FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

So it won’t be a two-hen race anymore.

Earlier this week, Panfilo Lacson and Tito Sotto confirmed what was probably the worst kept secret in town. They are running in tandem for president and vice president, respectively.

When they began barnstorming earlier this month, under the thin disguise of conducting “consultations,” it was clear they had begun campaigning. The two septuagenarians have jointly embarked on the greatest adventure of their storied lives: a rather wild bid to lead this country.

If we look at the survey numbers, the bid might not look too promising. Lacson, as presidential option, ranked even worse than Leni Robredo in the last Pulse Asia voter preference survey. Leni tallied just over a fifth of Sara Duterte’s numbers. Lacson tallied a third of Leni’s.

But the whole purpose of the campaign period is to alter the early numbers. It appears this maverick duo is determined to muscle through the odds.

The main political vehicle of the Lacson-Sotto campaign will very likely be Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC). Sotto heads this compact but also tightly knit party.

The tandem could probably pull together a decent list of senatorial candidates featuring old and returning faces. These include Chiz Escudero, Loren Legarda, JV Ejercito, Sherwin Gatchalian and Gringo Honasan.

The Lacson-Sotto tandem will formally announce on Aug. 4 – although it is not clear what purpose such an announcement serves since both have been talking about their candidacies already. It is also not clear if a full slate of senatorial candidates will be announced on that date.

Both Lacson and Sotto are not strangers to the rigors and logistical requirements of mounting a campaign for national office. Lacson vied for the presidency in 2004 and some hold him responsible for the loss of main opposition candidate Fernando Poe Jr. Sotto has seen several campaigns for a seat in the Senate.

The importance of having a credible senatorial ticket cannot be understated. A presidential candidate running without a complement of senatorial wannabes will have difficulty being taken seriously by the voters.

The emergence of a Lacson-Sotto ticket changes the complexion and dynamics of the coming presidential contest.

The two are not running as an “opposition slate.” They are simply presenting themselves as a team of experienced politicians, likely with a law-and-order slant. Lacson once headed the PNP while Sotto played a key role in crafting anti-drug legislation.

We do not know how this fairly senior tandem intends to win over our largely youthful voters. Their strategists must be working hard on this.

In all our post-Edsa presidential elections, we saw between five and seven viable candidacies for the highest office. With the Lacson-Sotto tandem all but formally announced, the gates are now open for all other aspiring politicians to cast in their lot.

We know Richard Gordon is seriously eyeing another run at the presidency. Manny Pacquiao, if he is not disabled in his next fight, will likely continue with his ambitious presidential run even if he has been marginalized in his own party. Isko Moreno rated well in the available surveys but has made no motions indicating a run for higher office.

Then, of course, there is Leni Robredo and whoever might be the PDP-Laban standard-bearer.

As Leni continues to quibble, her potential pickings for allies in this game become increasingly slim. When she finally decides, the odds might have piled up against her.

Everyone expects the PDP-Laban to eventually support a run by Sara Duterte – although she has yet to decide on this. Should Sara finally throw her hat into the ring, with or without the blessings of her father, most of the pro-administration parties and factions are expected to rally around her – not the least because of her impressive standing in the surveys.

Duterte’s Dozen

We have it on good source that President Rodrigo Duterte, even as he has no clear presidential candidate, has begun compiling his list of senatorial aspirants.

In the midterm elections, we saw the power of his endorsement. His most favored candidates – Bong Go, Bato de la Rosa and Francis Tolentino – handily won their seats on their maiden venture on the national political stage.

With his high approval ratings even into the twilight of his term, a Duterte endorsement for any senatorial candidate should still matter a lot. The question is whether the elder Duterte would still be in a position, two months from now, to actually influence the final list of candidates.

On Duterte’s shortlist are: Mark Villar, Sal Panelo, Harry Roque, Art Tugade, Bebot Bello, Karlo Nograles, Gringo Honasan, Loren Legarda, Migz Zubiri, Raffy Tulfo, Willie Revillame, Greco Belgica, Robin Padilla, Martin Andanar, JV Ejercito and Benhur Abalos.

The list will eventually be pared down to 12. We might take to calling them Duterte’s Dozen.

In the 2016 campaign, we saw Sara Duterte forming her own list of senatorial candidates distinct from her father’s. If she is the standard-bearer, we might expect a separate list.

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