Binay and the politics of firsts

First of two parts

MANILA, Philippines – In 2010, hardly anyone saw Jejomar Binay coming. Now, the Vice President is the dark horse no more.

The Makati mayor whose rivals dismissed as a third placer became the country’s second most powerful man. If his survey showing keeps up, Binay might just achieve his childhood dream: to become president of the Philippines.

How will he do it? The same way he did in 2010, by starting early.

Binay already formed a vehicle for the 2013 and 2016 polls: the United Nationalist Alliance or UNA. The 2013 elections will be held exactly a year from now, May 13, 2013.

Translated as “first” in English, UNA says a lot about Binay’s preparations, leadership, and politics Philippine style.

FLASHBACK 2009. Binay attends an ANC leadership forum. Hardly anyone predicted then that a year later, he would become vice president. Photo from Senate website

FLASHBACK 2009. Binay attends an ANC leadership forum. Hardly anyone predicted then that a year later, he would become vice president.

Photo from Senate website

UNA is Binay’s brainchild. To form the group, he turned to his longtime ally and 2010 election partner, former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada.

UNA combines the forces of Binay’s Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) and Estrada’s Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP).

As early as December 2011 to January 2012, Binay told his partymate, Sen Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, to prepare to register the alliance in time for the March 30, 2012 deadline of the Commission on Elections. Pimentel is president of PDP-Laban.

“Vice President Binay and President Erap already brainstormed it because I was only informed that it was the final decision and I liked it, even the name, I like the name,” Pimentel tells Rappler.

The alliance’s registration sparked media fireworks. To its leaders though, it was not even news. Navotas Rep Tobias “Toby” Tiangco, secretary-general of UNA, saw it coming.

“I think it’s the most natural coalition. We’ve been together since 2001. We’ve been together ever since the time President Estrada was illegally removed from office and we’ve never separated ways.”

The relationship between PDP-Laban and PMP has survived the test of 3 elections.

In 2004, they supported the presidential bid of Estrada’s best friend, the late actor Fernando Poe Jr under the Arroyo opposition alliance Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP). In 2007, the group was called Genuine Opposition (GO). Three years later, they were at it again as the United Opposition (UNO).

CONSTRUCTIVE OPPOSITION. Vice President Jejomar Binay says his alliance is not against President Aquino. File photo by Malacau00f1ang Photo Bureau

CONSTRUCTIVE OPPOSITION. Vice President Jejomar Binay says his alliance is not against President Aquino.

File photo by Malacau00f1ang Photo Bureau

'Loyal to the queen'

This time around, Binay took pains to change the coalition’s name. The explanation is simple: the alliance does not consider itself as opposition to President Benigno Aquino III.

After all, Binay is part of the Aquino Cabinet and owes his political break to the president’s mother. In 1986, President Corazon Aquino appointed him as the first officer-in-charge local executive. From then since 2010, Binay was Makati mayor except for 3 years when he had to comply with constitutional term limits.

Instead, Binay prefers the term “constructive opposition.”

Tiangco explains, “Criticism doesn’t mean that you don’t support. This is one important thing that the administration has to accept and realize. Your critics are not always your opponents. Your allies can be your critics also.”

JV Bautista, UNA spokesperson and PDP-Laban executive director, likens the coalition to Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition of Britain.

“We are loyal to the queen but not to the ministers.”

UNA TRIO. The alliance banks on the experience and popularity of Binay, Enrile and Estrada to boost the coalition in 2013 and beyond. File photo by Joe Arazas, Senate PRIB

UNA TRIO. The alliance banks on the experience and popularity of Binay, Enrile and Estrada to boost the coalition in 2013 and beyond.

File photo by Joe Arazas, Senate PRIB

The 3 kingmakers

UNA may consider Aquino king but the coalition boasts of its own political royalties.

UNA’s first meeting on April 24 in the Coconut Palace led to the creation of its executive committee. It consists of leaders who have occupied the top 3 posts in government: Binay, Estrada and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile.

Enrile describes UNA as David who is up against the Goliath that is Aquino’s Liberal Party (LP). Traditionally, the ruling party enjoys the machinery and money that come with incumbency. 

The alliance, however, believes the troika’s experience and popularity make UNA a formidable opponent. Watch here: 

Binay and Estrada started out as long-term mayors of Makati and San Juan, respectively. Estrada went on to become senator, vice president, and president. In 2010, he almost became president again despite being convicted of plunder but later pardoned in 2007.

Enrile has an even longer political career, culminating as presiding officer in the historic impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona.

Tiangco says, “I’m not belittling the team of the President but can anyone match the experience of these 3 leaders of our coalition? Name one guy in the Cabinet of the President. I’m not even saying combined experience. And now, combine the experience of these 3 personalities. I mean shouldn’t they have an ear from this government?”

Illustration by Ernest John Fiestan

The magnet and personality politics

UNA’s confidence has basis. Binay knew his alliance’s potential early on. An ally, Joey de Venecia, said that back in October 2011, the Binay camp already began commissioning its own surveys.

De Venecia says the internal surveys validate results from public pollsters.

“The trends for VP Binay in terms of helping candidates, it’s consistent with Pulse Asia. Pulse Asia came out with [a survey that] he had an endorsing value of over 70%,” De Venecia says. “The field work that we do is two weeks before Pulse Asia. Nauuna kami. UNA kami.” (We are ahead. We are UNA.)

Aside from the survey on endorsers for the senatorial race, Binay has been topping trust and approval ratings in both public and internal surveys.

Estrada and Enrile are also faring well. Pulse Asia ranked Estrada as the third top political endorser, and Enrile as the second most approved public official, largely due to his role in the trial.

Historically, vice presidents do better than presidents in surveys. Still, UNA thinks Binay’s leadership style and solid grassroots network will keep the trend going.

Bautista, who works closely with Binay, attests to his tirelessness in visiting provinces. He says even as vice president, Binay still regularly graces weddings and attends wakes.

ON THE GROUND. Partymates say Binay's style is to remain accessible to allies and ordinary folks even now that he is vice president. File photo from Binay's Facebook page

ON THE GROUND. Partymates say Binay's style is to remain accessible to allies and ordinary folks even now that he is vice president.

File photo from Binay's Facebook page

Tiangco admits, “Philippine politics is personality based, whether we like it or not … and in Philippine politics, politicians gravitate to the next possible president.”

‘Not an easy job’

While Binay is not running in 2013, he is already playing an active role in the midterm election. For aspiring senatorial bets, he is the man to see.

Binay, Estrada and Enrile are assisted by a core group or steering committee. The team includes stalwarts of PMP and PDP-Laban, family, and aides of Binay and Estrada. They are:

 

Tiangco says there is no time to waste.

“Our first job really is to be prepared for the filing of the certificate of candidacy on October 1, to ensure that the coalition is ready to fill up first of all the 13 senators and of course, the local positions. It’s not an easy job thinking that we have just five months.”

What makes UNA’s job easier is the decision not to coalesce with other national parties.

UNA TANDEM. Vice President Jejomar Binay's coalition is limiting its alliance to these two parties. Illustration by Ernest John Fiestan

UNA TANDEM. Vice President Jejomar Binay's coalition is limiting its alliance to these two parties.

Illustration by Ernest John Fiestan

De Venecia points out, “The problem with coalescing with mainstream political parties is that then you have to consider their local candidates. So it becomes problematic because we have our own local candidates as well.”

This shuts the door to an alliance with the LP.

If it is not opposition, is UNA any different from the Liberals? – Rappler.com