FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

At the very least, we will all be relieved of the agony of this suspense.

At eleven this morning, Vice-President Leni Robredo will make an “important” announcement. Surely, with a day before the deadline for filing candidacies, this announcement will be about running for president – or not.

The pundits are nearly evenly split on Leni’s final decision. It is much like a toss of the coin.

Those who say she won’t run quote her miserable survey numbers, her inability to assemble a slate of candidates to support her run, the failure of her avowed mission to “unify the opposition” (whatever that means in the world of practical politics) and, yes, the lack of a hopeful message.

From her own utterance, however, it seems Leni’s greatest concern is that her running might inadvertently divide the non-Duterte vote even more, resulting in the defeat of all of them. From the survey numbers, she is correct on this point. If she follows her gut feel, she would promptly fly back to Camarines Sur.

But her gut feel may not matter. A crowd of self-anointed powerbrokers has gathered around her, pressuring her to run – even if this may be against statistical logic. A desperate group of politicians hang perilously from her hemlines, fearful of being orphaned if she withdraws from the game.

Logic does not rule the game, however. Leni declared that if Bongbong Marcos runs, she would run too. Doing so, however, will almost guarantee a Marcos win. This is the dilemma she has been grappling with.

Those crowding around Leni are predominantly idealists, questing for some “pure opposition” like this was a Holy Grail. Modern electoral politics, however, is increasingly a game of the number crunchers. Electoral campaigns have become a variant of data-driven marketing.

Isko Moreno, Bongbong Marcos, Ping Lacson and Manny Pacquiao are deep into this game. None will run away if Leni files.

All our post-Edsa presidential elections produced plurality presidents. The tightest contest happened in 1992 when Fidel Ramos took the prize with just 23 percent of the vote. This electoral round could produce an even smaller plurality.

Under the flawed constitutional order we operate under, we can never have a majority president. This is because we have a multiparty system without provision for a runoff vote. Every elected “minority” president can only govern by way of makeshift coalitions shaped by short-term interests. Therefore, every elected president needs to engage in transactional politics. Those coalitions unravel at the end of each electoral cycle.

This is a thoroughly idiotic way to have an electoral democracy. But we stubbornly refuse constitutional reform because the sitting politicians are invested in this disorder. We all operate in the framework of this democratic dystopia.

Even if Leni wins, she will have to transact her way to power. The traditional politicians will always win.

But wait, there is more. If Leni decides to run and this becomes a game of small pluralities, this will be an invitation for Sara to come into the game and dominate it.

What an imperfect world we inhabit.


Should, on the other hand, Leni decide to run for governor of Camarines Sur, it would be important for her to forge an alliance with Iriga City mayor Madelaine Alfelor.

The lady mayor should have a large vote bank cultivated over years of extensive political patronage. Funding her patronage network, however, caused the filing of an impressive string of criminal and graft complaints.

One complaint was filed by the PNP-CIDG no less. It involves the case of cash subsidies from the social amelioration program for residents of Iriga distributed to non-residents. Three recipients, all from a neighboring town and all employees of an Alfelor-owned school, returned the cash subsidies because they were not qualified.

The mayor’s own cousin, Christian Alfelor, earlier filed a complaint with the ombudsman for the undocumented disbursement of P14,188 in public funds. Christian’s brother, Emmanuel Alfelor, filed another case against the mayor at the ombudsman for violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act for procuring P13.5 million worth of seeds without competitive bidding.

One barangay chairman wrote directly to President Duterte to complain about the mayor distributing social amelioration cards only to barangay leaders allied with her. One such barangay leader, Darcy Go, inserted three of his siblings, two nephews and a niece in the cash dole out even if they were among the wealthiest in the locality. In addition, she withheld the release of P6.48 million to two barangays as their share in the real property tax.

An administrative complaint was filed against the mayor for obtaining a P275-million loan from the LBP to build an amusement park featuring a large Ferris wheel. Another complaint for malversation involves P32.84 million in unliquidated cash advances. Yet another complaint involves P27.89 million. There are several other complaints involving P17.25 million and P14.19 million, respectively, for undocumented procurement transactions.

In addition, Mayor Alfelor faces a complaint for graft involving the release of P2.78 million in scholarship funds to only one beneficiary. In another one, she paid a basketball league P800,000 without the approval of the city council.

The mayor’s rather loose handling of taxpayer money was the subject of a public hearing of the House committee on good government last year. Testifying during that hearing were the three teachers who returned their cash subsidies to the DSWD.

No wonder, with her patronage war chest spilling over, the Iriga mayor is sought after for her command votes. Anyone running for provincial governor must deal with her.

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