Outsiders’ stars usually shine brightest just before serious campaigning begins. In the UK, this manifests iteself in claims the next election could provide a “break through” for the Liberal Democrats (the perennial third party). In money-dominated US politics, this is when the billionaires, the Bloombergs, the Forbes, and the Perots, start to fish for support.
The hard truth is that it is very difficult to break established political blocs in any country. The Liberal Democrats have never received more than 25% of the vote in the UK and Ross Perot, the most successful US third party candidate of modern times, received only 18.9% in 1992.
The possibility of a Panlilio-Padaca ticket in the 2010 presidential ticket has been greeted with tremendous enthusiasm in some quarters, including this one, but we will need to wait until the provincial strongmen start beautifying the landscape with their handsome campaign posters before we know how realistic its chances are. As the dawn breaks on the campaigning season, the mountain that lies before Among Ed is going to appear through the early morning mists and it’s a steep one.
Nevertheless, there are pointers in favour of a Panlilio run this time.
Even if we forget the surreal prospect of another shot at the presidency by Erap, at this stage the field looks quite dispersed. It is futile to talk of Philippine politics in terms of “parties,” since these form and dissolve as quickly as high-school cliques, but recent years have been dominated by two main “blocs”: a populist bloc congregated boozily around Joseph Estrada, and a neo-conservative bloc led first by Fidel Ramos, then by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (in the executive branch) and Joe de Venecia (in the legislature), and since their falling out, simply by Gloria. The dominance of these two blocs can be seen in the results from 2004, when their combined tally represented 76% of the vote.
The Erap and administration blocs will be heavily represented in 2010 and presumably heads will be knocked together to stop a repetition of Ping’s disastrous campaign in 2004, which split the Erap bloc and effectively denied FPJ the presidency (along with the Garci shenanigans of course).
Let’s say for the sake of argument that the Erap bloc puts up Binay and Escudero (sorry Loren) and the administration fields de Castro and Bayani.
That still leaves Manny Villar and Mar Roxas, who will almost certainly run very well- funded campaigns, not to mention the usual crazies (Eddie Gill, Imelda, et al) who pop up to brighten our mundane lives at such times.
These four teams have the money and machinery to pick up at least 5 million votes (about 15% of the electorate) each. That leaves about 40% to be divided between them and a credible fifth candidate. If Panlilio runs a decent campaign, that could be him. If the votes are spread fairly evenly, 25%-30% might just win it. The victor would have great difficulty in claiming a mandate, and we can expect the usual post-poll protests, but that will be the case whoever wins.
Panlilio’s greatest ally will be public dissatisfaction with the current system and the desire for a moral alternative. Still, such disenchantment has been building for a long time and look who was voted in last time. Panlilio also has to expect opponents to work hard to blacken his pure image; criticisms have started already, and it will be difficult for him to make it all the way through campaigning season without some muck sticking to that white shirt he usually wears.
Panlilio’s two most notable achievements have been increasing the revenues from quarry operations from Mount Pinatubo (he collected P29.4 million in his first month in office, which was about the same as his predecessor collected in a year) and his return of a paper bag containing P500,000 after a meeting between President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and local officials in Malacañang. These are impressive, but will they be enough to take him all the way?
Panlilio’s victory in 2007 was remarkable, but it took place in very particular circumstances. Even by the standards of Philippine elections, his two opponents (the corrupt and useless Lapid and the wife of the provincial gambling lord, Bong Pineda) seemed to come straight from Third World Politics for dummies. He won’t have such easy targets in 2010.
One of the most important questions Panlilio will have to answer has been posed by blogger Carlo Ople: “If you really want to stay in politics, why not focus on Pampanga first?” That’s a legitimate question, I think. Among Ed has been governor of Pampanga for less than two years, shouldn’t he complete his work there before aspiring to national office? There are legitimate answers to that question but Ed and his advisers are going to have prepare them because it is a point that is already being made.
I am not trying to pour cold water on Brother Ed’s prospects; personally I would love it if he ran and won, especially if he is in tandem with the courageous governor of Isabella, Grace Padaca. If I had the vote, I would certainly put my cross against their names. But winning against the entrenched patronage network that has led the country into its current mess would be an enormous feat, greater in its way even than Obama’s victory last November.
The odds against a fifth candidate, even one comparatively well known like Panlilio, are enormous. His supporters may argue that Panlilio and Grace Padaca won the gubernatorial races in Pampanga and Isabella with no funds and no machinery but surely it would be impossible to run a national campaign on a shoestring. As Nicanor Perlas points out, politicians from outside “the system” can win, but only if they manage to mobilize civil society on an almost unprecedented scale. If there is to be a fifth column in 2010 it will need more than Brother Ed’s sincerity, it will require a campaign with enormous organizational expertise, support from the traditional leftist parties (Bayan Muna is already making positive noises), a huge fundraising effort, and possible links with Mar Roxas's campaign. All that is possible, but since it is starting from zero, the campaign has to start right away.
PS A half hour interview with Ed Panlilio can be found here.