My questions to you center mostly on why you are running for Vice President instead of President. It bothers me as a voter that, with your superior experience in public service compared to your standard bearer – you allowed yourself to be in a ‘supporting role’. Is it because the surveys say, you cannot win as President at this time or in the near future?
But we are getting ahead – first things first.
1) Did you submit a truthful SALN for 2014?
You reported a net worth of P6 million in your Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth for 2014, making you the second ‘poorest’ senator of the Republic. We usually take our public servants’ SALNs at face value, including yours, with the benefit of the doubt consigned to indifference and apathy – which, sadly, says something about the state of Filipinos’ political awareness.
Be that as it may, granting that you are indeed the country’s second poorest senator, we wonder how the ostentatious wedding last February with three grand receptions in three different places happened. Unless it was your bride – independently wealthy as she is from her showbiz earnings – who foot the bill, there is no way in heaven or earth that what was called ‘the wedding of the year’ could have been paid for by the groom, as per Filipino tradition, if we make your SALN the basis of your financial status. Six million pesos will not, by any stretch of practical estimation, be enough to cover the cost of the first reception alone at the island vacation for the rich and famous.
Of course, the lineup of principal sponsors consisted of a virtual Who’s Who in Philippine business, including the owner of the ultra-exclusive resort. It is not inconceivable to think that their collective ‘pakimkim’ might have already financed the establishment of a new factory that could generate employment for hundreds of unemployed Filipinos. Supposing that the principal sponsors shouldered the three receptions, can we also presume that the ‘ninongs’ and ‘ninangs’ did not stand as such with no strings attached? Patronage politics is not an alien animal in the Philippine setting. We live with that every day, in varying degrees, perhaps to Filipinos’ eternal damnation.
It wouldn’t be our concern who paid for the lavish nuptials if you were not an elected public official, and a senator aspiring to be vice president. If you were just a showbiz denizen like your wife, who cares? Neither are we imputing malice, like you riposted to reporters who interviewed you a few days after the event – saying you did not spend beyond what you and your wife could afford. You only confirmed that your wife’s TV network “shouldered some of the expenses” and that “many people helped us mainly because my wife came from showbiz that’s why we had several sponsors.” An extravagant wedding done with a little help from (the bride’s) friends?
Just a gentle reminder: the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was impeached on the basis alone of erroneous entries in his SALN. And you were one of the senators who voted for his removal from office.
So, yes, are you really worth only P6M?
2) Do you honestly believe that your standard bearer is constitutionally qualified to sit as President of the Republic?
You are a lawyer, you should know. The last time you were asked by members of the media, you categorically stated that she is natural-born, like you were declaring a fact without presenting proofs. You could have just said it is for the courts to decide based on the evidence submitted, and you would have smelled like a rose. Certainly, though, your answer was par for the course. One doesn’t make ‘laglag’ one’s close friend in public. More recently you issued a statement – perhaps as a not-too-subtle reminder to the Senate Electoral Tribunal – saying you are confident the case will be dismissed just like the one of her adoptive father, the late FPJ. Are the circumstances of their birth and supporting documents similar as well?
And speaking of close friends, you might be aware that some discerning people are calling you Grace Poe’s Rasputin. The extent of influence that you wield upon your neophyte colleague in the Senate is a puzzlement, to say the least. Her earlier pronouncements that she will only run with you and no one else easily connoted ‘package deal’ – fueling talk that her tenacious resolve to gun for the presidency, notwithstanding the questions about her citizenship and residency, was primarily because of your ‘encouragement’. And her supposed high ratings in popularity surveys.
But why would you ‘encourage’ a close friend to throw her hat in the presidential ring if there are unresolved questions on her qualifications? Integrity, integrity. The facts and figures coming out of the hearings MIGHT result to some persons being held accountable for lying under oath, falsifying public documents or perjury. Of course, whatever decision the SET comes up with will be appealed to the Supreme Court, which can extend the life of the disqualification proceedings well into the campaign season and even after the winners have been proclaimed. Who will benefit from such dilatory tactic?
Anyway, Mrs. Llamanzares said that choosing you as her running mate is a matter of personal trust. “He is a person who can be trusted, a person who has experience and a person who has already done something for the people,” she said at your declaration of candidacy in Club Filipino. Well and good – which brings me to my next question.
3) The Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) launched their ‘One Good Vote’ campaign targeting the barangay level, with Three K’s (Karakter, Kakayahan, Katapatan) as the qualities that voters should look for in a candidate. Why do you think our ‘One Good Vote’ for Vice President should go to you?
The PPCRV initiative tells us that karakter (character) is an important consideration in the choice of candidates. For the millions of Filipinos who do not know you personally, we only rely on what we read about you and what we hear you say on radio and TV – certainly not enough to make a judgment call, however necessary it is. And then there were the rumors (mostly coming from the entertainment press) that the reason your new wife’s parents disliked you was because you were ‘often drunk’ and disrespectful when visiting their house. (Btw, movie writers are sometimes ‘braver’ than their counterparts in mainstream media at pronouncing the ‘un-printables’ in the guise of ‘blind items’. Just ask ‘Nanay Lolit’.) Then again, all is well with you and your in-laws now, right? Either the rumor righted itself, or there’s more to it than meets the eye.
