After more nuisance presidential candidates than credible ones emerged from Monday’s self-nominating process, Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago announced her candidacy, while reports from Davao said the long equivocal (“I’m running, I’m not running”) Mayor Rodrigo Duterte would also be filing his. These developments add so much excitement to the campaign, but they do not make the presidential derby any less insane.
Miriam said she had a recent bout of cancer (stage four), but had completely overcome it and was back in the pink of health to wage a strenuous presidential campaign. I wish her all the best. But perhaps just because she and I are next-door neighbors and we ran a purely symbolic presidential campaign against Erap Estrada in 1998, some people ask me not so much about her reported cancer cure, as about her having been previously diagnosed of cancer stage four. Having no knowledge of it, and not having heard of her treatment regime before, I tend to ask myself the same question. Miriam has a unique sense of humor.
But I dare not beg any question. Assuming she is physically and mentally fit to run for the office, does she have the organizational capability to run a serious nationwide campaign? Both Vice President Jejomar Binay of UNA and the LP nominee Mar Roxas have been at work on their respective organizations since 2010. Even the not-so-secret handlers of the constitutionally ineligible Sen. Grace Poe Llamanzares have been at it for some time now. Can Miriam’s Reform Party catch up with her much bigger and better organized competition?
And what about the money? Will the tycoons who are said to be pulling out of the imperilled Llamanzares campaign redirect their contributions to her? This appears to be one of the hopeful calculations. But it is at best a gamble.
Miriam, being an Ilonggo, with a more formidable impact upon her region, will likely draw more votes away from Roxas, who is from Capiz, than from the Batangueno-Ibanag Jojo Binay. This is an unacceptable risk to the LP standard-bearer in an honest election. Therefore, this increases the chances of a thoroughly rigged election. How will she deal with a repeat of the 2010 and 2013 elections? Or of the 1992 presidential elections, which she seems to believe until now that she had actually won?
A friendly analyst doubts that Miriam’s entry into the race could change “the predetermined results” of the “hocus PCOS,” but it would make the campaign, especially if there were presidential debates, so much more entertaining.
Still the real insanity comes from Davao. After months of threatening to run and announcing he’s not running because of health and family reasons—-his family, according to him, was completely opposed to his running—-,Duterte was finally reported to have decided to run, and may have in fact filed his certificate of candidacy after this column tried to fulfil a much earlier noon deadline.
Several weeks ago, I met Carlos “Sonny” Dominguez III at the Manila Polo Club at Joey Leviste’s book launch of his anthology on Lee Kuan Yew, and discussed the real story on “Digong.” This was after Duterte had said he was not running, and I wanted to hear from Sonny the real score. Sonny is Duterte’s old friend and one of his original financial backers. He confirmed everything I had heard till then, and threw in one story to prove the mayor wasn’t running.
He said that several days ago he had asked a friend to donate to Duterte’s campaign, and his friend said Duterte could call anytime and he would hand over his donation. Sonny reported this to Duterte, but the mayor reportedly told him not to bother the potential donor anymore because he wasn’t running.
After ignoring public pressure from certain groups—-including one sizeable rally at Rizal Park—-Duterte reportedly finally caved in after his daughter Sarah, who had reportedly been vehemently against his running, shaved her head bald to compel him to run. This was the report I received yesterday from friends in Davao.
I have never met Sarah, who reportedly wants to replace her father as mayor. But if I had the chance to talk her out of it, I would probably have advised her to consider the less costly example of Lady Godiva, the 11th century noblewoman who rode a horse through the market square covered only by her long tresses, to compel her husband, the Lord of Coventry, to lessen the tax burden on his subjects. Sarah would have simply let her hair down, instead of having it shaven altogether. It might have created bigger headlines than the Playgirls’ sexy dancing at the LP’s Laguna meeting.
In a more intense setting, if the lady were Buddhist, some people might have suggested that she turn herself into a torch, as some women did during the time of Madame Nhu in Vietnam, just to drive home a point. But this is alien to our culture. The future mayor of Davao needs to become the mayor of Davao.
