WHO’S running for President? While we can rattle off four or five presidentiables, in fact, we’re not sure for whom we can actually vote next May. Especially if a rumored plot to take out opposition candidates is for real.
At a gathering of Liberal Party standard bearer Mar Roxas’s Araneta clan some months ago, the party buzz was all about “Last Man Standing,” a supposed strategy to eliminate opponents of President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s chosen successor.
That purported scheme seemed doubtful last week, after Aquino himself urged that voter survey topnotcher Senator Grace Poe be allowed to run. Still, that may just be a way of distancing himself from her possible removal from both the Senate and the election, which may still happen.
Is Poe cleared for takeoff?
Four petitions for her disqualification are pending with the Commission on Elections, for allegedly failing to satisfy two constitutional requirements for the presidency: natural-born Filipino citizenship and at least ten years residency in the country. The Comelec cases on top of an earlier one in the Senate Electoral Tribunal questioning her credential as senator on citizenship and residency grounds, too.
Last week Poe seemed victorious after the SET, voting 5-4, declared her a natural-born Filipino and setting aside the residency issue. Aquino’s nephew Senator Bam Aquino took Poe’s side, which many saw as reflecting the President’s position.
But Poe may yet lose. The Comelec has said it would not be swayed by the SET ruling. Moreover, the dissenting votes of all three Supreme Court justices in the tribunal suggest that their colleagues would likely overrule the SET. It is hard to imagine that three of the most senior magistrates would get the Constitution so wrong that most of their colleagues would contradict them.
Can Duterte substitute?
Another uncertainty in the race for Malacañang is Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte’s on-again-off-again candidacy. In his latest statement on the possibility of a Palace run, the bar topnotcher said it was “on the table” due to his disgust over the SET ruling on Poe, which to his eyes smacked of politics undermining the rule of law.
But his own candidacy, if he does pursue it, may face legal issues as well. His PDP-Laban party’s declared candidate, anti-crime crusader Martin Diño, had withdrawn his certificate of candidacy (CoC) and declared Duterte his replacement.
But the party did not endorse the mayor as substitute candidate simultaneous with Diño’s withdrawal. Nor had Duterte agreed to replace him. Plus: in his CoC, Diño mistakenly wrote that he was running for Pasay City mayor.
Therefore, some legal experts argue, if Duterte finally and formally files his CoC as replacement candidate of PDP-Laban on or before the December 10 deadline, the Comelec could rule that Diño was no longer or had never been a presidential candidate to be replaced. There is now even talk of Duterte substituting for party-list nominee Roy Señeres, who has denied agreeing to be replaced.
Will Binay be arrested?
What about Vice-President Jejomar Binay, now in second place after leading voter polls for most of the past year?
All that time, the Aquino administration has staged incessant media attacks on the VP, buttressed by Senate hearings, alleging massive corruption during his decades as Makati mayor. That has not only slashed Binay’s poll ratings, but also fueled fears in his camp that he may be arrested on orders of the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court.
Last month Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales’s spokesperson Maria Janina Hidalgo announced that the OMB has found probable cause to file cases agianst Binay and his son Junjun.
But only the latter can be charged for now. “He [the VP]is immune from charges,” explained Hidalgo. “So we will have to wait until the end of his term. If he wins the presidential elections, then we will have to wait another six years.”
Still, talk of arresting Binay remains. After all, a regime that spent tens of billions of pesos on unbudgeted programs and projects, put a suspended national police chief in command of a sensitive commando mission, and openly meddles in court cases, could very well take more liberties with the law and arrest an impeachable official.
If Binay is arrested, he would instantly file for a Supreme Court restraining order. Then both the justices and President Aquino shall have to ponder if they would allow the VP’s arrest and prosecution — and set a precedent for the same things to be done to them.
Head Man Falling?
So is there a “Last Man Standing” plot, and will it succeed?
Anyone thinking that such a scheme, if it exists, could be pulled off so neatly, is misguided and unschooled in the unpredictable twists of politics. Plainly, just as uncertainty clouds the presidential race, even more risks face those seeking to delete Poe, Binay, Duterte, and Santiago from the optically readable ballot.
The Supreme Court has certainly shown that it cannot be cowed by the administration,
having voted unanimously to void not just the pork barrel Priority Development Assistance Fund and the DAP. So it doesn’t seem likely to become a pawn in removing opponents of Aquino’s anointed candidate.
Even more risky for the incumbent powers, removing Poe, Binay and Duterte would disappoint, if not anger as many as three-quarters of the electorate — the combined total of their supporters, based on voter surveys. Those tens of millions of voters deprived of their preferred presidentiables could gravitate toward a single opposition candidate. Or strike at the government for seemingly rigging the polls by constricting voter choice.
Last Man Standing could very well turn into Head Man Falling.
Still, it’s no surprise if the Aquino-Roxas camp try it. Especially since losing the elections means being held accountable for excesses now swept under the rug by the powers that be.