By now, everybody knows that Senator Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV was among the five politicians who voted to dismiss the disqualification case which election watchdog Rizalito David filed against Senator Grace Poe in the Senate Electoral Tribunal.
The three justices in the nine-member SET—Antonio Carpio, Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, and Arturo Brion—ruled that Poe is not qualified to remain in the Senate because she is not a natural-born citizen. Senator Nancy Binay sided with the justices.
The vote of Aquino IV was quite unexpected since he belongs to the pro-administration Liberal Party (LP), which is fielding ex-Senator Mar Roxas against Poe, who is running for president as an independent candidate in the May 2016 elections.
Speaking to the news media, Aquino IV said that he voted according to his conscience. Good grief!
Recent history makes it is very difficult to believe that Aquino IV cast a conscience vote. When he ran for the Senate in 2013, Aquino IV anchored his campaign on opportunism, and used his famous surname to the hilt. As early as 2012, Aquino IV had been going around town trying to look like his very famous uncle, the late Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. He imitated everything about his uncle—from his eyeglasses to his haircut.
Despite his lack of sufficient experience in public service, Aquino IV exploited his family ties and got his first cousin, President Benigno Aquino III, to give him a berth in the senatorial ticket of the LP. It’s disturbing enough that the Aquino cousins had no qualms about breaching delicadeza. What is completely unsettling is that the Aquino cousins have the temerity to call the Binay family a political dynasty.
Although Aquino IV is almost halfway through his term in the Senate, no outstanding piece of legislation, something which could at least justify his attempt to identify himself with Ninoy, has been associated with him. So far, his ostensible role in the Senate is to support legislation favored by his cousin in Malacañang.
By casting his vote for Poe in the SET, Aquino IV now wants to project to the people that he is a statesman. The young senator may not realize it yet, but his vote invites suspicion towards President Aquino III and the LP’s promised support for Roxas.
There is public suspicion that President Aquino III desperately needs an ally to succeed him in 2016. Aquino III knows that an ally in Malacañang will be very helpful in the event that he, as ex-president, is named a respondent in the numerous criminal cases his enemies and critics intend to lodge against him after his term.
Unfortunately for President Aquino, Roxas is not doing very well in the latest suveys. The recent entry of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte in the presidential race isn’t good news for the LP. According to the latest poll, voters in Metropolitan Manila prefer a Duterte presidency, with Poe in second place.
All the foregoing suggests that President Aquino may end up supporting Poe’s candidacy in the event that Roxas remains a losing proposition in the weeks prior to election day. In fine, Poe is the president’s alternative candidate and insurance policy. If Poe is eliminated from the race on the ground that she is not a natural-born citizen of the Philippines, President Aquino may find himself in a bind. Evidently, it is in the best interests of President Aquino to keep Poe in the derby. This may be the real reason why his cousin Bam Aquino voted in favor of Poe in the SET.
Can Poe really be a secret candidate of President Aquino? The surrounding circumstances seem to suggest it. Early in her unofficial campaign for the presidency, Poe annnounced that she will continue the daang matuwid of the Aquino regime. Although Poe has been critical of a number of top officials of the Aquino administration lately, Poe has never said anything damaging to the president himself. Just recently, President Aquino III welcomed the ruling of the SET, and said that the Filipino people should be allowed to resolve the Poe issue at the ballot box.
Unfortunately for Roxas, the LP has a record of abandoning even some of its staunchest supporters when to do so best suits the interests of its top leaders.
Back in 1968, a disqualification case was filed against LP Senator Ninoy Aquino in the SET. NP Senator Rodolfo Ganzon of Iloilo cast his vote in favor of Ninoy. Ganzon’s vote gave Ninoy a 5-4 victory. Because he voted for Ninoy, Ganzon was expelled from the NP. In 1969, Ganzon joined the LP, ran for re-election, but lost. After being detained during the martial law years, Ganzon found himself running against candidates fielded against him by the LP leaders in Iloilo.
During the martial law period, the LP was in hibernation because its top leaders fled to the United States. Ex-Senator Eva Estrada-Kalaw was the only LP stalwart who bravely kept the LP involved in the political opposition. Kalaw aligned the LP with other opposition groups led by then Assemblyman Salvador “Doy” Laurel. Thus organized, the political opposition won a third of the seats in the Batasang Pambansa in the 1984 elections. After the 1986 People Power Revolution, the old LP leaders came back from abroad, seized the LP from Kalaw, and kicked her out of the party.
Esteban Salonga, son of ex-Senator Jovito Salonga of the LP and a party supporter himself, sought the blessings of the party in his bid for the provincial leadership of Rizal Province. The LP ignored Salonga and decided to field somebody else.
All told, the political scenario seems bleak for Mar Roxas. If Roxas intends to win in May 2016, he must re-invent his campaign strategy, and prepare his own alternative plan in the event that the LP abandons him for Poe. His dedicated supporters deserve nothing short of that.