Political hardball

LODESTAR - Danton Remoto (The Philippine Star) - July 13, 2019 - 12:00am

Like four billiard balls of ivory on felt paper, some names are now being floated for the seemingly faraway presidential elections of May 2022. But three years isn’t that long, since it takes years to prepare for a difficult presidential run.

The name of newly minted Manila Mayor Isko Moreno easily dominated the news cycle in the last fortnight. He has barely warmed his seat when he fired off a series of directives – complete with on-site inspection covered by Facebook Live and trimedia – to clean the Philippine capital.

For years I used to travel around Manila, as a journalist and later as dean and acting president of The Manila Times College in Intramuros. When the car was not available, I would take public transport on my way to TV5 in Mandaluyong City, for my daily radio-TV show called “Remoto Control.” The moment the jeepney stopped in Quiapo I would hold my breath and keep my bag close to my chest. A cumulus of dirty air always floated over the place; don’t look down because the ground was as stick as the air strangling you.

So the mayor, who used to be a movie star with what he called “moderate” success, swept Plaza Miranda clean, cleared Divisoria of street hawkers, and reassigned police chiefs who turned the monuments of Alfonso Ongpin and Andres Bonifacio into shit holes. Every single word and gesture, was caught on camera, shown and broadcast on trimedia – and posted in social media.

I applaud all these efforts and wish the good mayor well. I have caught him several times on TV interviews when I was still living in the Philippines and he struck me as articulate and sincere. Kibitzers may cavil at his English accent (“Even my kids make fun the way I pronounced Rolls Royce,” he told Boy Abunda in an interview), but he knows the advocacies of the 21st century: environmental protection, heritage conservation, and anti-corruption (that one is eternal). Trust perhaps his education at the National College of Public Administration and Governance at UP Diliman, Kennedy School at Harvard University, and Said Executive Programme at Oxford University. Trust, also, his keen awareness of what tickles the Manileno: clean streets, clean air, clean City Hall.

Sara Duterte is quietly working behind the scenes, like fire burning low after raging aflame in the senatorial campaign of 2019. She was quoted to have said that oh, it’s so hard to campaign on a national stage, where people are more stubborn, unlike in small Davao where, um, every one is compliant. But she is building sectoral alliances quietly, amongst them alliances in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. A fortnight ago, Filipinos woke up to the sight of 72,000 people attending a massive LGBT+ Pride March rally in Marikina City – the biggest gathering ever in Southeast Asia. We used to have Pride Marches whose attendance reached 3,000, but the last one was simply astounding.

What I said ages ago have happened. If the LGBT+ issues become fashionable, then people would come, media would cover – and politicians would hover. Kudos then to the organizers of this successful Pride March but there were also minor ticks along the way. Not everyone was able to come inside the parade grounds at Marikina, and why on earth did the Marikina local government require marchers to buy only one brand of bottled water and confiscated the bottles they were carrying? If that brand helped sponsor the Pride March, thank you, but then why require everyone to buy it? I’m not sure if Mayor Marcy Teodoro knows about this gaffe.

Money then and now is always an issue in political campaigns. And from the looks of it, Senator Cynthia Villar is poised to run for the position that her husband, Senator Manny Villar, failed to win in 2010. She topped the senatorial election in 2019, a come-from-behind win over her victory in the 2013 elections. She is rich and projects the image of a competent business woman with a degree from UP Diliman, and she is into the environment as well. Remember her campaign to save the swamps of Las Pinas, since migratory birds stop there and feed before they fly down south in winter? Well, I hope you remember.

Senator Grace Poe might run for president again, after losing in the 2016 elections. The history of elections in this country is not too kind on people who have lost in the previous elections where they ran for the same positions – Senators Raul Roco and Miriam Defensor Santiago for President, Senator Loren Legarda for Vice-President. But we will never know, since Senator Poe still has a huge following partly from the name of her legendary father, and still projects a fresh-faced image in national politics.

Lastly, Vice-President Leni Robredo is the fourth billiard ball on today’s colorful table. The first time I met he was when she was a guest at TV5, which used to be located in Novaliches, Quezon City. She stood up when she saw me and we spoke in Bikol. She said that her late husband, Mayor Jesse, spoke highly of me and she was glad we finally met. I told her I always teased the late Naga City Mayor that I did not want to ride in his car from the airport.

“This new van is picking me up from the airport to my hotel and you want me to ride in your old Nissan Maxima?” Leni Robredo would just laugh. I I was in Naga City to meet LGBT leaders and judge the Miss Gay Bicolandia beauty pageant, where Jessie Robredo always gave the inspirational address.

On a stage thronged with 50,000 people, the late mayor spoke of a day when Filipinos would have a roof over their head, food on their table, and children happy in school. It is every patriot’s dream, and God knows I hope we will have someone like that down the road to 2022.

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Comments can be sent to danton.lodestar@gmail.com

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