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The dilemma of a political purist

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THERE ARE no saints in politics,  the American journalist Joe Klein wrote in his “ Political Lost”. Vice President Leni Robredo, who has  apparently, perhaps reluctantly, recently dropped her stubborn perspective of Philippine politics through the Manichean prism, has echoed that in a matter- of fact way.

Nobody is perfect, she said, making it sound more like an apologetics,  on the eve of announcing her mixed senatorial slate for the 2022 elections,  an eclectic mosaic that reflects more aptly the politics of the late  Premier Deng Shiao Ping of China. Deng once said that the color of the cat is immaterial as long it catches mice.  That philosophy kick-started the transformation of the Old Kingdom into the great hegemon that it is today.

The senatorial make-up was anti-climax to her changing of her political color, as it were, from ‘yellow’ to ‘pink’, reflective of her latter day conversion that the former color has lost its distinct iconic symbolism for moral and righteous leadership and governance. She probably realized that, in this day and age in Philippine politics, especially under the Duterte regime and in a landscape like a vast minefield inhabited  by trolls and social media hacks, the old mindset will not work to win the presidency.  Not with  the old color of conservatism and virtues in tow.

By leaving the Liberal Party and becoming an independent candidate,  Leni , for all intents and purposes, is now a maverick politician. In light of her leaving, she must have confirmed in no uncertain terms that corruption is no respecter of color.  In the 2016 elections, once Rodrigo Duterte was sure to win the presidency, many LP members quickly abandoned the party like a house on fire.  Corruption is a subtle, almost invisible malaise. It isn’t just catching  politicians with their  fingers  in the cookie jar. It’s also discovering them sleeping with an erstwhile enemy.

But she’s a maverick,  and she’s ready to face the challenges, let alone  the consequences, of independent-mindedness, not necessarily a plus In politics. An immediate caveat: no independent candidate  has won as Philippine president .   Future surveys will tell if Filipino voters are inclined to change that part of history.

As a maverick, Robredo  shuns  rhetoric,  and is comfortable with straight, honest  talk, although she has been  criticized for  indecisiveness,  sometimes.   She has a single-minded agenda in running for president, and that is to rid Philippine politics of its hobgoblins in despots and dictators, including their enablers.  This singular objective has made at least one of her rival’s attack  simpler because her agenda is deemed simplistic.  Cleanse the body politic of monsters passing off as ministers and   all the other problems and issues that have plagued the country , including the pandemic- related problems will be solved.

Easier said than done, not in this country.

Her 11-member senatorial slate clearly shows her limited ,if difficult,  choices.  She may have wanted a purist list. Obviously, reality check says she can’t have her cake and eat it ,too.  So, what has she got for a senatorial line up? It’s either a political salad or smorgasbord, and the results can be  unpredictable as they are dicey.

Four of her five guest senatorial bets, Senators Richard Gordon and Migz Zubiri, former Vice President Jejomar Binay and Sorsogon Governor Francis Escudero would have difficulty passing through the needle hole of a political purist. Gordon and Zubiri are both virulent, unrepentant critics of  Sen. Leila de Lima, jailed by Duterte for years now.    Binay has been accused by former Sen. Antonio Trillanes of corruption. Escudero is, to say, the least,  identified with the Marcoses, his late father being  a loyal member of the former dictator’s Cabinet. On top of this, their status as guest candidates means they are also supporting  other presidential bets, not necessarily Leni.

No doubt, this  will  water down her anti-dictator and  anti-corruption position. More, how she will manage her senatorial candidates with such a highly fractured relationship will be part of her campaign strategy from hereon in.  From a marketing standpoint, this has the promise of a bad strategy . Her campaign will surely be pulled in opposite directions by her senators’ conflicting agenda.

At the local level, Robredo’s ditching the ‘dilawan’ party could be both a plus and a minus.  She could probably sway to her side those long-disappointed by their LP leaders before they jumped into the Duterte ship. On the other hand , she realizes that she’s not going to get the local support she needed because those leaders are now unabashedly frolicking in   Duterte’s pool.

Truly, the vice president’s recent decisions have seriously  complicated  her intentions, confusing even her own supporters who, until now, are still surprised by the odd composition of her Senate slate.

Whether she has the perspective and skill enough for her to make the tweaks and adjustments needed in her seven -month campaign, only time will tell. Pundits say with a grin and fingers crossed that she’s lucky  she’s far down in the survey, and there’s no other  way for her to go but up.   Indeed, it is one of the hoariest notion, almost like a superstition,  that candidates may peak too  early.  Who knows, Filipino voters might just get turned off by current pacesetters  and their supporters  who act headily about  their initial ranking in the surveys.  Robredo might also uncover what Klein has referred to as the secret of the political Rosetta stone leading to the presidency.  All these, however, are a long shot.

For now, the hope of those who rally  mind and soul behind Robredo’s candidacy,  as if the nation’s future  depends on it , is that her subsequent decisions, along with the recent ones, will not cause a political flame out.

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