20 June 2007

One step backward, two steps forward

A QUICK trip to Manila yesterday allowed me to exchange some notes with a member of GMA's cabinet, and our conversation turned to the Lakas-Kampi tussle between incumbent House Speaker Jose de Venecia of Pangasinan (backed by Kampi chair and Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno) and Rep. Pablo Garcia of Cebu, aided by Camarines Sur's Luis Villafuerte, Kampi president.

Can it be possible, I asked, that Villafuerte will be able to capitalize on the winds of change in the House to engineer a monumental upset against JDV? Theoretically, yes; but realistically, no, he said. Not if you have an old fogey like Garcia as your standard bearer.

So, has Villafuerte overreached himself this time? Stephen Sergio, writing for the Bicol Mail, offers an intriguing proposition: Villafuerte's move to field Garcia is actually a one-step-backward-two-step-forward strategy, reminiscent of the brilliant Crispa tactician Virgilio "Baby" Dalupan, that is aimed at nothing less than the House Speakership itself.

But then GMA is nearing the endgame of her presidency. She is virtually a lame duck now, and with the likes of Vice President Noli de Castro, Senators Mar Roxas, Manny Villar, Loren Legarda, Ping Lacson, and yes, our very own Escudero breathing on her neck, GMAs support has to be flexible. If JDV falters, say on cha-cha, GMA will let go of him, discard him like used napkin. He cannot spread sunshine all the time. Into his speakership, some rain must fall, especially when his avid supporters now will find out that the pot of gold at the end of his rainbow coalition is illusory. Even now, there is strong resentment among some Lakas members that JDV is frying them on their own pork fat.

Therein lays the opportunity for LRV.
Sergio argues why Villafuerte's got what it takes when the going gets tough:
....JDVs IOUs are already frayed on the edges, having been used up for 12 years now. Whereas, LRV is, though still a junior congressman by House standards, still only beginning to accumulate his IOUs, for his role (in tandem with another Bicolano Rep. Edcel Lagman) in blocking the impeachment moves of the Opposition during the last Congress. Villafuerte single-handedly fought off an array of Opposition stalwarts such as Reps. Ronnie Zamora, Chiz Escudero, Alan Peter Cayetano and the Remulla brothers. His mastery of parliamentary rules and debating skills got the notice of his colleagues that he eventually became president of the President’s party, Kampi.
With the ever shifting sands of fortune, especially in the House, I think this scenario is probable. And if there's any Filipino politician today who has the amorality and thick hide, the durability, the wile and the guile needed in navigating through these treacherous quicksands, it has to be Villafuerte.

He is the quintessential turncoat: When he fell from the good graces of Marcos whom he served as trade and industry minister, he joined the opposition after Ninoy's assassination. During the final days of Erap Estrada, when most everyone, including trusted allies, were deserting him, LRV suddenly showed up by his side, started defending the beleaguered president and singing him hossanas. But when it was clear that Gloria has assumed control, he left Edgardo Angara and the LDP in no time, joining Lakas and later Kampi.

He has hit rock bottom before -- like losing the presidency of the League of Leagues (the predecessor of today's Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines or ULAP), and with it his stillborn presidential ambition, to Bulacan Gov. Roberto "Obet" Pagdanganan in the early '90s, which Peping Cojuangco and his cohorts engineered. Later, he would lose the Provincial Capitol itself to Nonoy Bulaong in a huge upset in 1992.

For instance, as the League of Provinces coup was happening in Manila, I saw him withdraw to Naga, lick his wounds and hide the hurt in celebrating the Kaogma Festival here, which his estranged son LRay has continued. But time and again, he has managed to bounce back.

So, if his bet on Garcia goes off, it is nothing new; he has been down this path through the political wilderness before. But if Sergio's calculations end up being spot on, it will be Villafuerte's victorious last hurrah.