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.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

About time that UNA dropped the “common candidates”---an arrangement ridiculous and immoral. NPC rebellion on the ground would hurt LP. “Catholic vote” may not make candidates win, but it can help them lose, or drop from top-rating. Dynastic Cojuangcos. Palace and DFA didn’t know how to respond to sudden invasion of Sabah by Sultan of Sulu’s army.

The decision of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) to drop from its senatorial line-up its three common candidates with the LP is over-due. The idea, after all, of “namamangka sa dalawang ilog,” be it in love or politics, does not sit well with the public. It was ridiculous, immoral and offensive, and the fact that the three “common candidates” allowed themselves to be adopted by both rival coalitions speaks of their propensity for convenience and easy accomodation.


But it’s also easy to see why Loren Legarda and Francis Escudero, who had signed up with UNA more than a month ago, would finally choose to stay with the LP.  After all, with President Aquino as the real LP campaign manager (tau-tauhan lang si Sen. Franklin Drilon), the LP has the administration’s resources at its command, with the hakot crowds and unbeatable gimmicks such as rice donations,  PhilHealth cards and CCT allocations for the masses. By contrast, UNA rally organizers have complained in media of harassment and even intimidation by LP partisans in various places.

But UNA senatorial candidate Mitos Magsaysay---she who minces no words on the toughest issues and has been gaining traction especially with youthful voters---is correct in reading that the two senatorial re-electionists’ topnotch standing could be affected by the loss of votes from UNA.   


Couple this reality with the flexing of muscle by dioceses and faith-based citizen organizations across the country vs. members of Congress who voted for the RH law and we could be seeing an alteration of the political landscape---enough to de-throne those aspiring for a possible run for the top posts in 2016.

A number of dioceses, such as the Archdiocese of Lipa and the Diocese of Bacolod are openly campaigning against legislators who voted for the RH bill, and I know that other dioceses are following suit. I have also come across many parish priests and lay organizations who are quietly doing their own anti-campaigning. All these could hurt.  

This brings us to the question: is there a Catholic vote? An analyst I talked to opined that this vote could take a couple of years to truly gel, and perhaps this is true.  But depending on how aggressively faith-based organizations and personalities move, the reality may be that while they may not succeed at this early stage to make select candidates WIN,  they can certainly help in making  candidates LOSE,  or at the very least not end up on top.


The distinction of clear-cut platforms that render impossible the political phenomenon of “namamangka sa dalawang ilog” marks more mature democracies. One cannot imagine this phenomenon pertaining to the Democratic and Republican parties in the US. In fact as our political life here grows older we should move toward more distinctive and pronounced issues and platforms that characterize our political parties from one another---not merely which political son or daughter or TV star is here or there.

This is where the parliamentary system would be more effective in projecting real party programs and platforms that can contribute to real political progress; but this can only happen with charter change. We should elect legislators who are truly open to charter change.


UNA senatorial candidate Margarita "Tingting" Cojuangco

President Noynoy moved to quell a grassroots rebellion in the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), led by his second cousin, former Rep. Mark Cojuangco of Pangasinan. P-Noy called up his uncle, Tarlac Rep. Henry Cojuangco, brother of NPC founder Danding Cojuangco, and presumably he also called Boss Danding himself with one plea: to stop his son Mark from making NPC forsake the LP coalition.

Mark was extremely upset at what he lamented was the shabby treatment NPC leaders were getting from the LP at local level. He was referring specifically to Pangasinan Gov. Amado Espino, who was threatened with suspension by the DILG, a la Cebu Gov. Gwen Garcia, allegedly because of Espino’s indulgence in jueteng and corruption. Young Cojuangco also lamented that a number of NPC members are facing election opposition from LP colleagues, in disregard of the equity of the incumbent principle.  In taking up the cudgels for these local executives Mark, who has called an emergency meeting of the party on Monday at the NPC HQ in Balete Drive, Q.C., was acting like a true NPC leader. 


