The revolution that swept President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino into power in 2010 is about to engage in fratricide in 2013 with one wing, “the idealists” comprised of the LP/Roxas camp, squaring off with “the pragmatists” comprised of the UNA/Binay camp. Mrs Arroyo and her proxies won’t fit into the equation at all as she faces trial. The winner will be in pole position to capture the presidency in 2016.
Nearly a year away from the 2013 midterm elections, Vice President Jejomar “Jojo” Binay and former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada announced their formation of a coalition and a likely senatorial line-up to contest it.
The formal alliance UNA (United Nationalist Alliance) is a combination of Binay’s PDP-Laban (Philippine Democratic Party) and Estrada’s PMP (Philippine Party of the Masses), but it has also attracted members or former members of other major parties like the Nationalista Party, the Nationalist People’s Coalition, and Lakas-Kampi, the party of former president Arroyo.
The rebranding of UNO the united opposition launched at the height of Mrs Arroyo’s regime’s unpopularity into a party of incumbents today comprised of Binay and the re-electionist senators Jinggoy Estrada, et al makes it a formidable contender for seats in Congress and at the local level. Most analysts and commentators see it as the team to beat.
Normally, in a midterm election, politicians would be lining up behind the administration for obvious reasons. This time around, the Liberal Party (LP) of the president seems to be in the unattractive position of having to scrape together a ticket of “unwinnables” or “also rans”. Such a predicament seems rather astounding given the massive support it received in 2010 with the president trouncing the popular action movie star “Erap” Estrada the nearest contender by several million votes.
Although Binay slipped into the vice presidency in a squeaker of a race with LP president Mar Roxas (the latter is still contesting the results), his exposure to a national constituency and his seniority in government now make him seem more like a president-in-waiting. With his proven abilities at organization and mobilization and his public approval ratings among government officials being second to none, he has become a more attractive coalition partner and leader to those seeking to retain or attain higher office.
Meanwhile, the hands of the administration has been tied up with other matters. The impeachment trial of the Chief Justice continues to drag on preventing its legislative agenda from gaining momentum. The public doesn’t seem to understand nor care what the outcome is. They have shifted their focus to other pressing concerns. The energy crisis in Mindanao and the oil price conundrum continue to hug the headlines. Tensions in the South China Sea and the Korean peninsula have also highlighted our vulnerable state amid the power struggles in the region. Continued weakness in our foreign markets both in the US and EU provides a very dire economic outlook.
All this makes for quite a diabolical cocktail, one which would give the nation a severe hangover in its wake. In this context, it is very difficult to see how the administration can address the structural problems that have kept the nation performing below expectations. As the word “noynoying” slips into public consciousness it would seem likely for its public approval rating which has been defying gravity to recede as per the normal cycle of presidential life. This means senatorial candidates won’t be able to count on “yellow magic” to win them votes in 2013.
Of course at the local level is where principle of “the one who holds the purse strings” matters. This is where the Binay family franchise over Makati City and its relations with sister cities comes into play. Malacañang has recently announced that with the election season approaching, it will tighten its grip on the release of countrywide development funds. The intention of this policy is quite unclear. Are they doing this to prevent dubious forms of pork barrelling, as they claim, or are they doing this to force local politicians to shift to their side?
Either way it is sure to irritate not a few local officials who will be crucial in getting members of any national ticket in the winner’s column. This may make them gravitate more towards Mr Binay’s camp, given his more easy-going manner when it comes to these things. As a pragmatist, he is more attuned to the requirements of governing in the Philippine context. Even if the idealists succeed in purging him from PNoy’s cabinet, they will probably be doing him a favor, as their public approval starts to slump. As more and more people become disillusioned with the administration, they will inevitably see in Mr Binay a better alternative.
High-minded aspirations are one thing when you are waging a campaign to unseat an unpopular regime; dealing with the demands of the masses the day after you succeed in toppling it is another. Mr Binay has demonstrated throughout his political and administrative career like no other contemporary leader of his generation how to pivot from performing the role of an agitator to that of a manager. He is following the same template now as he maneuvers himself into the top spot.