(STAR) TAKIN’ CARE OF BUSINESS By Babe Romualdez - While the Americans are getting ready to trek to the polls to vote in their historic presidential elections in two months, Filipinos are now gearing up for “election year” which starts early next year. From the many experiences of the past presidential elections, nowadays, it would easily take P3 billion to be able to mount a “fairly decent” presidential campaign. Naturally the talk now veers on who among the presidentiables has got the “big bucks” to support a presidential bid in 2010.

Based on their assets, Manny Villar, who with the usual Filipino humor is being dubbed as Senate president “Money V,” leads the pack with a net worth of P1.04 billion, the only billionaire among his colleagues. Villar, who was listed as No. 24 in Forbes’ 40 richest Filipinos last year, recently declared that he was bent on running for president in 2010, and sources say he has set aside a P5-billion war chest. Manny reportedly paid P500 million for the historic Laurel mansion along Shaw Boulevard as his campaign headquarters to symbolize the rich historical past of the Nacionalista Party. But the businessman in Manny has given him the instinct to know that this is a valuable piece of property that can be developed later on.

No doubt the “poor boy from Tondo” knows how to spread the money around, and he has been getting a lot of mileage by projecting himself as a champion of the OFWs – whose support will be critical not only for the goodwill they will generate for the senator, but the potential dollar contributions to the campaign. It looks like the mudslinging season has started with Manny being linked to the controversial “insertion” of a P200 million road project in the 2008 national budget. However, having all that money doesn’t mean one is assured of winning. Joe de V reportedly had a big war chest when he ran in 1998, but somehow, he did not become president. There must be some kind of a curse attached to the Speakership because no one in our history who has held that position has ever become president.

Of course, Mar Roxas is known to be the “rich boy” of the Senate even though he only has a declared net worth of P110 million. But Mar comes from a wealthy family worth billions – that of Don Amado of the Araneta Coliseum fame. It’s safe to assume that Mar will be backed up by all that wealth. It’s also no secret that the acknowledged matriarch of the Araneta clan, Liberal Party stalwart Judy Araneta Roxas, is the woman behind the success of Mar. She will be a formidable force, combined perhaps with the future first lady, Korina Sanchez.

Loren Legarda may not have much money with only P45.9 million. However, she is expected to be backed up by a number of big businessmen who are ready to bankroll her presidential bid. Her potential war chest is said to be anywhere between one and one-and-a-half billion pesos. Danding Cojuangco’s Nationalist People’s Coalition is also expected to back her up on condition that she and Chiz will remain in the NPC together.

Ping Lacson is still thinking if he will run in 2010, but he will most likely be backed up by the Zamora brothers, owners of a large mining company. The Chinese community whom he specially helped during his stint as PNP chief and anti-crime czar is also ready to support his candidacy. As a matter of fact, Manny Zamora has publicly admitted that he owes a debt of gratitude to Ping who actually rescued his son when he was kidnapped many years ago.

Noli de Castro who’s still Number One in surveys may not have much to bankroll his run, but everybody expects him to be backed by the Eugenio Lopez wealth and the giant ABS-CBN network. It was the Lopezes who gave the then budding broadcaster his big break. In his SALN, Noli lists shares of stocks in ABS-CBN worth P1 million which he acquired in 1986, but people are guessing his stocks’ worth is certainly much more than P1 million. Of course, the friendship between the former ABS-CBN talent and the Lopez family has been growing closer over the years. This could certainly give the still very popular vice president the advantage despite JDV’s assessment that Noli has very little chance of making it since he is not a “party” politician.

Chiz Escudero is backed up by the NPC and also a big businessman aligned with the administration. This businessman is probably one of the wealthiest in the country today, and is the same one who reportedly bankrolled the senatorial bid of Chiz. There’s no question Chiz continues to be popular with a wide demographic range particularly the youth, who comprise the bulk of our population.

Of course there’s BF, the Metro Manila Development Authority chief who wants to be a “Bayani.” And there’s Dick Gordon and many others waiting in the wings to see whether they will have enough contributors to fund a presidential bid.

But the real “dark horse” in the horizon who could probably give nightmares to all other presidentiables, and who is actually being urged by a lot of people to run, is Brother Mike Velarde who, I understand, even has the backing of Ka Erdie Manalo. The Iglesia ni Cristo is another formidable flock and together with El Shaddai, they easily have a combined voting strength of 15 to 20 million votes. The El Shaddai leader may not have the “big bucks” but he certainly has a “big flock.” He’s known to be very charismatic and has a huge popular appeal to the Catholic religious and more importantly, the masses. But as Brother Mike himself says, becoming the president of this country is a matter of destiny – and only Divine Providence will tell him in due time.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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