Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Political pundits are tripping all over, trying to analyze the mystique of Rodrigo Duterte that impacted the recent elections. Here's one more try.

Folks have been trying to analyze where the tremendous appeal of President Duterte is coming from. I submit that it's coming from various directions---like a blitzkrieg.

There is his folksiness combined with a penchant for bawdiness. For the first time in years we don't have a president who looks elitist. Mr. Duterte's craggy features tell of grassroots origin, a face that millions of rural Filipinos could identify with, and he speaks with a heavy Visayan accent, like typical rural folk.


Contrast this, for instance, with one-time presidential candidate Joe de Venecia in the late 80's, who always spoke in English and above the heads of the masses. JDV would have been great as a super-diplomat to the UN or to the world banking community, but not to lead the rural Filipinos who comprise perhaps 70% of our country's population.

This is why JDV failed rather miserably in his presidential bid three presidential campaigns ago against Joseph Estrada---even though JDV would have made a brilliant president who could have put us on the world map in no time.


By contrast, all JDV's opponent then, Joseph Estrada, had to do on stage was to grunt and groan, but he ran away with the elections.

Erap was awfully folksy and a hit in the rural areas, but he didn't have the brains of another folksy character named Rodrigo Duterte, which is why his administration didn't succeed much. In no time he was booted out by the second People Power and in the elections just concluded, the Estrada clan was virtually wiped out in several places.


Other past candidates for the presidency had their own mystique worth weighing. For instance, there was Gilbert Teodoro who ran two presidential campaigns ago.

Tall, good-looking and scion of wealthy clans (the Cojuangcos on his mother's side and the Teodoros on his dad's side), a Harvard-trained bar-topnotcher lawyer, Gibo Teodoro fascinated the educated class (I campaigned very hard for him).

Gibo failed to make a dent, however, on the lower-income groups who comprise the vast majority of our electorate---because he looked too sleek and classy. Instead they voted overwhelmingly for his third-degree cousin, Noynoy Aquino, who looked every bit folksy and son of two political icons.


Gibo was masyadong malinis, flying his own plane and with a beautiful model-like wife to boot. His campaign strategy for the presidency featured himself as a 747 pilot at the helm of Team Philippines---but a 747 was something 95% of the Filipinos have never ridden in.

By contrast, Noynoy Aquino, who won that same election, looked folksy, even though he was an hacendero and probably wealthier than cousin Gilbert Teodoro. Moreover, folks could identify with Noynoy, especially since his parents, Ninoy and Cory Aquino, were considered hero and heroine.


Following the same line, Mr. Duterte not only looks very masa, he does sound like one with his thick Visayan accent. Couple this with his penchant for bawdy jokes and you've got an unbeatable tantalizer from the stage, for the Filipino audience---the masa out there who comprise 78% of the electorate.
Digong's bawdy jokes were a big hit in the recent campaign. Recall his line while on a campaign stage in Bohol, about his wanting to pull the panty garters of a good-looking lady mayor who chose to dress in a miniskirt on stage---so that she couldn't run away from him, smitten as he was with her beauty. How the townfolk lapped it all up!


Foreseeable in the near-future is the readiness of Sara Duterte and her true believers, for her to succeed to her father's post. She is absolutely fascinating, with her steely looks and manners that remind one instantly of her Germanic roots on the side of her mother, Elizabeth Zimmerman.

Where Mr. Duterte is folksy and spontaneous with his remarks and mannerisms, Inday Sara comes across as quite cold and calculating, with a highly intelligent mind and good organizational ability. Truly, she will be a force to reckon with in the near future.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Sonny Alvarez withdraws from congressional race in Isabela's 4th district as he did not want to be party to vote merchandising. A loss for PH of our foremost advocate against climate change.


Former Senator Heherson Alvarez is being interviewed outside the provincial capitol in Santiago City after his withdrawal from the congressional race in Isabela

I spent a few days in Santiago City, capital of Isabela province in Northern Luzon, where I was eager to watch the elections there and render support to my longtime friend, former Senator and Cabinet member in several administrations, Heherson “Sonny” Alvarez---the husband of my radio partner, Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Theater Cecile Guidote Alvarez.

