No chamber for old men, part 2

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MARLEN-V.-RONQUILLO

Days after the start of the 2013 senate campaign, The Manila Times wrote a piece titled “No chamber for old men.” The headline was ripped off from the title of a Cormac McCarthy book. What the column essentially said were these:

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• This election cycle would be extremely brutal to the old candidates for the senate. There was a palpable yearning for young candidates with sturdy legs. This was an environment in which the likes of Manong Ernie Maceda, Jun Magsaysay, and the other senior citizens—no matter how gifted and experienced—would be ignored in favor of the younger candidates.

• The experience and sagacity of the elders would be trumped by the preference for the supposed hip and cool.

• The changed environment was a radical departure from the previous campaigns in which the likes of Juan Ponce Enrile, Joker Arroyo and Ed Angara easily won. In the ancient regime, experience was valued.

• Even the not-so-old ones would mightily struggle to find a place among the winners.

The ages of the winners and the ages of those who struggled to survive validate all what said in that “No chamber for old men“ editorial. The bias against men of a certain age took a ridiculous turn. Ernie Maceda, 78, a former senate president and a fixture of Philippine politics for almost a generation, was not even in the top 20 of the vote getters .

Ramon “Jun” Magsaysay, 74, the son and namesake of a very popular president, failed to sneak into the Top 12 despite an enormous push from the punditry and a last-minute effort from the Liberal Party to move him into the winning column.

Magsaysay was a former senator who distinguished himself in the chamber, conducted a multi-billion fertilizer scam investigation with fairness, and advocated breakthrough agriculture programs as head of the coordinating committee on agriculture modernization of Congress. Yet, all of these assets were negated by one thing that he cannot change—age.

He was 37 years older than the 37 year-old Bam Aquino, the youngest elected senator and 34 years older than the second youngest, Sonny Angara .

The 10th, 12th and 13th placers have a common denominator—they are all senior citizens. And they were the only three competitive senior citizens in the race.

Cynthia Villar, the 10th placer, was not supposed to be on this not-so-impressive position. Senator Many Villar, her husband, is one of the very few Filipino dollar billionaires, the type tracked by Forbes. At the House of Representatives, she was a performer in terms of laws passed and advocacies made. She was even stronger in the constituency work department.

She represented a constituency that is within the major media loop. And she had one of the most creative team, advertising wise. And her biggest asset—she can spend for her campaign without worrying on where to get the next plane fare for the staff, which was not a luxury enjoyed by most of her competitors and coalition mates enjoyed. Her competitors and coalition mates had to literally scrounge for funds.

Except for a misunderstood statement on the nursing profession, her campaign was controversy-free.

Only one thing dragged her down—a voting population that gave weight to age.

Greg Honasan was one of the most popular Filipinos after EDSA Uno, an army colonel and aide to then Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile. The popular uprising against Marcos threw into the limelight the leading military officers in the putsch – and the public face was Honasan.

And he was a re-electionist, the category of candidates that, under normal times, easily coast to victory . He even performed decently in the senate, not spectacular but decent enough. Why was he on 12th place and not someplace higher? The only credible answer—age.

Dick Gordon had been in the limelight since 1971, the same year Honasan graduated from the Philippine Military Academy. That year, he was elected as the youngest delegate to the Constitutional Convention, representing Zambales province. Of course, the late journalist Manny Martinez, elected as delegate of Romblon province, disputed that fact. But on record, Dick Gordon was the youngest .

He had been mayor of Olongapo City, first head of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority, senator and tourism secretary. No public service CV is as impressive as Gordon’s.

The coinages he made for Subic, as it was rising from the Pinatubo ashes, and for the tourism sector, the Wow Philippines campaign, were strokes of creativity. On record, nothing can prevent Dick Gordon from winning a senate seat anew.

Despite these and his youthful looks, he was missed by the voters.

The only credible reason—the clamor for younger senators .

Would this be the same sentiment in 2016, a presidential election? Maybe. Maybe not. But Vice President Binay would have to learn from the lessons of 2013—then find ways to neutralize the clamor for sturdy legs. And the bias against men of a certain age.

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