I can understand P-Noy’s worry about losing the NPC, for it’s the LP’s largest ally---without the NPC, P-Noy won’t get the majority in the senatorial and House races. In Pangasinan, the second largest voting bloc after Cebu, for instance, NPC counts with 29 mayors out of the province’s 38. In the House NPC has some 45 solons, and in the Senate it counts with Loren Legarda and Majority Leader Tito Sotto, while Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile has been a close ally of Danding Cojuangco for decades. It’s no surprise, then, that NPC would back up JPE’s son Jack and NPC Chair emeritus Ernesto Maceda, both running for senator under UNA.

The Nacionalista Party led by Sen. Manny Villar is the next biggest grouping in the LP coalition, with some 200 mayors and vice-mayors across the country. Former Rep. Cynthia Villar, Manny’s better half, is now running for senator under the LP banner, but the NP cannot count with the kind of organization that NPC commands.

It remains to be seen, however, if NPC's ground warriors, led by Mark Cojuangco, would be mollified about the LP-NPC rift. 


Speaking of the Cojuangcos, they’re always cited as an example of a prominent political dynasty, but its members can be found on both sides of the political fence. 

The NPC, which is part of the LP coalition headed by P-Noy, is fielding a number of Cojuangcos in Tarlac. There’s re-electionist Rep. Henry Cojuangco in Tarlac’s first district; Henry's son, Enriquito "Kit" Cojuangco, running for vice-governor and runningmate of NPC re-electionist Gov. Victor Yap. Interestingly, challenging Yap for governor of Tarlac is dermatologist Isa Cojuangco-Suntay, daughter of Danding’s and Henry’s sister Isabel and first cousin to Kit Cojuangco;  but Isa can't be considered part of the Cojuangco dynasty in the real sense as she's running as an independent. 

On the other hand, the Yaps are also a dynasty, with Victor's sister, Susan Yap, running for reelection in the second district. 
Meanwhile, under the UNA coalition former Tarlac Gov. Tingting Cojuangco, wife of former Rep. Peping Cojuangco, Cory Aquino’s younger brother and cousin of Danding and Henry Cojuangco, is running for senator.


Interestingly, though Peping Cojuangco is P-Noy’s first-degree blood uncle, certain media reports earlier this week said that one angle the administration is looking into is that Peping and Tingting may have incited Sultan Jamalul Kiram III of Sulu to send an army of 300 people to Sabah and occupy a town there. The media report said one possible viewpoint was to embarrass P-Noy and rob him of the after-glow of the historic peace agreement he forged with MILF Leader Al-Haj Murad late last year, brokered by Malaysia. 

Details of this agreement are being worked at now between the two parties, and the same report said the idea of this peace pact is to make the President a plausible candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize that his mother had decades ago aspired for, but failed to bag.

The report’s insinuation clearly is that not all is well among the Cojuangcos on Cory’s side, and this is not hard to believe, given that Tingting had lent support to the embattled Cebu Gov. Gwen Garcia who had staked out in her office at the Capitol to thwart service of a suspension order from the DILG. Tingting stayed with Gwen the whole day and this is the reason being cited why the police couldn’t break into the Capitol at that time.


The invasion of Sabah by the Sulu Sultan’s army has created a furor here and in KL, causing diplomats at our Foreign Office to run to dusty archives to research on what exactly is the claim of the frail Sultan, who's now on dialysis. As Star columnist Alex Magno noted with ill-concealed merriment, no one at the Palace nor at DFA knew how to react to the sudden invasion. Neither was anything heard about this issue from the chairpersons of the Senate and House Committees on Foreign Affairs.

By the way, did I read right? Was P-Noy’s first reaction on this issue to question whether the Sultan of Sulu had been remitting taxes all these years on the pittance that Malaysia had been paying him of roughly about P200, 000 a year?

I found the bureaucratic discombobulation over the Sultan's claim quite fascinating. For back in the early ‘60s, I was a fresh UP graduate then working as assistant to the Ateneo College of Law Regent, Fr. Pacifico Ortiz, who in turn was helping Vice President and Foreign Secretary Emmanuel Pelaez beef up the Philippine claim to Sabah, upon orders of President Diosdado Macapagal.  But that’s a story for next blog. 

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