Capability or kakayahan. The number of bills you authored or co-sponsored as a Senator and Congressman should define the quality of your work as a legislator. What landmark piece of legislation have you pushed forward to our national consciousness? One that would make us instantly remember you as the primary proponent – in the same way, perhaps, that RA 7279 or the Urban Development and Housing Act of 1992 is known as the Lina Law, or Senator Aquilino ‘Nene’ Pimentel is acknowledged as the Father of the Local Government Code (RA 7160). Surely, three terms in the House of Representatives and 1 ½ terms in the Senate are enough to propel yourself to the galaxy of solons who have actually passed a worthy statute – not just the ritual renaming of streets and airports.
And katapatan or honesty, decency, rectitude, morality. See Question Number 1, and your stand on the pork barrel issue. Prior to your declaration of candidacy for VP, you sat as chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, tasked with making sure that all components of the national budget are legal and constitutional. Yet, your name appears as one of those who got the lion’s share of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) after voting for the Chief Justice’s conviction. It has also been alleged that you accumulated an astounding P2 Billion in Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), which, of course, you denied.
In a sworn statement last year, alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles tagged you as one of two senators to whom she directly gave money. According to her, she met you in 2010 through a Congressman and claimed that she was convinced to fund your presidential bid at the time. She also claimed that she met you again a few months after the elections at a restaurant in Quezon City and handed you money for a project that didn’t push through. Newspaper reports also published your denial.
And then, recent news reports quoted you as saying the unitemized lump sums contained in the 2016 national budget do not constitute pork barrel, echoing the Administration’s pronouncement that the same has been ‘abolished’. What gives?
4) If your ‘Partido Pilipinas’ tandem gets elected, what role will you play in the Administration? Motherhood statements aside, what specific program of government are you going to push if given an active part as Vice President?
Surely, you won’t allow yourself to be merely a spare tire, will you? Chiz Escudero behind the limelight is not ‘normal’. On the other hand, playing Rasputin to the hilt could be the real likelihood. Little President. Primus inter pares. The next best thing to being Top Gun itself. The possibilities are scary. The Queen beholden to the Court Jester. The Philippines’ future in the hands of two pretenders.
Would you rather be looked upon as the ‘evil’ adviser than the ‘good’ spare tire? Put another way, would you rather be feared than loved? For sure, you must have studied Machiavelli’s conundrum and known that if a ‘prince’ cannot be both feared and loved, he should make himself feared in such a way that he escapes hatred, and such can be attained only if he does not touch the property of his citizens. Tall order for modern-day politicos, isn’t it?
Anyway, you said you are not going to register ‘Partido Pilipinas’ as a political party, preferring to run as Independents not obligated to any single group – assuming rather grandly that the Philippines is your party and the Filipino people are your members. Makes us wonder how you will run the campaign without the requisite logistics and machinery. After the elections, we would expect ‘Partido Pilipinas’ to submit a true, full and itemized Statement of Contributions and Expenditures (SOCE). Again, as a gentle reminder, one provincial governor was swiftly removed from office for spending more than what is allowed by law.
You said that you and Senator Llamanzares will govern “with a heart for the poor…to ensure our country progresses without leaving anyone behind.” Not a single Filipino or corner of the Philippines should be left behind, you stressed, without explaining in specific terms how you will get it done. Please spare us all the motherhood crap delivered in your typical sing-song hokum already. They don’t wash anymore and it is grating to the ears.
5) So, why vie for Vice President instead of President?
You had a moist eye on the presidency as early as when you were 28 years old, on your first term as Representative of Sorsogon in 1998, articulating the dream (“Libre naman mangarap”, you were quoted as saying) in media interviews – even setting 2010 as the right time for you to go for the jugular.
You laid the foundation by being visible in media – anchoring programs on radio and TV and writing legal advice columns for a couple of tabloids. Maybe as a result of that visibility, you landed an impressive no.2 in the senatorial elections of 2007.
Then 2010 came but you decided not to follow your dream, as it were, because you rated quite poorly in surveys. And there was an ‘instant star’ in the horizon, wrought by the magic of necro-politics. Thus, you decided instead to endorse the candidacy of your good friend Noynoy Aquino as president and that of another good friend, Jojo Binay, as vice president. That was how Noy-Bi came to be, right? And you were allegedly behind clandestine moves that led to their victory.
In 2013, you ran for re-election in the Senate and again, you were eclipsed by another ‘rising star’ – landing a distant fourth to the newcomer Grace, one more beneficiary of necro-politics. It would seem that your luster as the ‘nino bonito’ of Philippine politics has been fading fast. And even as politics and show business make strange bedfellows, you married a movie star after having your first marriage (speedily) annulled. The engagement proposal itself was a spectacle that landed on the front pages of newspapers and discussed endlessly on showbiz talk shows.
But now, you are perceived to be hitching your wagon to the ‘accidental’ star. Not a few netizens are vocal in saying it is a free pass to the presidency that you are really after, in case your tandem wins and the standard bearer gets disqualified. Opportunism is a word that has been associated with you and it is not exactly flattering. In fact, it is a word that might not oblige this voter, come election time, to say Chiz.