FOR the entire day yesterday, my friends on Facebook were all a-twitter, analyzing, dissecting, and even dissing Sen. Chiz Escudero's announcement of his resignation from the Nationalist People's Coalition. It obviously caught most of his partymates off-guard. Even NPC vice-presidential candidate Loren Legarda seemed mightily pissed at the turn of events, considering how she has been lusting after the presidency. Too bad she had already declared herself as a VP candidate.
Even Rep. Mark Cojuangco, son of NPC founder and businessman Eduardo "Danding" Cojuangco, sounded testy saying that the senator never told him that he was leaving the party, and that he was only hearing about this from the reporter who was asking for his reaction. He sounded incredulous as if the reporter was telling him something preposterous.
While Inquirer's headline on its website this morning is Escudero junks NPC, Cojuangco, it has been apparent for quite sometime that it was Cojuangco who actually junked the presidential wanna-be. Rumors have been going around in the last few months that the Boss, as Cojuangco is called, was not too enthusiastic about financing Escudero's presidential bid.
(Eduardo "Danding" Cojuangco, Jr.)
Cojuangco's rumored P200-M allocation to Escudero is what it appears to be - token support. Just so it won't be said that the Boss didn't fund his party's own presidential candidate. But if you look at the situation closely, Cojuangco really doesn't need to bet on Escudero or perhaps any other presidential candidate for that matter. He already has cornered the coco levy funds. He got back San Miguel Corp., which is now diversifying and expanding its reach beyond its normal food and beverage concerns. So what other favors does he need to curry from any presidential candidate? (The other rumor is that Cojuangco BFF and SMC president Ramon Ang had convinced the NPC chair to just fund their congressional candidates. Besides, its cheaper.)
For another, Escudero has shown poorly in survey after survey. As a presidential candidate, the highest rating he got compared to his possible rivals was 23%, as per the Social Weather Stations polls, and this was in Feb. 2009. His rating then slipped to 15% in May, rose to 20% in June, before dropping back to 15% in Sept. when Sen. Noynoy Aquino already entered the picture. So Escudero never got a rating that was convincing enough for potential financiers to back him.
Although we hear that beer and tobacco magnate Lucio Tan is ponying up for Escudero's presidency, we also know that the former is a segurista and will likely contribute to everyone who is running for president. It's called political hedging. But with Tan's businesses struggling with financial burdens (e.g. PAL for instance reported a $31-M loss in Aug. and is cutting jobs), the Chinoy tycoon won't be able to give Escudero enough funds to mount a decent and serious presidential campaign.
When the group of political campaign strategist par excellence Lito Banayo joined the Chizwiz campaign, everyone felt, including myself, that the group would energize the Chizwiz campaign. But by Oct. 23, Saturday, I heard that Malou Tiquia, Escudero's senior campaign strategist had "resigned". To those who don't know, prior to her joining Escudero's campaign, Tiquia was with Sen. Mar Roxas. She had been one of those behind the brilliant Mr. Palengke strategy. Now, there could only be one reason why Tiquia would disengage from Escudero, my source noted. That meant no campaign funds were forthcoming. (One of Escudero's handlers told me Tuesday, however, that Tiquia didn't resign; her contract just wasn't renewed. Accdg. to him, "maraming syang kaaway sa loob.")
Of course, prior to this, former senator Serge Osmeña had resigned as Escudero's campaign manager (w/c is why it was necessary to bring Banayo in), and announced he was rejoining the Liberal Party to support Sen. Aquino's presidential bid. Advertising guru Yolly Ong, who was said to have ties to the Aquinos as well, also left.
(Beer and tobacco magnate Lucio Tan, a personal friend of Escudero's father, Rep. Sonny Escudero.)
Now with all due respect to Escudero's current handlers whom I really respect and his own father who I am especially fond of, there's a simple reason why Escudero has been rating poorly in the surveys. It's not from lack of media exposure. In fact, I think he's all over the place. And I'd like to dispel Escudero's assumptions that his connection to Danding's iffy politics is an issue for voters. It is really not. But he does rub people off the wrong way. Especially the ones older than 50 years. Even my 81-year-old mother describes him as "hambog". Apparently, he is not someone who brings out the mother instinct in women.
