MANILA, January 5, 2004 (STAR) GOTCHA By Jarius Bondoc - Ideally an election is a tug-o’-war of platforms. In the Philippines it is a merry-go-round of personalities. And personalities are bound to clash. So from the two main forces contesting the May election leaked gigglers of news yesterday, the eve of the deadline for filing candidacies:

Rabid oppositionists Miriam Santiago and John Osmeña are joining the administration senatorial ticket. Administration stalwarts Heherson Alvarez and Jose Lina are puzzled that they’re out of it. Imee Marcos has backed out confused from the opposing lineup. Joseph Estrada’s loyalists have rejected their own vice presidential candidate.

The opposition seems to be losing the first merry round. It has split at least six ways.

The ruptures came fast. Although first to declare a presidential run, Panfilo Lacson always trailed in surveys. Political tyro but popular actor Fernando Poe Jr. topped them all. Five parties readily rallied for celebrity, leaving Lacson with no group for which to wave the banner. But as soon as Poe picked his vice presidential running mate and senatorial lineup, new bickerings sprang. Now the Puwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP), Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP), and Philippine Democratic Party (PDP)-Laban are forming factions against each other. The People’s Reform Party and Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL) are deserting them. The group of Poe’s own fans, which had gathered five million signatures for him to run, is bent on campaigning solely for him.

First to squawk was the PMP of ex-president Joseph Estrada, Poe’s bosom pal who is vaunted to be seed-funding the campaign. For Estrada’s partymates, it is but natural for comebacking senators Santiago, Kit Tatad and Juan Ponce Enrile to be in the slate. After all, along with reelectionist Osmeña, they were among 11 senators who, at the climax of Estrada’s impeachment trial in Jan. 2001, loyally had voted to quash evidence of his alias bank account. But not Sen. Loren Legarda as vice presidential bet. She not only had voted with nine others to expose Estrada’s deposits, but also cried on Sen. Aquilino Pimentel’s shoulder when they lost the count, 11-10. That scene, coupled with Sen. Tessie Oreta’s infamously taunting jig on the Senate floor, was played over and over on national television, agitating millions to march for Estrada’s abdication.

Adding insult to Estrada’s injury, his son Jinggoy was edged out of the senatorial lineup. In his stead were put Pimentel, Ernesto Herrera and Amina Rasul. Pimentel, head of PDP-Laban, had resigned in protest as Senate President after losing that anti-Estrada vote with Legarda. Herrera, then a Lakas congressman, had co-authored the impeachment complaint with Alvarez. Rasul, a Lakas Muslim organizer, had led Estrada-resign pickets at the time. No apology is being asked of them by Estrada’s camp. But no support is forthcoming either. Estrada has predicted a win of nine of Poe’s 12-man senatorial slate – the trio excluded. That’s the nature of personality politics; they take it personally.

Yet, two of Estrada’s predicted winners – Santiago and Osmeña – are said to be jumping over to the other side. As of yesterday afternoon, negotiations were in full swing with administration partners Lakas and Nationalist People’s Coalition. Same with reelectionist Sen. Rodolfo Biazon, an LDP officer who had bolted to Raul Roco’s three-party coalition but did not file a certificate of candidacy with them. A fourth surprise was Orlando Mercado, once head of Estrada’s PMP and his defense secretary.

Others in the Lakas-NPC combine are: reelectionist Sen. Robert Barbers, actor-governors Lito Lapid and Bong Revilla, cabinet members Mar Roxas and Richard Gordon, and LDP defector Robert Jaworski. Lina and Alvarez are eyeing the last two slots. But these are said to have been reserved for Pia Cayetano, daughter of the late senator Rene Cayetano, and one-time NPC president Ernie Maceda. The latter had served as Estrada’s ambassador to Washington and would have wanted to join the Poe ticket, but was not among those announced.

Back at Poe’s Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino, the LDP’s Carlos Padilla is a perfect misfit. Up to a week ago, he was bashing LDP head Sen. Edgardo Angara for supporting outsider Poe instead of partymate Lacson. Padilla reckons perhaps that without Angara’s all-important nomination, he cannot get official copies of election returns. But he might be in for a jolt to switch back to Lacson’s camp. Word is that the Comelec would accredit both Poe’s KNP and Lacson’s faction of the LDP.

Pimentel and Herrera, meanwhile, sit uneasy with Marcos and guest candidate Jamby Madrigal, of the NPC founded by Danding Cojuangco. Both have been working for the recovery of the Marcos family’s hidden wealth and the coconut levy funds from Cojuangco.

Alfredo Lim of the Liberal Party is a guest candidate as well. He was Estrada’s secretary of interior, but his party has declared support for Gloria Arroyo. Even a party as old as the LP, formed soon after the War, has fallen for personalities that split rather than platforms that cohere. Lim was supposed to run under the Arroyo ticket, but premature disclosure by the President’s political strategists botched things up.

The only snug fit in Poe’s lineup is parhaps Estrada loyalist Didagen Dilangalen, congressman from Maguindanao. Then again, he is the type of politician from whom Poe’s fans of the five million signatures would want to distance him. They detest association with traditional pols, including Tatad and Enrile, worried that the latter would tarnish their screen idol’s personality cult.

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Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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