Political junkies are often struck by a lingering sense of deja vu on the details of the 1998 presidential elections. With reason. The general elections that year were held under conditions that remind people of the conditions now, especially with 2016 fast approaching. Here is a brief rundown of those (uncannily and eerily familiar) conditions.
Fidel V. Ramos, the incumbent president and titular head of the Lakas-NUCD, then the ruling political coalition, endorsed the coalition’s overwhelming choice for the presidency – then Speaker Jose de Venecia.
Mr. de Venecia was a laggard in the surveys except the ones conducted by the fake, survey-for-a-fee entities that showed him winning by a slight margin over Erap. But that was no reason for the party stalwarts not to enthusiastically campaign for the former speaker.
The ruling coalition chose a popular running mate for Mr. de Venecia, then Senator Gloria Arroyo, with hopes that the running mate would pull the main man up.
The Lakas-NUCD was a truly dominant coalition then, with more grassroots reach than today’s Liberal Party (LP). Left unsaid was its enormous campaign resources.
So what happened in the polls? Despite the endorsement of Mr. Ramos and the dominance of the Lakas-NUCD, Mr. de Venecia lost. Rather, he lost miserably.
Now, let us look at the present, less than a year before general elections take place.
Mr. Aquino, the incumbent president, is about to officially announce his endorsement of Mr. Roxas’s presidential run under the LP, now the ruling political coalition. Mr. Roxas has been a laggard in the polls but has deep ties to the party. His grandfather, Manuel Roxas, was the first president of the new Republic and he ran under the LP.
Mr. Roxas is wooing Senator Grace Poe, a popular senator, to be his running mate with the hope that Ms. Poe can pull the main man up.
Mr. Drilon, the party heavyweight and senate president and also the most credible spokesman on matters related to politics, says it is Mr. Roxas. In the words of Mr. Drilon, no interloper would be named LP presidential candidate.
The LP is the dominant ruling coalition, with massive resources for 2016 to boot.
On the outcome of the 2016 presidential elections, the popular verdict, vetted by numbers and man-on-the-street opinion, is this: 2016 will be a repeat of 1998. Mr. Aquino’s wildly enthusiastic endorsement of Mr. Roxas and the dominance of the LP will not be worth, in the words of former US VP John Nance Garner, “ a pitcher of warm spit.”
This real possibility, that 2016 will just be a rerun of the 1998 general elections is amplified by the striking parallels between the two presidents, Mr. Ramos and Mr. Aquino. They both governed as technocrats. They were obsessed with growth charts. They got puff pieces from foreign journalists who credited Mr. Ramos for making the Philippine economy into an “ emerging tiger.” Mr. Aquino has gotten more puffery, first for his sustained growth figures and second, for his technocratic rule. In addition, the Davos crowd has been showering Mr. Aquino with platitudes.
Like Mr. Ramos before him, Mr. Aquino has not developed a real bond with ordinary people, the target demographic of presidential candidates with the intention to win. Even in the midst of the platitudes from the Davos crowd, Mr. Aquino’s trust and appreciation ratings have been plummeting. Tragically, all the alleluias from Klaus Schwab and company cannot endear Mr. Aquino with ordinary Filipinos. A level of endearment that is enough to follow Mr. Aquino’s guidance on the 2016 election.
Surely, Mr. Aquino had moments of doubt about the winning ability of Mr. Roxas . The one-on-one meeting between Mr. Aquino and Ms. Poe revealed the president’s frustration with the “ loser” tag of Mr. Roxas. But an earnest search for an alternative to Mr. Roxas has run through several gauntlets, primarily the collective sense of the LP leaders that it should be Mr. Roxas and not an outsider.
So the LP will have to face the 2016 elections with this status – severely handicapped. And no amount of pleading from Mr. Aquino to his avowed “ bosses” can reverse the hopelessness of the LP presidential candidate.
On the day, Senator Osmena categorically stated that Mr. Aquino cannot sway Filipino voters on their choice for president, a news item just magnified how stuck the LP is to its losing status. The piece said that the so-called “Sugar Bloc” is working to resurrect its pre-eminent role in Philippine politics and this would be done via the candidacy of Mr. Roxas.
Sugar is a sunset industry. It occasionally breaks from its rustbelt status once in every ten years mostly due to weather-related disasters in other sugar-producing areas. For all intents and purposes, it has been written off as marginal. Even if the US were to augment the current export quota, or double it for that matter, the sugar industry would not return to the period when the Philippines shipped more than one million metric tons of sugar per year to markets across the globe and at premium prices.
The resurrection of the “Sugar Bloc” as a political force, just like the imaginings of an LP victory in 2016, is pulp and fiction.