But didn’t poor Sarah actually immolate herself just by shaving her head? Did she not throw herself politically into a burning pit where utter madness reigns? It is not Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace, all right, but it is a burning pit nonetheless. Some Davaoenos may swoon over a bald lady city chief executive, but wouldn’t a good number of them suspect the lady has cracked up, and may no longer be fit for the office she has previously held?
Of course the bigger problem belongs to her father, the good mayor. Now that he has decided to run for president (if indeed he has), the nation will be looking at him and listening to him ever more closely, if only to see if he is bringing anything substantial into the presidential race, aside from his undisguised threat to provide a final solution to every problem that comes along, which has so impressed the impressionable.
He has to come down from his perch, and tell all those who have been awed by his previous declarations (that he would bring in a federal system and a parliamentary government) that no president can do this even with the best of intentions, simply because it is not within his power. These are fundamental changes that require a rewriting of the Constitution, and this can be done only at the instance of Congress and the Filipino people, and never by the president, whatever support he has won from the people.
Duterte must promise the voters, if he must promise them anything at all, only what he has the power to do under the Constitution. He must tell the voters to expect from him or from anybody else only that which is constitutionally doable. As well as that, he will have to make sure that whatever policies or programs he will have to offer to our long suffering people will be at least worth the loss of Sarah’s hair.
Traveler’s woes. Cebu Pacific sucks, Zest Air is a surprise
Ever since I wrote in this space about my wretched experience with Cebu Pacific, and stopped flying CebuPac, I have been bombarded with all sorts of horror stories about that airline. People like BizNews Asia publisher Tony Lopez have shared with me their own experiences which I intend to put together in a full-length article soon… Meanwhile, on my last trip to Cebu a week ago, I took Air Asia Zest from the old domestic airport (Terminal 4), and surprise of surprises, the airport was clean and well-lit, the crew was efficient and hospitable, the captain spoke very good English and kept the passengers updated on the flight all throughout, and we landed in Cebu 36 minutes ahead of schedule. It was a kind of culture shock, having gotten so used to delayed departures and arrivals.
But that’s all the good news for now. The nightmare continues. A good friend who flew Philippine Airlines with his wife from Manila to New York on August 20 had a nearly unbearable experience. This was PR 126, which left Manila at 11:45 pm. Two hours before landing in Vancouver for its only technical stop, the captain announced having received a report from the Vancouver airport that a bomb had been planted on board the plane and that it was necessary for the crew to examine every hand-carried luggage of the passengers. And they did. It was the most awful display of incompetence my friend ever saw in his whole life. The panic was written all over the faces not only of the women and children on board. Upon inquiry, my friend was told that the captain had cleared his “procedure” with Mr. Bautista, the PAL president in Manila.
This was really unheard of. In the first 747 emergency landing in history, which I had earlier written about, the captain brought the aircraft to the ground in Bangor, Maine in three minutes without any announcement. Only after the plane had touched the ground and come to a full stop did the captain say, “This is an emergency, start evacuation.” My wife and I were on that plane. Only eight hours later, when a new Panam 747 ferried all of us to New York, did we learn that the pilot had received a call in midair saying a bomb had been planted on board and that it was supposed to go off in ten minutes. The captain and the crew handled the situation with such professional competence that there was no panic whatsoever among the passengers.
On another occasion, when I was in the Cabinet, my wife and I were invited by the Indonesian ambassador to join him in a fashion show featuring the world-famous Indonesian batik designer Irwan Tirta. As the show was about to begin, the organizers received a telephoned message saying a bomb had been planted under the ramp. The message was passed on to me, and I quickly shared it with the ambassador, who was the host. But the ambassador said I was the highest Philippine official present, so I had to assume responsibility for clearing up the place.
My wife was at the other end of the stage, and I could not even tell her to get out. So I grabbed the microphone, and asked the audience politely but firmly to vacate the room as orderly and as quickly as possible to allow us “to make certain adjustments with the stage.” The crowd did as requested, the anti-bomb squad arrived and swept the place. No bomb was found, but there was no panic.
The PAL incident is rather unprecedented. The emotional injury suffered by the passenger is heard to ascertain, but the captain and the PAL president who authorized his unusual conduct should be made to account for it.