Ready on Day 1

THE bold move of Sen. Panfilo "Ping" Lacson and Senate President Vicente "Tito" Sotto 3rd to declare candidacy early is a welcome development for we should be able to size up candidates not by sheer soundbites, but by actual platform of governance that tells you where they plan to take this country post-pandemic, and how we will solve the economic problems that come with Covid-19.

We should shy away from so-called candidates who do contrasting by hitting everyone, forgetting the best contrasting strategy is to be ready by Day 1. A candidate with a steep learning curve has no place in presidential politics. But it has often been said nobody is prepared to be president. True, but certainly, there are non-negotiables in presidential governance, and if a candidate does not know, she or he will be run over by a coterie of consultants and technocrats, who may not have the heart of the nation. President Rodrigo Duterte was unprepared, but he certainly knew his priorities and where he wanted to bring the nation.

In the eyes of his critics, he may have failed but with his base and those Filipinos who abjure politics and just want a level playing ground so there is equal opportunity for all, Duterte may have done what no president has pursued.

Lacson-Sotto has baggage, as everyone who has been in politics does. A term in office changes the lens, makes one "dirty," as if the sin of the rest becomes your own. What more a duo who have been in the public eye for decades. And this tandem is uniquely positioned as being strong on public order and anti-drugs, two drivers of the Duterte administration that pulls the rug under the anointed one, if ever there will be. Lacson is also anti-pork and has annually questioned this practice whether in line items or insertions in the General Appropriations Act. Of late, as Senate President, Sotto has also raised the red flag after every bicameral on the budget. Potentially cornering the anti-corruption part of the debate.

Lacson hails from Cavite (hence Tagalog and part of the biggest region, Region 4A), the biggest province in the country in terms of registered voters, and headed the Philippine National Police (PNP) in Region 7 (Central Visayas), while Sotto is a pride of Quezon City (hence, National Capital Region) and Cebu (hence Bisaya). This tandem has a Luzon-Visayas flavor and can be considered the elder statesmen among the names said to be running in 2022. The latter is afraid of the mudslinging VP Binay experienced, but this duo shows a lot of maturity and audacity.

Lacson was PNP Recom director of Region 7 in 1992, became PNP chief from 1999-2001, ran for president in 2004 and lost, and is currently on his third term in the Senate (from 2001-2013 and 2016-2022). He can actually still seek reelection, but he has been quoted as saying he "would rather retire" than go back to the Senate. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from the Lyceum of the Philippines, belongs to PMA Class '71, got a Masters in Government Management from the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila in 1996 and conferred a Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, on March 17, 2019. Lacson was also regional director of the PNP. His career has been defined by his personal vision: "What is right must be kept right; what is wrong must be set right."

Sotto on the other hand is TV star material but this attribute tends to bury a tradition of service and a lineage in the Senate. His paternal grandfather, his namesake, Vicente Sotto was senator from 1877-1950. The latter's brother, Filemon Sotto, was senator from 1872-1966. "TitoSen", a handle often used by people from the entertainment industry, was vice mayor of Quezon City from 1988 to 1992. He is in his fourth term in the Senate: two consecutives from 1992-2004, reelected in 2010 and 2016. Sotto will be at the end of term by 2022. He was formerly the chairman of the Dangerous Drugs Board from 2008-2009. Sotto was supposed to run as VP to former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, but this did not materialize as Macapagal-Arroyo slid to VP in 1998. Sotto was Liberal Democratic Party then and today he heads the Nationalist People's Coalition (NPC).

The succeeding days have seen how the duo was able to put together several strategies to enable them to make a public announcement by August 4. Both talked to former speaker Pantaleon "Bebot" Alvarez, the new owner of Reporma, then associated with former Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Rene de Villa. Alvarez is from Mindanao. He wiped out the Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HnP) candidates in Davao Norte through unbelievable operations with unknown candidates beating old names. Alvarez was unseated as speaker and replaced by Macapagal-Arroyo through Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio. In that meeting, there was former VP Jejomar Binay who is said to be running for the Senate. And Reporma and NPC are said to be the core parties of a new coalition known as UPA (does not sound good, though), or the United Philippine Alliance. And via Reporma, the Ping-Tito duo landed in Mindanao. Astute moves in consolidation (including the movements of former generals and the like). Step-by-step, the duo seems to be gaining traction. With Binay leading the Senate ticket, I will not be surprised if Sen. Grace Poe is invited to be the campaign manager of UPA because that will be the Fernando Poe Jr. team from 2004. And Mindanao is a solid base for Poe.

The sandboxes are more defined now. Macapagal-Arroyo is with the Davao City mayor as well as Lakas-CMD. PDP-Laban had a change of officers after a national summit headed by the President and is now moving fast in securing local tickets. HnP has loaded tracks with five major national parties seeking a coalition with a regional party. If Emmanuel "Manny" Pacquiao wins his match and he puts order to his team by getting professional people to run his campaign and building a think tank to craft his platform, he will be a strong candidate going into October. And who is the candidate of the Liberal Party? With 1Sambayanan failing to launch, be wary of Trojan horses, they will come. They will look for someone popular enough to get Malacañang and bahala na si Batman.

You want a compromise candidate, positioned to be representing the two divergent positions in politics today, you are getting it wrong. It is not 50-50. Look at what the numbers are saying. Look at the issues, 2022 is not about popularity. It is about capability and winnability.

Whoever wins in May 2022 must be ready on Day 1. Duterte-Carpio and Pacquiao will show gravitas when they choose their VP. Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. will have to decide fast because North-South, or Luzon-Mindanao, is fast closing. All these preliminary moves show to all who appear to be able to knit together a strong coalition at the local, Senate slate and presidential platform definition. Every image or visual move is contributory to a tandem's persona. What works for Ping-Tito is they agreed to be together. They are real world friends and that makes it stronger than the rest who will merely come out of bruised negotiations. Then, there is the Eat Bulaga magic to contend with. The first tandem to declare seems to be doing a good calibration on the ground.


About the Author
Malou Tiqiua is the Founder/General Manager of PUBLiCUS Asia Inc. A noted political management expert in the Philippines and Asia, she brings over 20 years of professional experience in public, private and the academe combined. Author of the comprehensive book on electoral campaigns in the Philippines, "Campaign Politics", Malou is a graduate of the University of the Philippines with a Political Science degree and a Master of Public Administration. She completed her second master's degree (MA in Political Management) from the Graduate School of Political Management, George Washington University.
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