The Lacson-Sotto gambit

FROM FAR AND NEAR - Ruben Almendras - The Freeman

Last week, Lacson and Sotto officially declared that they are running for president and vice president in 2022. Of all the potential and aspiring candidates for the top positions, they are the first to openly declare their intentions. This is a calculated move with political implications. Most of the other candidates will likely declare their candidacies in August or September, just a few days before the filing of the certificates of candidacy, to avoid an early defensive position, continue socio-political assessments, and for logistical reasons.

Gambit is both a strategic and a tactical move, so in chess it is mostly in the opening moves and less in the endings. Strategy is a broader and long-term plan which defines the objective and possible ways of reaching them. Tactics, on the other hand, are the specific actions that have to be done to achieve specific targets that will lead to the objective. In Philippine politics and particularly during this time of social, political, and economic stress, the environment is so volatile and dynamic that long-term strategizing is difficult. So, politicians are forced into short-term strategic shifts combined with tactics. As an example, last year Lacson publicly stated that he was not inclined to seek the presidency as the next president will be inheriting the enormous problems left by the current administration. That was a declaration of strategy/objective, but last week he decided to run for president. This is because in their environmental assessment, many changes are happening in the short term that their assumptions have to be revised. The shifts in the political landscape are faster and unsettling and they have to be considered.

The main perception of the Lacson-Sotto camp is that no group has the election in the bag, not even the current administration’s political group. There is a perceptible growing dissatisfaction in all classes and sectors of the voting population that will increase the opposition. For sure, they have done their own poll surveys and aren’t sold on the promoted and assailed Pulse Asia surveys. That they are positioning themselves as the middle ground between those opposed to the current administration and the rabid pro-administration, is strategic positioning that acknowledges the strengths of both sides. They are showing that they are not afraid of the Duterte camp, as Sotto will even run against Duterte for vice president. At the same time, they also issued a statement that they are not anti-administration. They are saying that they are the best of both sides, and the best compromise after this administration.

The other objective of this tactical move announcing the Lacson-Sotto candidacies at this time, is to get reactions. The presence and actions of participants in the environment influences the environment, so this declaration is to test the waters and get feedback from all sides and sectors. This will give them indications on which side they will be leaning more or leaning less while still maintaining their middle position. Whether this strategy and tactics will lead to their victory in 2022, is another story and uncertain, as the local and global socio-political scenarios are so fluid and fast changing.

The pandemic going into a second year with public health and the economy not yet on a high-growth path, and the consequent higher unemployment and poverty levels, will drag down the current administration like in the last years of the Marcos administration. The ongoing Cold War between the US/European countries against China and Russia, and the declining support for populist leaders will be additional inputs to the Lacson-Sotto ticket’s next moves in the coming months.

This positioning of Lacson-Sotto may be viewed as an opportunistic and unprincipled strategy but this is normal in Philippine politics. Hopefully, win or lose, it will be good for the country and the Filipinos.

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