The curious case of Chiz Escudero
Yesterday, Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero, a popular contender in the May 2010 presidential elections, resigned from his party, the National People’s Coalition, in a clear bid to distance himself from NPC Chair, business tycoon and putative presidential kingmaker, Mr. Danding Cojuangco. The announcement sent shockwaves throughout the electoral arena. Other candidates and their respective camps, as well as political pundits of all stripes, will have a field day analyzing the underpinnings, implications and possible scenarios generated by Mr. Escudero’s bombshell decision until he makes his final announcement of his political plans in the coming weeks.
I first met Mr. Escudero when I, together with other victims of human rights violations under the Marcos dictatorship, sought a dialogue with members of the House of Representatives over a bill that would respond to the victims’ demand for justice and restitution. He was then a first term representative from Sorsogon. I ended up berating the cocky lawyer-congressman for seeming to trivialize the victims’ plaint and attributed his apparent lack of concern to the fact that his father had been one of Marcos’ loyal Cabinet members. Back then, he already struck me as somewhat of a jaded politician despite his youth.
In time though, Mr. Escudero has become a curious case, not unlike the hero in the fanciful film “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, who started out physically old and emotionally naïve, then inexplicably grew younger as he matured.
Sen. Escudero’s decision stands out because it is a refreshing departure from the display of political opportunism that has so far suffused the campaigns of the both the administration and the front running opposition candidates. It gives a premium to independence on substantive issues over patronage and finance/machinery/logistics, the so-called winnability factors.
Most broadsheets failed to mention or underplayed Sen. Escudero’s amplification of what he meant by taking an independent stance from the vested interests locked into his membership in the NPC, or any other mainstream political party for that matter. He pointed to the fight against corruption: what if those he needed to run after were members of his own party? Or, the political godfather himself, Mr. Cojuangco?
Sen. Escudero reiterated his rejection of the pork barrel system in Congress that undergirds and reinforces patronage politics, including Malacanang’s hold on Congress by the Chief Executive’s power to disburse the coveted “countryside development funds” of both congressmen and senators. He said that his membership in a party with a host of Congress members weakens his position.
He highlighted his stand against the contractualization of labor as part of his commitment to uphold the rights of ordinary working people. He categorically said he is against oil deregulation and pointed out how the small fry like jeepney drivers are strictly regulated when it comes to hiking passenger fees while giant oil firms are free to fix the price of fuel according to the dictates of profitability.
He also mentioned upholding the dignity and integrity of the work of government employees like soldiers, police and even ambassadors who are made to act as footstools of political bigwigs rather being allowed to do their job of giving service to the people unhampered.
Rather than safe motherhood statements about government reform, alleviating poverty and caring for the disadvantaged, Mr. Escudero concretized his position by taking on existing policies and ways of doing things. In the process he gave notice to big business, foreign and domestic, to his fellow politicians especially those who have yet to be made accountable for their corruption and other crimes against the people, and most of all to the people whose support he courts, where he stands on issues.
According to the senator, he left the NPC because he has come to realize that anyone who is planning to seek higher office should owe his loyalty not to any party but to the country and the people. Such lofty rhetoric is not original. We’ve heard it before and have learned to take such claim with a huge grain of salt.
Yet Mr. Escudero’s decision appears to go against everything a politician in this country learns as he makes the climb to the top; that is, to make sure one has the backing of those sections of the ruling elite who matter – the ones with the big bucks, the clout and the organizational machinery to get you where you want to go. Of course, one knows the quid pro quo.
To be sure, the scuttlebutt is that Sen. Escudero failed to get the kind of financial support that he was asking for from Mr. Cojuangco, thus the resignation. (A fantastic figure of 5 billion pesos was reported by one broadsheet unabashedly rooting for another presidential candidate.) This is supposedly the real reason for the senator’s junking of his party and his patron.
Even if we are to believe the imputed motive and alleged circumstances surrounding Sen. Escudero’s resignation, we do not necessarily come to the conclusion that his decision to go independent is an unprincipled one. In fact, it is an astute one. For why should the senator carry the onus of a Cojuangco anointment, by an unrepentant Marcos crony now reputedly the favored Arroyo crony who is helping to money launder the Arroyo family’s plundered billions, if it were not equivalent to a sizeable campaign kitty? He may as well not go by the rules as far as his presidential bid is concerned.
The possible return on this high-stakes gambit for Sen. Escudero is being able to take the moral and political high ground and possibly capturing the imagination of those among our people, the youth most especially, who are still looking for an alternative to the tiresome array of politicians cast in the same old, traditional (aka “trapo”) mold.
The many permutations of running mates or presidential and vice-presidential tandems made possible by Sen. Escudero’s exit from the NPC certainly indicates either (1) there is no fundamental difference in the different candidates’ stand on important issues; (2) they can easily compromise their stands (i.e. there is wide maneuver room for opportunism); or (3) both of the above. Witness how the Lakas-NUCD-Kampi lost no time in extending an invitation to Sen. Escudero to be the administration’s veep candidate. The Nationalista Party headed by its standard bearer Sen. Manny Villar has once more given him the moist eye despite an earlier rebuff.
Will Chiz Escudero squander this once-in-a-lifetime chance to wage an “out-of-the-box” candidacy over the better-oiled and media-hyped campaign of his rivals? Or will he take a stab at making history and achieve the biggest upset this country has seen in an electoral contest? #
*Published in Business World
30-31 October 09