WHEN I interviewed Francis Joseph Escudero for a feature story on his first year as a congressman in 1998, he already had his sights set on the presidency. He was 28 years old. It was a dream that he did not keep to himself. Libre naman ang mangarap, he would say.
That time, he was looking at 2010 as the right time for him to go for it. He had turned 40 a few months before the election so he was eligible. He prepared for it. He kept himself visible in the media, had anchored television and radio programs on RPN9, DAZR and DZMM one time or the other, and wrote legal advice columns for Abante and Abante Tonite.
And he did test the waters for a presidential run in 2010, but later decided to not file his candidacy because he did not fare well in the surveys.
Instead, he openly supported and endorsed the candidacy of his friend, Noynoy Aquino for president and Jejomar Binay for vice president. He was supposedly behind covert moves that led to a Noy-Bi victory.
For the upcoming 2016 elections, Escudero’s name was also floated as a possible candidate either for president or vice president. Survey results, however, favored Grace Poe, his colleague in the Senate and daughter of his presidential candidate in 2004, popular movie actor Fernando Poe Jr.
On September 16, Grace Poe declared her intention to run for president, despite questions over her eligibility for lack of residency and her American citizenship. On the next day, she announced her choice for Escudero as her running mate.
It was a well calculated move for Escudero to declare his desire to run for vice president way ahead of the pack, 25 days before the period for the filing of certificates of candidacy, while the two other top contenders for president were still looking for their running mates.
It was meant to preempt Mar Roxas from pursuing Leni Robredo because, as Albay Governor Joey Salceda said, it is not advisable to have two Bicolanos fight for the vice presidency because it would divide votes that could spell victory for the opposition.
Escudero’s declaration ahead of anybody else in the vice presidential race could dissuade Robredo from agreeing to be the running mate of Roxas, a good friend of her husband, Jesse.
Escudero hails from Sorsogon while Robredo is from Camarines Sur.
The Bicol region has delivered votes for Bicolano candidates in national positions.
Knowing Escudero’s long-held dream to become president, I cannot avoid entertaining suspicions that he was behind moves to push Grace Poe to seek the presidency so that he could somehow fulfill his dream to be president, albeit, behind the scenes.
Poe was a surprise No. 1 winner in the 2013 mid-term election for senator. She had overtaken previously-top survey favorite Jejomar Binay as a preferred presidential candidate in 2016.
Escudero was said to have burned bridges with Binay. While he and Roxas were together for several years at the House of Representatives and at the Senate, they were not really friends. They were acquaintances though.
When they were congressmen, they were both among the favorites of then President Joseph Estrada. Roxas was, in fact, appointed as secretary of Trade while Escudero managed to get substantial “pork barrel” funds for his district.
Since those times, what looked like a “sibling” rivalry between them was already apparent. Nobody ever imagined that the unambitious Noynoy Aquino, a common friend of the two, would be catapulted to the presidency.
Noynoy Aquino, who did not even dream of becoming president, had somehow changed the political course that Roxas and Escudero were charting for themselves. The death of his mother in August 2009 changed the course of Noynoy’s future. He felt obligated to respond to the overwhelming clamor for him to take on the presidency. Roxas had to give way to Noynoy and slide down to the vice presidency.
Then Senator Manny Villar, who had spent billions in political ads, suffered a big loss to Noynoy who also frustrated the desire of Joseph Estrada to reclaim the presidency and redeem himself from massive corruption charges that led to his ouster in 2001.
I have heard not just a few friends and acquaintances ask or wish that Villar would join the presidential race again, citing the difficulty of choosing among those who have so far offered themselves for the position. But then, Villar said he had learned painful lessons from the 2010 elections and is not ready to take the plunge again. He said the electorate had rejected him, and that he was not one to force himself on them.
Recent history showed us that those who salivated to become president failed to make it. Would the 2016 elections be any different?
I could only wish that those running for president are dreaming not just to fight the unbeatable Poe, but also to bear the public’s unbearable sorrow over long years of bad governance, incompetence, and greed for power and money.
They should run where the brave dared not go against massive corruption, and right the unrightable wrong. And share everyone’s dream of living in a peaceful and progressive Philippines.