MANILA - Despite his plea for more time to decide, Senator Francis Escudero will seek the presidency, his political adviser Angelito Banayo indicated on Wednesday.
Escudero may be without a political party right now, but he is not entirely without a campaign structure that would solicit and deliver votes in May 2010, Banayo told abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak.
“There are parallel networks that have been established (for Escudero) 6 or 7 months ago,” Banayo said. “These are youth groups, young professionals, Tsinoy businessmen who are supporting Chiz (Escudero’s nickname).”
And whatever worries Escudero’s camp may have about election cheating have been mitigated by the automation of the polls.
In a surprise but hardly shocking move, Escudero announced that he is bolting the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) after 11 years with the party. He explained that someone who wants to lead the country should not be tied up with any political party.
Escudero said he will seek a higher position next year, although he is ambiguous whether it’s the presidency or the vice presidency.
But because of his continued ambiguity, Escudero has lost momentum in the past few months, a source, who is a political operator-adviser, told abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak.
With Senator Benigno Aquino III surging in the surveys, Escudero has lost the opportunity to solidify his position as a strong presidential bet, the source observed.
Although he is known to be glib and to have a sharp tongue, Escudero has been coy about his presidential plan, and this has been turning off many voters.
In contrast, the reluctance of Aquino, who is not known to be articulate like Escudero, appears more genuine, the source said.
When Liberal Party (LP) President Senator Mar Roxas offered to slide down and Aquino took on the challenge reluctantly, “the two gained moral ascendancy which Escudero could no longer claim for himself.”
“This put Roxas as a viable vice-presidential bet because he is perceived to be sacrificing. Escudero is still a strong contender, but like (the late Senator Raul) Roco, he would be seen as a spoiler," the source said.
Like Escudero, Roco hailed from the vote-rich Bicol region. Roco was figuring strongly in pre-election surveys, only to peter out in the campaign stretch. Roco contested the 2004 presidential race, landing fourth behind President Gloria Arroyo, Fernando Poe Jr., and Panfilo Lacson.
Chiz to recover lost ground
Banayo admitted that Escudero has lost some ground with the entry of Aquino, “but we intend to recover and secure those that Aquino will lose.”
He said Aquino may be enjoying the “after glow” right now, “but the question is how long can he sustain it?”
In the latest survey by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) conducted September 18-21, Aquino was the preferred choice of 60 percent of 1,800 respondents, followed by Nacionalista Party (NP) standard-bearer Senator Manuel Villar with 37 percent. Escudero was at fourth place, trailing former President Joseph Estrada. Respondents were allowed to give up to 3 names. (Read: Noynoy, Villar best leaders to succeed Arroyo)
Automation eliminates cheating fears
Told that Escudero’s votes would be vulnerable to cheating without a political machinery that could field watchers, Banayo said the modernization of the election system has mitigated fears of cheating.
Banayo said the anomalies are normally in the election documents, from the election returns to the statement of votes and certificate of canvass, and the slow tally and the slow count. In the automated polls, the results in the precincts are immediately transmitted to the Commission on Elections (Comelec) headquarters, thus removing human intervention. Election returns, however, are still printed by the machine.
The political operator-adviser, who was with Lacson before he gave up his presidential ambition, downplayed the role that political parties play in national races.
He said local officials “will fend for themselves in the local fights,” rendering vote delivery by local officials largely irrelevant.
Essentially, he said, command votes, as dictated by local power players, exist only in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
Message, not party, is key
In a multi-candidate presidential race, Banayo said “what is important is how your message resonates to the public.”
He said Escudero’s camp is inspired by the experience of Senator Miriam Santiago who, despite a ragtag team, nearly won the 1992 presidential race. Santiago, at that time, captured the imagination of the youth vote, which Escudero is now trying to claim as his constituency.
In cutting his ties with the NPC, Escudero can now campaign based on people politics, instead of the power politics and party politics that burden other candidates, Banayo said.
Still, Escudero “agonized for a month over his decision.”
Chiz-Ping in the works?
Asked if there is a brewing partnership with Lacson as Escudero’s running mate, Banayo said Lacson sent a text message saying "Good move Chiz," and indicated that he wants to sit down with Escudero to talk.
Other political advisers and operators, however, do not share Banayo’s optimistic views.
They noted that political reality dictates that a national candidate should have support in the grassroots level through a political party. “You cannot go around by yourself. Look what happened to Lacson?” Lacson contested the 2004 presidential race as an independent.
As a possible graceful exit, they said Escudero should have endorsed Aquino and Roxas instead if he wanted to regain a moral high ground.