Among those in his age group, the 40-somethings w/c I belong to, he comes off as a brash, arrogant, know-it-all, who is long on his answers, but actually short on substance. He speaks in a monotone, unblinking, as if he's got all his answers memorized, w/c he regurgitates as the need arises. His lines are cleverly-written and well-rehearsed. (e.g.“Whoever is planning to run for president of the country should have no allegiance to any party—NPC, LP, PMP, Lakas or whatever. The party that anyone is aspiring to run under should be none other than the Philippines, and his party mates should be all Filipinos.") They are ready-made soundbites for the public and media's consumption, but devoid of any sincerity. There is no heart, no soul, just lots of empty rhetoric.
Fortunately for Escudero, he has the youth (18-30 somethings) eating out of his hand. But are these youth supporters that numerous for him to be able to mount a presidential bid without funds? Remember, if one is to gun for a national elective post, he has to have poll watchers in almost every major precint in the entire Philippines! Even the announcement of support by the Magdalo group was met with skepticism. Just how many are the Magdalos and their supporters anyway?
And for all his posturing, Escudero is certainly no Barack Obama who was able to mount a new kind of politics that cut across all age groups, sexes, and ethnicities. (Yet, even Obama had major financial backers like Oprah Winfrey, a whole slew of celebrities, and major businessmen.) So I'm not quite sure where Escudero is headed. For all the youthful idealism that he projects, I don't think he is naive to believe that he will be able to run for president without some massive capital infusion. Unlike Obama's one-dollar campaign, Escudero can no longer mount a piso-piso campaign from the public bec. Aquino's handlers have already beaten him to the punch.
If at all, Escudero will probably run for VP, with who as president, I don't really know. There are three presidentiables still without a running mate, i.e. Gilbert Teodoro, Manny Villar, and Dick Gordon. And for all his self-righteous anti-corruption schtick, some people think Escudero may still run with Gibo or Villar as president. (Gordon's chances are iffy, at best, and lack of funds is also a problem.) I believe it will all boil down to campaign financing and who will be able to give it to him. Although VP Noli de Castro was said to have been persuaded by Villar to be his runningmate, we are hearing that certain ahem, promises made to Kabayan have yet to be fulfilled, w/c is why there is still no announcement from the latter. So the Villar window is still open for Escudero to swing through. As Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita says, "in politics, anything is possible."
Or maybe Escudero will give the Philippines a break and as Sen. Mar Roxas has already said and done, put "country above self." What is direly needed by this country is for the Opposition to unite against the PaLaKa/administration's immense political machinery. Escudero, if he is really sincere in wanting to serve the people's interests, should set aside his childhood ambition to run as president for the meantime, or even as VP. (He has lagged in the polls as VP candidate as well.) He's young, he still has a long road ahead of him. He can still be of service to the public as a senator. Besides, he cannot deny the growing force in popularity of the Aquino-Roxas tandem. Politics is a lot about incredible timing. And for Escudero, unfortunately, this isn't the right time for his run.
To close, I am, aghast that Escudero, in his interview last night with Che-Che Lazaro's Profiles on ABS-CBN had the gall to say that Cojuangco never lifted a finger to help him in his past candidacies ("walang naitulong" was his exact words). This not only smacks of ungratefulness, but is a bald-faced lie. As one reporter commented to me, "what about the frequent use of SMC's Learjet? That's gotta count for something." So there.
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FOR the whys and wherefores of Escudero, read Lito Banayo's column here. It is his last entry, he says, because of his having joined the Escudero campaign. So yes, Chizwiz is still going to run, for what position, we don't know. (Yadayadayada.) Too bad. Many readers, including myself, will certainly miss Mr. Banayo's astute political observations in his column. Good luck with the campaign po.