‘What if we win?’

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Sen. Panfilo Lacson asked themselves that question as they pondered the possibility of teaming up for the May 2022 elections.

“Papano kung manalo tayo?” What if we win? Lacson told us on One News’ “The Chiefs” last Wednesday, as he narrated his discussions with “Tito Sen,” who seems bent on seeking the vice presidency.

Lacson then enumerated some of the serious problems faced by the country, which the next administration will inherit, starting with a precarious fiscal situation.

It was an impressive display of knowledge of detailed data that can be expected only from someone who is seriously considering a presidential run, but is still, in his words, seeking “discernment.”

Tito Sen has been pushing Lacson to agree to be the standard bearer. As of last Wednesday night, however, Lacson genuinely seemed to be undecided. Besides noting that people could misconstrue preoccupation with politics at this time when COVID continues to devastate lives and livelihoods, he says he is assessing if he’s up to the challenge of leading a country in economic and financial dire straits.

Apart from a total debt stock that hit P10.99 trillion last April, a Supreme Court ruling substantially increasing the share of local government units in national revenue could further tie the hands of Malacañang in carrying out key projects, Lacson points out.

On the other hand, with his promise to lead by example in curbing corruption, he thinks fiscal discipline will be easier and governance can improve.

*      *      *

Like nearly all the names being mentioned as possible candidates for president or vice president, Lacson knows the perils of announcing one’s plans too early.

Apart from Tito Sen pushing him to run for president, Lacson told us that two persons have asked him to consider running as their vice presidential teammate.

Lacson revealed that one is Sen. Manny Pacquiao, who at this point seems to be the only person who has already made up his mind to seek the presidency. Pacquiao’s verbal bout with President Duterte is boosting his profile.

The other person Lacson declined to name. But the only other member of the Senate who at this point seems to be seriously considering a stab at the presidency is Richard Gordon, and he has been reported to be scouting for a running mate.

A Gordon-Lacson tandem would go against the tradition of pairing candidates from Luzon and either the Visayas or Mindanao. Lacson wonders if regionalism still runs deep in the country; my sense is it still does.

Tito Sen has his roots in Cebu City while Lacson is a native of Cavite. Both see themselves as neither opposition nor administration.

At this point, what is clear is Lacson will never be part of the opposition coalition 1Sambayan. He admitted to us that he “took offense” over retired Justice Antonio Carpio’s public statement that 1Sambayan cannot support as standard bearer a principal author of the Anti-Terrorism Act.

Both Lacson and Sotto are firm believers in that law, which Carpio and many of the groups behind 1Sambayan are challenging before the Supreme Court.

Rubbing salt on the wound, Lacson said, was 1Sambayan’s reconsideration of excluding him, and then saying he could only be part of its Senate slate.

So 1Sambayan is out of Lacson’s plans. The coalition appears set on fielding Vice President Leni Robredo, who has yet to make up her mind on her 2022 plans, and whose Liberal Party isn’t part of the coalition either.

*      *      *

Lacson isn’t a member of Sotto’s Nationalist People’s Coalition. If Lacson joins the NPC, it would be a good indication that he has decided to join the presidential race.

If he does, he’s hoping that the 2022 campaign discourse will be elevated to issues rather than personalities. Sotto had previously told us on The Chiefs that in case their tandem won, he would be the one to tackle the drug problem, through a holistic approach rather than an inordinate focus on brutal law enforcement. Lacson, meanwhile, would give priority to fighting corruption. He apparently believes, like Noynoy Aquino, that if there is no corruption, there would be no poverty: kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap.

But the path to clean governance is a treacherous one littered with minefields.

Lacson had a foretaste of how complicated his advocacy can be after repeating to us how during the previous Congress, he and Sotto had turned down money (reportedly an eight-digit amount) sent to Tito Sen’s office by a congressman in behalf of a company seeking a legislative franchise.

Lacson did not name names. He said they sent back the money, but just to make sure it would be returned, he got in touch with the company president, whom he knows personally. Embarrassed, the president met with him to explain that the company had outsourced the lobbying.

When reminded that the offer constituted bribery and they should have initiated the investigation and indictment of the briber, Lacson said the offer was coursed through third parties.

*      *      *

Failure to report a bribe attempt could be constituted as an act of omission that can warrant a criminal indictment.

As far as I can tell, however, eschewing reporting of bribe attempts is the more common reaction to such offers in this country, especially among lawmakers who deal regularly with lobbyists. The lack of a law regulating lobbying (and campaign finance, for that matter) puts such acts in a gray area.

Lacson and Sotto can only take pride in narrating how they returned the lobby money, to illustrate how they intend to lead by example in case they run and win.

While there are questions on the proper way of dealing with lobbying and bribery, Lacson’s track record since his days as a cop gives his advocacy against corruption more sincerity than someone who idolizes Ferdinand Marcos and counts Imelda Marcos – who gave rise to the word kleptocracy – as a staunch ally.

Lacson might yet find the challenge of the presidency daunting, and decide against running. Whatever he decides, let’s hope other presidential wannabes and their prospective running mates are seriously asking themselves the same question: what if we win?

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