21, 2015

CANBERRA—The 2016 presidential election will be uniquely different from the ones since the term of President Cory Aquino following the overthrow of the Marcos dictatorship in the February 1986 People Power revolt.

We have had four popularly elected presidents since the ratification of Cory’s 1987 democratic-restoration Constitution—Fidel V. Ramos, Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Benigno Aquino III. Within a full circle of 28 years, next year’s election will mark a stage of the institutionalization of political parties as the vehicle for political and social change. After 1987, we have tried to move out of the paradigm of mob rule in the streets (albeit bloodless) as a catalyst of change. The process of transition from street politics to orderly electoral change has not been completed, and is still in a state of flux—a work in progress.

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Next May, we are electing a new president and the incumbent is stepping down. This mode of succession has generated intense public interest in the vice presidential candidates of the emerging alignments (i.e., the administration’s, the opposition’s, and the third party’s). With this focus centered on the vice presidency, the presidency has been relegated to the back seat. In effect, we are virtually making a choice on whom to vote for president for the next six years based on the decisions of the parties on their vice presidential candidates.

Although President Aquino has endorsed Interior Secretary Mar Roxas as the ruling Liberal Party’s candidate for president, and Vice President Jejomar Binay has declared himself presidential candidate of the opposition, neither Roxas nor Binay has announced their choice of their running mate. The parties are marking time to complete their lineups until the deadline in October for the filing of certificates of candidacy.

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In both the administration’s camp and the opposition camp, there is a prevailing belief that their choice of vice presidential candidate holds the key to winning the May 2016 election. In previous presidential elections after the 1986 Edsa revolt, the conventional wisdom was that the standard-bearer (and not the vice presidential candidate) was the pace-setter for “winnability.” The standard-bearer was presumed to carry party mates on the wings of his or her popularity to victory. That is not the case today.

This is why there is a deep interest in the search for a vice presidential candidate who can boost the electoral chances of the presidential candidate. For example, there is intense jockeying to draft Sen. Grace Poe to run as vice president solely on the basis of the fluke of survey results showing her as front-runner in popularity as presidential material. The Liberal Party wants her to be Roxas’ running mate, and the Nationalist People’s Coalition of businessman Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco is considering to support her if she decides to run for president.

After Poe told Roxas not to wait for her to decide on his invitation to run as vice president in the LP ticket, there were signs that some party officials were getting fed up with her hedging. In the face of Poe’s apparent rebuff, Roxas told reporters on Wednesday: “I’m not opening new talks until I have closed the current talks [with Senator Poe].” He added: “This is to give respect [to Senator Poe]. … [The vice presidency] is not something to throw away and to pick up anybody who says yes… We are inviting Senator Poe to join ‘daang matuwid.’”

The spurning of the invitation left a wave of resentment in the ruling party.

While Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said that Poe remained the LP’s top choice for vice president, he did not act to stifle the growing resentment among party members over her attitude. Some LP officials warned that Poe and Sen. Francis Escudero could be stripped of their committee chairmanships should they decide to run together as a “third force” in 2016. One LP official said: “I believe it’s just fair for them to give up their seats in Senate committees [which they] received as part of being members of the ruling coalition.”

Some LP officials said they expected an overhaul of the Senate committees after the October deadline for the filing of certificates of candidacy. Poe chairs the committees on public information and mass media and on public order and dangerous drugs, as well as the joint committee on the Human Security Act. Escudero chairs the committee on environment and natural resources and the joint committees on the Clean Water Act and on the Chainsaw Act.

Mincing no words on his frustration, Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali virtually read the riot act to Poe in connection with her rebuff of Roxas’ invitation. “That is her prerogative,” Umali said. “You cannot force someone you are courting. It’s a waste because she may miss her chance if she does not consider. You know, it’s different when you are an ally of a sitting president, especially one who has an endorsing power.”

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TAGS: 2016 Elections, Grace Poe, presidential candidates
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