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The election circus is in town

EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales (The Philippine Star) - June 21, 2021 - 12:00am

It’s a little late because of the killer virus, but it’s here now and it’s all over town. Old faces, same names, newbies, and the usual turncoats have joined the circus.

Some were spotted in snaking S-shaped dining tables supposedly with Ecuadorian roses as centerpiece and Baccarat crystals glistening under Czech-made chandeliers.

There’s no doubt the wild rumpus has started and personalities – from boxing champs to noontime show comedians-turned-politicians, to sons of kingmakers – have hinted at joining the elections.

As with every circus, there’s a wide array of people involved in Philippine elections. The May 2022 edition is no exception – there will be jugglers, contortionists, masters of illusions, etc.

Tycoons

But the crucial figures are those behind the scenes–the owners of the circus themselves, the country’s tycoons and billionaires. Take a closer look and you’ll see them enjoying lavish dinners with politicians and candidates more often these days.

Who will they support? Would there be changes with the way businessmen support presidential aspirants given how the unorthodox Duterte seemed to have changed the quid pro quo game? He vowed to destroy the oligarchs, didn’t he?  What does this mean now for oligarchs who were “destroyed” or who had a hard time during the past five years?

Post COVID-19 campaign

One thing that will not change is the fact that politicians will continue to need money for their campaigns, and they usually get this from businessmen.

A presidential aspirant would need at least P1 billion; a vice-presidential candidate would need around P500 million, and for a senatorial candidate, P300 million.

Campaign support from tycoons and billionaires can go up to P75 million for just one presidential candidate.

No candidate could possibly win without the support of the billionaires. A candidate needs transportation logistics – choppers and private jets – and only tycoons can really provide that.

Food for the campaign trail and other sorties are usually donated, too, as well as the campaign materials. Some traditional tycoons are known as donors in kind, meaning they only donate their products and rarely give cash.

But for most of our billionaires, the support is in the form of cash. Cash, after all, is king and, if they want to stay as tycoon-kingmakers, that’s what they need to shell out.

Cheaper

Campaigns may be cheaper now given that face-to-face sorties will be reduced significantly because of the pandemic. Advertising costs will also drastically go down because ABS-CBN is no longer part of the equation – unless a miracle happens before the elections.

But a nationwide campaign would still need a lot of money.

Don’t be surprised if some politicians join the election bandwagon if only to “earn” from the campaign, as some have done in past elections.

Political parties

Tycoon-kingmakers have also quietly, yet consistently supported political parties.

There’s the Nationalist People’s Coalition, for instance, founded in 1992 by the late Eduardo “ECJ” Cojuangco Jr., then a presidential candidate. Now, tycoon Ramon “RSA” Ang, whom the late kingmaker regarded as his own son, supports the NPC, some members of which even want RSA to run for president next year.

But Ang said this was a “demotion” and vowed to stay away from politics. He also said he would not be endorsing any presidential candidate because all of them are his friends.

“If I endorse one, it would not be fair to the others,” he said in April.

Instead, he said, he would continue to support the country in whatever way he can, urging his fellow tycoons to do the same.

As for the country’s richest Filipino on the Forbes’ list, Manny “MBV” Villar, Jr., who heads the Nacionalista Party, he will continue to place his bet on Duterte.

“We believe in the Duterte camp,” MBV told me last week in a rare interview. His son Mark is Duterte’s public works secretary.

Another tycoon with links to a political party is ports tycoon Enrique Razon, who is a known supporter of the National Unity Party, among the parties with the biggest memberships in Congress – 57 members now from just 25 during the last elections.

COVID-19 will definitely change the campaign trail, but I’m not sure if the tycoons will be more discerning in choosing the candidates they support. Many of them got so frustrated with Duterte’s unorthodox style and the administration’s handling of the pandemic.

But at the end of the day, they will need support for the survival of their respective empires, especially in post COVID-19 Philippines.

This means they need business-friendly regulations and more regulatory leeway for their companies that are still struggling to recover. I’m sure some of them would want to extend the concessions provided by the Bayanihan Laws and they would need a supportive Congress for that.

For sure, the relationship between business and politics in the Philippines will still be as perfectly mixed as the famed halo-halo, the all-time Filipino ice-cold summer dessert.

Lines are blurred and one can’t tell one from the other. Politics is big business and business is always involved in politics.

And they who own the circus will always be the real kings.

 

 

Iris Gonzales’ email address is eyesgonzales@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at eyesgonzales.com

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