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State of the opposition

Recent birthday boy Joseph Estrada is warning that the opposition must field a common standard-bearer in 2010, or else…

Pangasinan Rep. Jose de Venecia Jr., now in a political limbo, says moves are afoot to create a grand opposition coalition.

Other opposition personalities are talking about the need to unite behind a common candidate to ensure the defeat of the administration’s standard bearer.

And yet the image that comes to mind amid all the platitudes about unity is that of Sen. Manny Villar, fulminating about the “kangaroo court” of presidential aspirants at the Senate, particularly its ethics committee, which is headed by another opposition senator, Panfilo Lacson.

Why, Villar demanded with indignation, didn’t the Senate investigate murder and the BW stock manipulation scandal instead? That shot was aimed, of course, at Lacson, who is being accused of ordering the kidnapping and murder of publicist Salvador “Bubby” Dacer and his driver Emmanuel Corbito in 2000, and of receiving 300,000 BW shares from company owner Dante Tan himself, as allegedly confirmed by a stock broker.

The last time the nation saw Villar become as agitated, though in a different way, was when he was the speaker of the House of Representatives and he managed to outmaneuver those against the impeachment of then President Erap, sending the impeachment complaint to the Senate.

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That bit of not-too-distant history could be another thorn in efforts to unite the opposition, although people who have known Erap for a long time swear that he knows how to forgive and forget. But those people also cannot say the same about Erap’s sons.

Villar’s lament about his potential 2010 rivals in the Senate is not entirely baseless. He is, after all, the only 2010 aspirant posing a serious challenge so far to Vice President Noli de Castro’s hold on the top spot in surveys of voter preferences for president. And unlike “Kabayan,” Villar has a political party that made up its mind long ago to field him in 2010.

That party machinery is well-oiled and already busy preparing for the campaign. Villar is all over mass media, selling his message of sipag at tiyaga, diligence and patience, the virtues that allowed him to rise from poverty to where he is now.

It’s an upbeat message – the opposite of the negative campaigning that is preferred by many Filipino politicians. Mudslinging is probably more fun. Or there must be a study somewhere showing that given a choice between Candidate A who says don’t vote for my rival Candidate B because he’s evil, and Candidate B who says vote for me because I have all these qualities and more, the Filipino voter will go for A.

But this is negated by the consistently high ratings of De Castro, who avoids picking fights with anyone, and the consistently middling ratings of Lacson.

Ratings will not change Lacson’s style, and at this point any reconciliation between him and Villar in the name of opposition unity looks unlikely.

Lacson was also blamed by the camp of the late Fernando Poe Jr. and his bosom buddy Erap for splitting the opposition vote in 2004.

This time other personalities and factors are making opposition unity in time for 2010 look hopeless.

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Apart from Villar and Lacson, there’s Erap himself. If we are to believe the buzz from different camps, he has been promising his support for either the presidency or the vice presidency to several individuals.

But the person Erap really wants as standard bearer in 2010 is… Erap. You can smell the yearning a mile away. He thinks “President Erap, the Sequel” will truly be the greatest performance of his life, after the original failed to live up to his promise and bombed at the box office. Re-election will be his full vindication, and never mind if the Supreme Court dares to strike down his victory. Then he will hand over the reins of power to his lucky vice president.

Erap has said he would give opposition parties until June to unite and pick a common candidate. If the effort fails, Erap warned, then he himself would run.

Threats aren’t the best way to bring warring parties together for unity. By this time at least two aspirants are already too deep into their presidential plans to give way to someone else: Villar and Sen. Mar Roxas. But perhaps a miracle will happen by June and a common opposition candidate will emerge.

There are Filipinos who are hoping for a miracle so a candidate who is neither allied with the administration nor Erap and the mainstream opposition will emerge victorious in the 2010 presidential race.

Such a candidate is sure to have no major party or political machinery and will truly need a miracle to win. Or else if the candidate’s campaign gains unusual traction, he or she could end up being supported anyway by the mainstream opposition.

The 2004 general elections showed that this administration has the best chance of winning or stealing the presidency in a multi-cornered fight. That edge would be stronger if the administration truly picks De Castro as its standard bearer, though there are those who doubt that the Macapagals and Arroyos will ever trust someone seen as a creation of their arch-enemy the Lopez clan.

The talk is that Malacañang’s true candidate will be the standard bearer of Eduardo Cojuangco’s Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), reportedly Sen. Chiz Escudero. That leaves out the businessman’s nephew, Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro, who is currently at odds with another presidential aspirant, Sen. Richard Gordon. So far another administration aspirant, Chairman Bayani Fernando of the Metro Manila Development Authority, has managed to stay out of fights.

Escudero is supposed to be with the opposition. Apart from him, Sen. Loren Legarda of the NPC and Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay are also eyeing the presidency.

Those are too many names, and time is running out for unity. If all the opposition aspirants allow personal ambition to get in the way as usual, it will again work in favor of the administration candidate.

The way things are shaping up, all that the administration has to do is wait for the opposition aspirants to neutralize each other.

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