MANILA, April 8, 2004
(MALAYA) By JB D. Baylon -
IT seems to me that as the campaigns of the erstwhile leaders in the five-man race for the presidency stall, if not fumble, both Brother Eddie Villaneuva and Sen. Ping Lacson are gaining ground.

I am hearing more and more people say that the more they hear Bro. Eddie explain his program of government, the more they come to respect the man. One officemate of mine, someone who I've always listed as a GMA voter, even surprised me over lunch a few days ago when she declared that she was going to vote for Bro. Eddie. Is Bro. Eddie indeed taking away votes from the President, as her supporters fear?

Then again perhaps it is being unfair to the man to express surprise now at the way Bro. Eddie is winning converts. Mind you, I am not so sure he will ever be able to convert me to his devout Christian ways, but I too am slowly sitting up and taking notice of the alternative that the man presents. He is, after all, a political science degree holder and a professor, so explaining his program of government in simple yet intelligent terms does not cause him to break out in a sweat. It is only unfortunate that without the backing of a major political party, Bro. Eddie has been made to appear as a fringe candidate. Add that to fears that his passion for his religious calling will color what some say must be a presidency for all Filipinos of all religious callings, as well as for Filipinos who count themselves as atheists or those who, like me, profess belief in a God but are simply allergic to organized religion and the prayers that are sold to save our souls. And how will Filipinos of the Islamic faith fare under a Bro. Eddie presidency? I am sure he has a response to this sensitive question; I simply have yet to hear it.

The same thing goes for Ping Lacson and his (some initially said) quixotic quest for the presidency.

As Fernando Poe Jr. slowly self-destructs - the incident with the GMA-7 reporter being but the latest in a series of little but telling stumbles - more and more opposition voters are taking a second look at Ping.

Perhaps Ping's go-it-alone campaign is finally paying off. Sans movie stars, sans the political heavyweights of the opposition who are also seen as the epitome of trapo politics in the Philippines, Ping has slowly but surely chipped away at two hurdles that had initially appeared to make his candidacy doomed from the beginning: first, the need to demonstrate that he stands head and shoulders above the other opposition candidates in presenting a credible platform of government should he win the presidency; and second, the need to also demonstrate that even without a political party backing him, he has in place a respectable grassroots organization that will help his candidacy get the message across throughout the country.

I have also been surprised of late to hear more and more people say that they are now voting for Ping because he has shown that he is made of the sterner stuff that we need in the next president of the Philippines.

One, for example, who will be willing to send his own family members and Cabinet members to jail for corrupt practices.

And one who will make sure that Jose Pidal and his dummies face the music.

I have to admit that I will still be surprised if either of these two gentlemen emerge on May 11, or 12, or 15 as the winners of the presidential elections - I still think the victory will go to either of the two main contenders - but there is no doubt that both Bro. Eddie and Ping are gaining adherents among Filipinos who are willing to vote out of conviction whether or not their candidate can make it.

And that's spelling trouble for President GMA and FPJ, who, I believe, stand to lose most if Bro. Eddie and Ping gain.

At this point in time, GMA may still have the majority of legislators, governor and mayors with her, but they may simply be with her on the stage in order to get the much needed financial support from party HQ and the Arroyo parallel finance organization, only to desert her come voting time.

We've seen that happen before, the most recent case being 1998 when local leaders deserted Speaker Joe de Venecia in droves when it became apparent that the Erap juggernaut was unstoppable. In 1992 also, the same thing happened when Speaker Ramon Mitra found himself abandoned by his own party mates who flocked to the camp of Fidel Ramos; oh yes, that was also the year that His Eminence Jaime Cardinal Sin campaigned for Mitra but eventually voted for - and admitted to voting for - Fidel Ramos.

As for FPJ, he may have most of the stars to bring out the crowd, but episodes like the incident with the GMA reporter are beginning to take their toll on those opposition voters who were less willing to vote for Ping because FPJ looked like a winner. The question is - for FPJ as well as for GMA - will Ping and Bro. Eddie be able to take away enough votes to prevent an outright and comfortable win at the polls?

And if the results are too close to call, will not the administration camp eventually emerge victorious thanks to its machinery that can deliver the votes before - and after? - they are cast?


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Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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