Crossroads (Toward Philippine economic and social progress)
Philippine Star, 20 April 2016

Great presidents and popular leaders often start a line of politicians within the family and through generations. Popularity renders a consequence that is either planned or unintended.

There are also self-made leaders. These are the “originals” who accomplish or fulfill their destiny on the basis of their competence, charisma or even personal luck.

In our modern history, we have many examples. Sergio Osmena produced a dynasty of politicians in Cebu. Jose P. Laurel was the progenitor of the Laurels in Batangas.

More recently, Joseph Estrada’s popularity made possible the election to the Senate of a wife and two sons. Diosdado Macapagal produced the name recognition for his daughter Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Ninoy Aquino as provider of unique examples. As an opposition leader during the Marcos era, Benigno ‘Ninoy’ Aquino often said the fame and political standing of Imelda Marcos was like the shine of the moon. She derived her shine only from Marcos.

What he meant was that without the sun (Marcos), the moon (a less consequential Imelda) would not shine. The strong political standing of Imelda was as temporary as Marcos’s hold on political power.

How true is this aphorism when applied to Ninoy’s family! When he met his untimely martyrdom, the leadership of the opposition to Marcos and later, through people power, that of the nation’s, was transferred to his bereaved widow, Corazon Aquino. Without the nostalgia that followed the death of Cory in 2009, there would have been no Noynoy election to the presidency in 2010.

This is all current history to us.

A Binay example. During the 2013 senatorial elections, Vice President Jejomar Binay was considered the likely president by 2016. He was at the height of his presidential ambition and popularity.

When she ran for senator, Nancy Binay was only an unknown Makati former official who had served as staff to Binay the vice president. The daughter, however, won a seat handily in the Senate despite her limited experience.

The spark of the Binay name then was the guarantee to the election,

Grace Poe. A more outstanding example of reflected glory is Grace Poe’s. At first, she successfully won the post of senator even as her most recent public position was as censor for movies to be shown in the country.

Her magic depends fully on the surname that she carries: the adopted daughter of a popular movie couple, Fernando Poe and Susan Roces.

Fernando Poe ran for the presidency from a long career in the movies. Unlike Joseph Estrada who had encouraged his run, he did not have any political experience even as mayor of a small town. But like Estrada, he portrayed heroic roles.

Poe nearly won the presidency against the incumbent. In fact, the “Hello, Garci” scandal of the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s presidency suggested he was cheated of possible electoral victory.

As a result – movies and possible cheating as cause for defeat – the Poe name simply carried magic to the zenith of recall and prominence, enabling Grace Poe to top the senatorial elections of 2013.

Helped by an uncanny ability to communicate well especially in the native tongue, Grace Poe in this election reduced the political star of Sen. Loren Legarda by a very impressive margin of votes. Legarda, who was Fernando Poe’s running mate for vice president, was thus reduced to political obscurity in this election year.

Just to show how prominently the association with a famous political figure is manipulated, Grace Poe uses the surname Poe and only it. Her married name Llamanzares is hardly mentioned at all.

In Cagayan province (where I traveled to recently), posters show the candidate flanked by Fernando Poe and Susan Roces. (Even as I say this though, I had not seen the same poster in the other provinces that I passed through, and along the way, in the other provinces of Luzon north of Manila this summer.)

Bongbong Marcos. The ultimate name recall is that of Bongbong Marcos. Running for vice president, he runs against a tide of vilification that continues to demonize his father, whose name he bears.

After 30 years of concerted effort to blame Marcos for many sins – real and imagined – Bongbong’s vice presidential candidacy provides also a practical test of how his father’s rule and legacy stand out before the electorate.

Bongbong’s rise in the political surveys of preference for vice president indicates he stands a good chance of being elected. It seems he inherits a positive legacy from Marcos senior.

Why is this so? It appears to follow from the surge in popularity of Rodrigo Duterte to presidential front-runner. On occasions, Duterte has professed admiration for the senior Marcos. Duterte’s rise is an indication of the desire of the people for peace and order and for ridding the nation of the drug cartels and criminals.

Leni Robredo. Picked as running mate to Mar Roxas’s presidential candidacy, Rep. Leni Robredo was a substitute for Grace Poe, who wanted to be president. Leni’s candidacy is like that of Cory Aquino, without the martyrdom experience.

She suffered the same grief of a widow to a promising politician. Jesse Robredo , former mayor of Naga, was looked up to as a model mayor that could be catapulted to higher office. As the local government secretary, an air crash cut short that life.

Leni has received a lot of shine from her husband’s example, starting from her successful run for Congress. She herself would have to show her rise to challenge her own abilities.

Mar Roxas. As presidential candidate, Mar’s name is directly traceable to Manuel A. Roxas, the first president of the Republic. Mar’s father was Gerardo Roxas, a son of the president and a prominent senator himself.

But even with this glorious root, Mar now can be judged more fully on the basis of his experience which, among the candidates, is the most diverse.

By the same token, the quality of leadership that this experience imparts can be judged for what it conveys. His steady low perception in candidate preference, although rising slowly, has never reached the top among the candidates. His chance of winning as the candidate of the administration is not trivial. That possibility will be tested against the stronger candidates