Voters and matchmakers

How does one choose a vice president?  What makes a good team? It is the season for matchmaking, and just about everyone is playing the role of casting director, operating with certain notions of what is an attractive president-vice president combination and what is not.  What is often overlooked is that, while they may subscribe to certain general rules of selection, Filipino voters typically do not vote for teams.  They vote for individuals.

Yet, party matchmakers, guided by traditional political wisdom, formulate combinations faithfully according to certain time-honored formulas.  The most common principles of selection are the following: (1) The North-South rule: If the presidentiable comes from Luzon, the vice presidentiable must come from either Visayas or Mindanao; (2) The popularity-machinery rule: A popular presidentiable without machinery must take a partner with machinery; (3) the crime-busterpolicy planner rule: Since crime and poverty are our biggest problems, the perfect combination would be a peace-and-order president paired with a developmentalist vice president,  or vice-versa, and (4) the wise leader-dynamic doer rule:  If you have a venerable president, his wise counsel must be complemented by the dynamism of a young achiever, and vice-versa.

It is not difficult to see how these principles supply the logic to, let us say, the Estrada-Angara tandem.  While both come from Luzon, and therefore violate the North-South rule, the combination may have been packaged in conscious conformity with the three remaining principles. Thus, Erap’s mass appeal is to be supplemented by Angara’s vaunted political machinery.  Erap, the crime  fighter, will have a perfect helper in Angara, the educator-planner.  Edong, the thinker, and Erap, the doer – a perfect pair.  Needless to say, we are not talking here of objective reality, but of projected image.

The same matchmaking rules may be presumed to be at work as Speaker Jose de Venecia casts about for a suitable vice presidential candidate.  There were originally three aspirants for this position within Lakas-NUCD: Senator Leticia Shahani, Secretary Teofisto Guingona, and Secretary Robert Barbers.  Shahani’s chances are the slimmest now not only because she and de Venecia are politically at odds with one another, but more importantly because they both come from the same province, Pangasinan.

Coming from the South, both Guingona and Barbers qualify geographically, but Barbers may have the edge.  His professional background is police work, whereas Guingona, while concurrently chief  of the Presidential Anti-Crime Commission and Justice Secretary, is perceived more as a legislator than as a crime-buster.

By reputation, neither of them, however, can compare with Mayor Alfredo Lim’s stature as a law-enforcer.  Going by the formula, Lim would have been a good partner to Joe de Venecia, but considering Lim’s current backers, that might be out of the question now.  The Speaker has to find himself a young popular achiever, who can neutralize his image as a traditional politician.  Someone like Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, if she can be persuaded to postpone her presidential ambition till 2004.  Or Capiz Congressman Mar Roxas.

On the other hand, a Lim-de Villa or a de Villa-Lim combination does not really carry as much weight as its proponents might imagine.  On the contrary, it is singularly burdened by its being a military-police partnership.  If he is serious about the presidency, Lim will have to find a respected a young intelligent leader with his/her own party, bailiwick or network, and preferably someone from the South where the mayor is hardly known.  Miriam Defensor-Santiago would be perfect, if it were not for the fact that sliding to number two would be totally dissonant with her status as president of the party in which Lim was, until recently, just one of her loyal lieutenants.

As for Rene de Villa, most sensible people believe he would be a more effective and credible crusader against traditional corrupt politics if he stayed  completely out of the contest for now.  To persist in his presidential ambition on the platform of a crusading politics of renewal would require the formation of a significant movement in which he would be recognized as its natural champion and leader.   He may not have the requisite credentials and track record for such a role.  To be outmaneuvered in the terrain of traditional politics does not automatically qualify one to be an alternative politician.  Rene de Villa is a good man, but he must first earn his stripes as an advocate of new politics before he can style himself as an alternative candidate in search of a like-minded partner.

Imagining winning combinations is what makes Philippine politics uniquely mesmerizing.  But in truth, as I noted at the beginning, our voters do not think in terms of pairs.  They tend to assess presidential and vice-presidential candidates separately.  They will vote for those who they think have done good or will do good for the country and are consequently popular, without regard for whether their choices complement one another or can at least work with each other.

This is not to say everything is possible.  Our voters do honor certain limits, certain rules of harmony or agreement.  For example, the typical voter would think very hard before voting for two actors for the top positions of the land, or for two generals, or, as proof perhaps of a lingering machismo, for two women, for that matter.  In short, while the Filipino voter may not employ positive rules for arriving at what is a desirable or worthy team, he or she nevertheless recognizes general limits that define what is an unacceptable combination.


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