MANILA, December 5, 2003  (STAR) BY THE WAY By Max V. Soliven - The President and her ruling party must be rejoicing. The campaign hasn’t even officially begun, but the so-called Opposition is already fragmenting. La Gloria Imperadora doesn’t even have to implement the dictum of "Divide and Conquer". The Opposition is dividing itself, without Her Majesty’s intervention – indeed, without her permission.

The Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP) – which was supposed to be the Grand Opposition Coalition (minus Raul Roco’s HOPEfuls) – is now the Grand Disappointment. It is bitterly split into the Butz Brigade, alias the pro-Ping Lacson Wing, which yesterday promulgated Senator Lacson as the LDP Presidential Standard Bearer in a blitzkrieg conclave in the Club Filipino, and the Edong Angara Wing, which had hoped to unite the LDP behind the popular Panday, by getting FPJ as an "import" so he could be anointed the LDP bet for the Presidency.

I met with former Senate President Edgardo Angara last Wednesday night and he told me that back-channeling between him and his group with Senator Lacson would, in his estimation, soon be able to produce a "deal" between FPJ and Ping Lacson. However, he was not unaware of Makati Rep. Agapito "Butz" Aquino’s call for an LDP "gathering" at the Club Filipino to proclaim Lacson the LDP "presidential candidate". This took place yesterday, and the delegates who showed up proclaimed their "choice" of Lacson while denouncing Angara.

Lacson then gave a press conference declaring that he was accepting the LDP nomination. So that seems to leave FPJ, Angara, Sotto, and the rest of the LDP belonging to their faction out.

Now, which is the real LDP? I guess the Laban (fight) is not for democracy, but for supremacy between the pro-Lacson and pro-Fernando Poe Jr. forces. Or should we say "lack of force"? Neither side looks strong as a "party" now (Remember, Napoleon almost on the eve of Waterloo divided his forces, by sending close to half of his men, with their generals, out to hunt for the elusive Prussians, while the Brits, Dutch, Belgians were already trying to encircle him).

Oh, well. As the adage goes, "Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad." Butz and Edong are mad all right. They are mad at each other.

* * *

Will FPJ, who shot up to Number One in the latest Social Weather Stations survey (which it turns out was taken even before he announced he planned to run for the presidency), now be launched by the Angara wing, which also calls itself the "real" LDP, as the Presidential standard bearer? If truth be told, FPJ appears to be stronger than the entire LDP itself, all by himself, but without it he’ll have no network to "truck in" the vote, and no election inspectors. In short, as that early SWS survey indicates clearly, he could win without any political party, although he inched out the previous frontrunner, ABS-CBN Television Superstar and part-time Senator Noli "Magandang Gabi, Bayan" de Castro by only one point.

Yet, as mentioned just above, without an infrastructure to support him and appointed foot soldiers to "watch" his back, FPJ can’t translate his runaway popularity into actual ballots. Or get himself honestly recorded as the Top Blip in the computer. Those are the realities of politics.

So which is which? If Lacson and FPJ both run, both will lose. And the two of them combined will take many votes away from ex-Senator Raul Roco, also a leading opposition contender with his own pangkat. Divided by three, this adds up to a GMA re-election. Not even hasta la vista, but adios muchachos!

Can there be a reconciliation, or a re-ordering of the Order of Battle? In Philippine politics, pessimism is bound to triumph over optimism. Amor propio over common sense.

The past tells us this. Just after the war, when Manuel Acuña Roxas decided to challenge the incumbent Commonwealth President Sergio Osmeña Sr. for the first Presidency of the Republic, with Independence dawning in 1946, he couldn’t wrest away the ruling Nacionalista Party nomination, since the Grand Old Man, President Sergio Osmeña himself was head of the NP. So Don Manuel launched himself as the Presidential candidate of the "Liberal Wing" of the Nacionalista Party. Don Sergio, the last courtly gentleman in the Osmeña clan, didn’t even bother to campaign. Anyway, after Roxas won, the Roxas’ "wing" firmly became the Liberal Party, a separate party in itself.

Between the Butz Wing and the Angara Wing, which LDP will survive? Perhaps neither.

I could say, however, that this is the Land of Miracles. Well – nothing will happen if they only sit around backbiting each other and waiting for a miracle.

Do you know GMA’s greatest "strength"? It lies in the fact that she looks very weak. This is a temptation for everyone to jump into the fray and strive for the Presidency. After the fracas in which her challengers have already begun beating each other up, she may be the Last Woman Standing.

