FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - February 21, 2019 - 12:00am

Of course, Sara Duterte-Carpio is on the list of possible contenders for the 2022 presidential elections. At the moment, in fact, she is the only one on this privileged list.

In the space of less than a year, Sara’s political standing zoomed up quickly. She is no longer seen as a local executive. She has become a national political force.

We do not know if she plotted that spectacular rise from her Davao redoubt. But her moves were precise, innovative and devastating.

It all began when she tangled with former House speaker Pantaleon Alvarez after the latter described her effort to build a regional party as a form of betrayal against the ruling PDP-Laban. Then Alvarez was quoted in a local paper boasting he had the power to impeach President Rodrigo Duterte.

Sara not only hit back at those remarks, she helped the diverse factions in the House to get together and oust Alvarez. The erstwhile imperious leader of the House was summarily deposed. None of the power and pelf he loved to tout was a match for the woman scorned.

We knew of Sara a few years back when television footage showed the lady mayor punching a local sheriff who implemented a demolition order she asked to be put on hold. We were all startled by the audacity of it all. If her father had built a reputation for toughness on the job, she showed us all she could be even better.

Even President Duterte finds every occasion to mention that there is only one person who manages to intimidate him: his daughter.

We next noticed Sara after she publicly argued with her father, trying to dissuade him from seeking the presidency. She complained that he did not have the organization or the funds for such an adventure. But when ardent Duterte supporters shave their heads to convince him to run, Sara shaved her head as well.

She clearly has her father’s genes. As a political personality, she is tough and colorful in equal parts. But she is easier on the eye and articulate enough to avoid resorting to cuss words to convey her thoughts.

After the uprising at the House of Representatives, Sara went about formalizing the alliances that formed for that enterprise. She had been building Hugpong ng Pagbabago as a “regional party.” But that organization has become a springboard to reach out and forge alliances with other regional groups.

That was a prescient move. As national parties decline, local political organizations become more effective. Local parties are often anchored on entrenched political clans. They are simultaneously a blast from the past as well as the wind of the future.

For the midterm elections, Hugpong ng Pagbabago is more than just a “regional party.” It is the core of a potent alliance of local parties stretching from Northern Luzon to Southern Mindanao.

While the “ruling party” PDP-Laban could not muster enough candidates to compose a full senatorial slate, Hugpong is fielding 13 candidates for 12 senatorial seats at stake. Until Harry Roque pulled out his candidacy because of health issues, Hugpong had 14 candidates for 12 seats.

I am not sure how Sara worked out the arithmetic to decide on fielding more than a full slate of senatorial aspirants. What is clear is that the flexibility enabled Sara’s “regional party” to string together a potent national network composed of a score of local/national parties.

Most, if not all, of the parties allied with Hugpong will dominate the forthcoming local elections. These parties are, after all, formed around dominant political clans that exercise effective control over the areas they encompass.

There are a few areas where rival factions both belong to the Hugpong alliance. Effectively, Hugpong adds to its ranks regardless of whoever wins in local contests.

Hugpong is not as hamstrung as a “ruling political party” would be. It need not settle local disputes. It need not pledge candidates to a single political platform. By being shapeless and formless, this alliance manages to include everybody.

No one else but Sara could put together a coalition as broad as this one, working independent of her father but surely under the aegis of his immense popularity. No one else but Sara could benefit from the only effective nationwide alliance there is.

Observe the news coverage of the Hugpong provincial sorties. At nearly every instance, a huge tarp provides the backdrop for the senatorial aspirants. In those tarps, the likeness of Sara Duterte looms larger than any other candidate.

She also attracts more attention than any other candidate. After the Ilocos Norte sortie, Sara boarded her big bike and motored all the way to Isabela province for the next rally. This is really her campaign.

She has taken to campaign trail with much enthusiasm and much energy. She is the eye of the political storm that will define the course of our electoral politics not only for the midterm elections but, more important, for the crucial presidential elections of 2022.

Sara says she will decide on a presidential run in January 2021. That was the lead chosen by most media coverage of what she said.

The real story, however, is that she did not deny the possibility of seeking the highest elective post of the land. If her father’s popularity holds, and with the political alliance she has formed, the 2022 presidential race is hers to lose. There is no other rising political star on the horizon.

Sara is smart as she is determined.

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