FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

Our politicians are behind schedule.

With less than three months before the deadline for filing of candidacies, every political faction seems unprepared for electoral battle. Every potential standard bearer seems reluctant to run. Every political organization seems as disorganized as ever.

Spokesmen for Leni Robredo and Sara Duterte have both declared their principals would decide by October. This tells us nothing – which is the expertise of spokesmen. If neither decides by Oct. 8, then the deadline would make the decision for them.

Meanwhile, a battalion of politicians preparing for their respective senatorial runs is getting antsy. They need to firm up their own alliances with potential presidential candidates. Time is running short.

Five national political parties (or the shells of them) have declared their alliance with Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HNP), a coalition of local parties put together by Sara Duterte. The reiteration of alliances is often interpreted as a pledge of support for the sitting Davao City mayor. In fact, it is a way for the national parties to secure allotments in the senatorial slate of what is emerging as the main hub of political horse-trading. None of these so-called “national parties” – fossils of previous presidential campaigns – is in a position to field a full slate of candidates.

Significantly, the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) – under whose banner Danding Cojuangco sought the presidency in 1992 – did not join the mad rush to align with the HNP. Ping Lacson and Tito Sotto are believed to be preparing to use this party vehicle for their presidential and vice presidential bids. The tandem began touring the country supposedly to consult with local officials. This is the only pre-campaign activity on record.

Meanwhile, nothing seems to be happening in the Robredo camp. When her allies said they were going to wait for her to make a decision, they meant it literally. They are sitting around doing nothing.

Idleness could be costly later on. Not only are they not building up any momentum for a nationwide campaign, they are in danger of losing potential allies for rival groups that have begun actively building their networks. For instance, senatorial potentials could drift to other party tickets along with candidates aspiring for local positions.

Should Leni finally decide to seek the presidency, it might be too late to build a nationwide coalition to back that candidacy. Remember that many powerbrokers now occupying local executive posts are affiliated with the various local government leagues where HNP operatives have been busy networking since 2019. They are also busy mustering the traditional funders.

If it is any consolation for the LP, the situation in the Robredo camp is not half as bad as the situation in the PDP-Laban.

PDP-Laban is, in theory, the “ruling party” – but only because it is the party of the incumbent president. Later this month, when this party convenes its national council and national assembly meetings, it will likely split.

Out of necessity, it is necessary for the PDP-Laban to purge Manny Pacquiao from its ranks. The ambitious boxing icon has been a pain for the party, moving outside the realm of party discipline and initiating a lonely campaign for the presidency by attacking the incumbent.

We are not sure how many PDP-Laban members will bolt the party and join Pacquiao when the inevitable happens. But the “ruling” party’s façade of invincibility will be cracked.

The PDP-Laban has been negligent in cultivating a new generation of leaders who will provide this nation statesmanship. That failure now forces the “ruling” party into the extremely odd position of endorsing Rodrigo Roa Duterte for vice president in the next electoral round, leaving it up to him to choose the head of the party ticket.

This has to be a distraction to buy the party enough time to wait for alliances to settle and coming in edgewise into the emerging configuration. In the meantime, the bizarre trial balloon keeps the other players distracted, wondering aloud if this strategy is constitutional at all.

Fielding Rodrigo Duterte as candidate for vice president is, to be sure, a clear signal the “ruling” party has too many hangers-on and too few leaders.

The elder Duterte does enjoy the highest job approval ratings of any Filipino president even late into his term and with all the perils of a pandemic. It is not clear if those approval ratings will elect the next president.

The delay in forming up alliances and offering party platforms is caused by many factors.

It used to be that local politicians depended on the national-level parties for funding their own campaigns. That is no longer true. The traditional sources of campaign financing have dried up. Business blocs no longer need to invest in elections to win policies favorable to their enterprises. The reform policies of the past so many years, aiming to achieve a more market-disciplined and more competitive economy, killed off the traditional motivation for electoral financiers.

Local governments, with their enhanced share of revenues, have become more independent power bases. This explains the comparative strength (and independence) of local parties vis-à-vis the national formations.

The traditional ideologies that provided unifying ground for broad coalitions have withered on the vine. This explains why post-electoral coalitions among compact parties have become the trend.

Finally, no one is really sure how the dynamics of electoral politics will change in conditions defined by the pandemic. Digital communications, to be sure, will play a larger role. But we are not sure if the new digital terrain will enhance consensus or fragment opinion.

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