* * *

Ed Angara’s weakness, too, seems to be his eagerness to collect everyone willy-nilly under the banner of "national unity". I saw the frontpage of one leading newspaper yesterday, and Edong was photographed there surrounded by a number of people laying their hands on him, with the double-entendre caption saying: "All Hands on Deck." The hands turned out to belong to guys like Pwersa ng Pasa president, Horacio "Boy" Morales (an architect of past election disasters) from the Far Left, and the PDP-Laban’s Salvador Pangilinan of the Far Out, plus other assorted political figures from the Long Ago and Far Away. Gee whiz. If the old saw says that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, what can we say of a chain composed mainly of weak links?

Angara’s best bet, of course, is FPJ. Ronnie Poe is winnable. His charismatic "power" not only over the masa but over a broad spectrum in the Realm of Nostalgia is beyond cavil. This magnetism is almost irrational, since he is the product of our local filmdom’s prolific Dream Factory which projected him over the years as the quintessential Everyman, oppressed by the evil and the mighty, out, after taking a brutal beating, begins fighting back and punches the Bad Guys into whimpering submission, or grinds them – as they deserve – into the dust. Those, who scoff at him for having no education and for being totally unprepared, only reinforce his popularity. His critics become the "snobs", and he becomes the "champion" of the oppressed, the spat-upon and the dispossessed. By golly, don’t underestimate that.

True enough, FPJ is anathema to many because he looks remarkably like a Xerox copy of former President Joseph "Erap" Estrada, who, of course, is one of his bosom buddies.

Will FPJ "free" Erap if he wins? I’ve no doubt he will. Do you doubt it? The other side of the equation is that FPJ is expected in a real-life reprise of his heroic movie roles to crack down on a lot of people, too – including the current Untouchables, not meaning "Elliot Ness" types but the very opposite. Only da King, his fervent supporters maintain, can topple the Evil High and Mighty who have entrenched themselves like malevolent leeches in the bureaucracy and the judiciary. Perhaps this is too romantic a notion, and perhaps FPJ is bold and brave only on camera.

These bleak possibilities cannot be discounted. But I can say for myself that he’s pretty literate, not a bum, and could yet surprise us, even himself. The scenario, of course, might have to include his first Cabinet meeting, in which he greets every arriving official with, "Mag-beer muna tayo!" Better cerveza than sinverguenza, some will exclaim.

* * *

On another subject, now we know why the police cannot catch the crooks or curb kidnapping. Everything’s being run from Malacañang, not Camp Crame. Politics seems to steam up too many police general’s goggles, rendering them "See No Evil, Hear no Evil, and Speak No Evil".

First it was said that 32 senior police officers would be revamped. In the final announcement, it turned out only 16 were affected. Malaya, which is, of course, a very critical daily, constantly assailing the Palace, put the finger on what made the "revamp" a joke, running frontpage headline yesterday which spoke volumes: "What Makes Matillano, Berroya Untouchable?"

Indeed, PNP Director Eduardo Matillano, who had been slated to be bounced out of his post as Chief of the Criminal Investigation and Detention Group, had defied the reorganization, fuming and threatening to "tell all". All about what?

Finally, PNP Chief and Police Director General Hermogenes "Jun" Ebdane, who’s generally too mild on scalawags within the organization, apparently had had enough of Matillano’s bragging and defiance. He called a special press conference to announce the relief of Matillano as Director of the CIDG. Matillano was placed on "floating status". Ebdane appointed Chief Supt. (General) Arturo Lomibao as the new Director CIDG.

What about the Palace favorite, Chief Supt. Reynaldo Berroya (who had once been in jail)? Will he remain unassailable or untouchable as Chief of the powerful Civil Security Group? Is he so needed to attack former PNP Chief, General, now Senator and presidential-candidate Ping Lacson, that he remains inviolate despite . . . you know? My insider in Camp Crame categorically asserted: "Berroya will be relieved . . . later." Why later? He sheepishly admitted: "Because the move still needs clearance from Malacañang."

How can GMA promise the nation a "kidnap-free Christmas season"? She can’t even approve a full and credible police revamp. Or "she won’t" might be a more pertinent word.

C’mon, Madam Commander-in-Chief. Cut and cut clean. Purge and purge ruthlessly. Or can the pretense. Our survival demands a tough, uncompromising President. One who dispenses justice and retribution without fear or favor.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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