Saturday, November 14, 2009

Chiz soufflé?

The press was quite exhuberant in saying that Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero “rearranged the political landscape” when he bolted the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) on the day he was to proclaim his presidential bid under that party, said a mouthful about political parties, and left his supporters clueless on his next move as a once-declared presidential aspirant for 2010.

Indeed, he would have done so had he declared himself an independent candidate after leaving his party. But he stopped halfway. As things stand, Chiz’s bold move altered the political landscape only to the extent that a crumbling cheese soufflé disfigures itself without affecting anybody else except the person who has to eat it.

Thanks largely to media’s apparent fascination with him, one news headline screamed, “Chiz junks NPC, Danding” instead of the other way around. Clearly it was the NPC and its founder Danding Cojuangco who had spurned Chiz when they rejected his bid, or decided not to field a presidential candidate at all.

Chiz ought to have foreseen the perils of campaigning for votes outside his party long before the party had formally decided to field him as its candidate. Of course, he was not alone in that egregious course; as a rule, our presidential and even vice-presidential wannabes nominate themselves instead of allowing themselves to be nominated by others. But unlike the others, Chiz did not own nor control his party.

Neither did he exert enough effort to make his party play by the rules. For instance, in 2007, it did not matter to him that while he, Loren Legarda, Sonny Osmeña and Nikki Coseteng were running as NPC candidates on the Genuine Opposition (GO) senatorial ticket, two other NPC members---Tessie Aquino Oreta and Tito Sotto---were running on the administration’s Team Unity (TU) slate.

A more sensitive partymember would have protested that arrangement, which threw away all party rules. He could have resigned from the party then, and it would have been a principled move. But none of those involved in that farce did or said anything about it. In a sense, Chiz’s party resignation was one election too late.

Chiz might have assumed that given his impressive and costly performance in that---his first----senatorial election (he got 18 million out of close to 40 million votes), sustained temporarily by some superficial surveys, he had become ripe for the highest office, and that his party would simply have to concede his point. But he had assumed wrongly, it turns out.

Topping one or several senatorial elections has never guaranteed winning the presidency or even being picked as a party’s official candidate. Look at Jovy Salonga. Before our voters started putting all sorts of jokers in the Senate, Salonga habitually topped the senatorial polls. But when he finally ran for president as “Mr. Incorruptible,” he ended behind Imelda Marcos, who merely took a tourist bus to shake a few hands here and there, without ever making a single serious campaign speech.

Look also at Sen. Mar Roxas. Since his first Senate run under President Arroyo in 2001, he had been preparing to become president. Even his recent marriage was said to have been originally intended to improve his chances. But everything that could go wrong has gone wrong, and he is now running simply as Noynoy Aquino’s teammate.

Chiz might have believed that just because the youth of the country outnumber their elders, his youthfulness was enough to propel him to the highest office. Indeed, many seemed convinced that his ability to say everything every young person likes to hear on any given issue gave him a decisive edge over the others. But many find his record a bit too thin for the office.

The presidency demands some maturity and experience. Chiz has every right to mature under stress in order to become the most suitable material for president. Unhappily, his test came last week, and he found himself in what chess players call a zugzwang---an untenable situation where one has no choice but to make a bad move. He ended saying things no one with half his brains would have said to a political science class for pinheads.

“I am leaving my party because I believe that I can fulfill the role that I am bound to play in connection with the coming elections…not as a member of any party or a companion of any person, but as just me….” One’s political party should be the party of all Filipinos, and one’s party mates should be all Filipinos.

This is arrant nonsense. It is not the same as Manuel L. Quezon’s oft-quoted, “My party ends where my country begins.” In an electoral democracy, the party answers to the people for the kind of men and women it runs for public office. To insist that no party should be owned by any one individual and function like a basketball team is to insist on educating the politicians and the electorate alike. But to suggest that parties as a rule are a negative influence upon government and should be discarded is to replace centuries of political theory and praxis with a demagogue’s conceit. All of us are capable of making the most outlandish mistakes, but no one of Chiz Escudero’s promise deserves to make that mistake.

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