Cecile had invited me to watch the debate that was arranged by the local Comelec office in Santiago City among the major contenders in the 4th congressional district, namely, Sonny Alvarez, former Rep. Gorgiddi Aggabao and a young  Ateneo Law graduate named Sheena Tan, who was supported by the Chinese business community there.

The idea was for me to follow the on-going election campaign among the three candidates until May 11, when I was to return to Manila in order to cast my own vote last Monday in Taguig City What I stumbled upon in Santiago City was a political melee of vote-buying and unprincipled competition, instead of what should have been a legitimate political joust among worthy opponents.


The symptoms of political disaster were all there in that event. The local Comelec had scheduled earlier a debate among the three contenders for the lone congressional seat of Isabela’s fourth district, which was mainly Santiago City, on topics of immense interest to its citizens. This included protection of the environment, political dynasty and a host of other subjects which should have been lively and open to all the citizens in public or over TV/radio.

 What happened, however, was that it was only Sonny Alvarez who showed up by his lonesome---his two other rivals for the congressional seat had their own individual reasons for not showing up. Students from the various schools attended upon invitation of the Comelec officials, to watch the debate---the first time ever in Santiago City---but they were plainly disappointed as Tan and Aggabao chose to stay away---either because they were scared to face Alvarez or they thought it was a waste of time since they had perhaps other methods of winning that didn’t drain them of intellectual energy.


The Comelec organizers were plainly disappointed at the no-show of contenders Tan and Aggabao, but their staying away was not surprising. The fact is that Sonny Alvarez has a solid reputation for being a fiery debater, beginning with his days as a student leader in  UP and later in the halls of Congress. 

In subsequent years, when he and Cecile and their children went on self-imposed exile to the US from the Marcos regime, Alvarez had his hands full working for the restoration of democracy in the Philippines. Together with Raul Manglapus, Boni Gillego and other Filipino democratic leaders in the US, Alvarez brought the argument for support of the restoration of democratic rule in the Philippines during the martial law years to leaders of the US Congress, notably Richard Lugar, Ted Kennedy and others. The US congressional leaders were to play a key role in succeeding historic events in the Philippines. 

Obviously his rivals for the congressional post in Isabela were aware of Alvares's debating prowess and wisely stayed away from the great debate---to the vast disappointment of the Isabelinos.


But his rivals had their own plan: to curry political favor with the Isabelinos by buying their votes.  This realization that his opponents had planned to reduce the coming elections to a big "kalakaran" prompted Alvarez to denounce it publicly, and then he went straight to the local Comelec to withdraw from the political race that he felt would be a sham. 

 Last May 11, two days before the elections, Alvarez came out publicly to announce his withdrawal from the congressional race. He said that participation in the elections  had been reduced to meaningless merchandising between his two rival contenders that involved cash that run to several thousands for each voter, as well as gasoline funds. He would have no part in it.


To begin with, Alvarez didn’t have the kind of funds that his political opponents had mustered;  moreover, it was against his principle to indulge in voter-buying, like a cheap politician.  In his withdrawal statement he termed the massive vote-buying a political cancer that would kill the spirit of the Isabelinos, in pretty much the way drugs would kill the physical body. Alvarez stressed that he would have no part in the merchandising of votes.  

26-year old Sheena Tan, heavily supported by the Chinese community in Isabela, won over Georgiddi Aggabao by some 1,500 votes. The merchandising of the people’s votes constitutes a sad episode in the political history of Isabela’s 4th District. 


I felt a personal loss in this fight of Sonny Alvarez, for aside from being a longtime friend, he could be the point man in the House of Representatives to forge a legislation package to battle the increasingly ferocious onslaught of climate change. 

This battle has to be fought first and foremost in the halls of Congress and I went on the air in Isabela to campaign for him---pleading to the Isabelinos to marshal their native son for one more term in Congress, so he could lead our country's battle vs. climate change, as he has studied this phenomenon more than any other political leader. 

But alas, money politics dominated the local political arena, and  the sad thing is that Isabela is not an isolated case. What do we do about this ferocious monster rearing its ugly head periodically in our political landscape?