"Hail and farewell, Mr. Ambassador."
In the 1992 presidential elections, I was designated spokesman for the Mitra-Fernan tandem under the LDP. There were so many candidates: FVR-Lito Osmena; Miriam Santiago with Jun Magsaysay; Danding Cojuangco with Sonny Osmena; Doy Laurel-Eva Kalaw; Jovito Salonga-Nene Pimentel; Imelda Marcos as well, and an Erap-Sonny Rivera team that petered out midway, with Erap substituting for Sonny Osmena as Danding’s vice-president.
From a traditional point of view, the odds were stacked in favor of Mitra, although his numbers in the surveys were low. The LDP had as many as 90 percent of the country’s traditional politicians and dynasts in its arsenal, and had the most credible and winnable senatorial slate.
I was an original supporter of a Fernan for president movement, but when that didn’t pan out, my principal agreed to run as Speaker Monching’s vice-presidential candidate. This became my first taste of political defeat, after a stunning Batasang Pambansa elections where the UNIDO won a third of the seats in the legislature, followed by the snap elections and the EDSA revolt which brought Cory and Doy to power.
About a week or so before the 1992 elections, the Batasang Pambansa printing press was raided, with full media coverage, by operatives of the FVR campaign. In it were discovered propaganda collaterals for Monching Mitra and some other congressional candidates from Lanao del Norte. Coming so close to E-Day, with Mitra unable to gain momentum, upended by an unexpected political wellspring for neophyte Miriam, while steady Eddie (FVR) and Ambassador Danding Cojuangco kept their following, I knew deep inside my gut that our candidate had lost.
But I thought Danding Cojuangco would emerge winner, especially since he got the Iglesia ni Cristo support along with Erap as his veep. I remember congratulating ECJ’s spokesman, Quinito Henson, the week before the elections.
Of course it did not come out like that. FVR won narrowly over a protesting Miriam. And licking my wounds as spokesman of a failed team, I then learned a basic lesson: a huge war chest and an army of trapos do not get to elect a Philippine president. And in subsequent elections, from Erap to PNoy to PRRD, my political lesson learned was vindicated. Erap had a rag-tag party which forced us to consolidate with Ed Angara’s LDP for political cachet. PNoy ran against the humongous war chest and advertising savvy of Manny Villar armed only with memories of his parents. And everybody and his mother in the nation’s capital pooh-poohed and ridiculed me when I supported Duterte in January 0f 2015.
So much for that. When Erap was president, and I as head of the Philippine Tourism Authority and concurrent political affairs adviser, along with some friends that included now Executive Secretary Bingbong Medialdea decided to bring Miss Saigon, the widely acclaimed musical starring our very own Lea Salonga, to the Cultural Center of the Philippines, I approached the San Miguel CEO for sponsorship.
I went to the SMC headquarters with then Public Estates Chairman Frisco San Juan (a dearly departed friend), who was a close political confidante of the ambassador. After explaining to Danding the merits of making the Philippines a cultural mecca in Southeast Asia through the first Asian performance of Miss Saigon, he generously pledged his financial support. San Miguel became one of our biggest sponsors, and we never tapped any government funds for the project.
A few months after that meeting, I accompanied then President Erap on a visit to Pontevedra upon Negros Occidental, where Danding Cojuangco earlier launched a “corporative” effort supported by the Department of Agrarian Reform then headed by the late Horacio “Boy” Morales, to assist land reform beneficiaries in modern farming methods and thus gain better incomes.
After a sumptuous lunch of lechon and pancit molo capped with deliciously sweet mangoes and durian grown in his farm, the president and the ambassador, with me in tow, had a private meeting in ECJ’s den. The topic was the 2001 senatorial elections due the following year.
But ECJ digressed, and asked Erap who he would likely choose as his political successor in 2004. Erap was rather taken aback, unable to come up with an immediate name, or a list of potentials.
ECJ then said, “Kung wala rin naman po (ever the polite old school gentleman who recognized rank), mabuti pa manukin na natin si Gloria; may pangalan na at may kaalaman” (then the vice-president who belonged to an opposition political party).
Later, aboard the presidential helicopter returning to Bacolod, the president instructed me to talk to VP GMA and explore the possibilities of a united tandem for the forthcoming local elections, along with a joint senatorial slate, with the promise of his support for GMA come 2004.
In a lunch meeting at her PICC office wherein sat the vice-president, her brother Buboy (Diosdado Jr.), and my friend and her public relations honcho, Dante Ang (now owner of The Manila Times), I was able to present my political formula for both 2001 and 2004, with the proposal that she would run for president supported by the incumbent, who would choose her running mate. This was three months before the Chavit Singson episode.
Though no names were discussed, I had in my mind Ping Lacson, the highly successful Chief of the Philippine National Police who had turned around the institution’s previously bad image to high public acceptance, as our VP candidate in 2004.
And the idea of a united front came from the legendary ECJ, industrialist, political king-maker, nationalist and visionary.
How would things have turned up for the Philippines if his advice came to bear fruit, instead of an Edsa Dos that toppled Erap a few months later? And how would the Philippines be now if ECJ had won in 1992?
Ave atque vale, Mr. Ambassador. Hail and farewell, ECJ.