Sara, the game changer

On or before Nov. 15, Mayor Sara Duterte will have to decide with finality whether to substitute for Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa as the presidential bet of the ruling PDP-Laban party and/or the Lakas-CMD of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Though the feisty Inday has steadfastly refused to chase any national post, I will not be surprised if her teeming supporters would flood the country’s streets and plazas with motorcades and rallies, and fill the TV-radio networks, newspapers, and social media with pleas to “Run, Sara, Run.”

If she relents, she may be given the privilege to select her slate and new leaders of PDP-Laban. As the ruling party’s bet and the top choice of the poll surveys, she would be assured of ample logistics. In fact, her enviable problem would be which donations to accept and which ones to reject.
If, on the other hand, she maintains her refusal, most of the candidates will review their campaigns and seek the blessing of the people in power. Past elections have shown that the administration can shepherd up to 10 percent of the votes. And in a tight multiparty contest, these votes can mean victory or defeat.

Mayor Isko Moreno will probably be a big beneficiary of an Inday cop-out. While he had criticized the administration’s poor handling of the pandemic, he has nonetheless positioned himself as the apostle of national reconciliation by his rather canny adoption of the “good policies and projects” of President Duterte and of former president Ferdinand Marcos, and the rejection of their dubious ones.
His posture as the “Healing President” may even secure the blessings of the Solid North by convincing its favorite son, Bongbong Marcos, to be the substitute of Willie Ong as his running mate.

And speaking of Bongbong, he may want to join the PDP-Laban and actualize his sister Imee’s “dream team” of Sara-Bongbong or Bongbong-Sara, assuming the lady from Davao agrees. This will not be strange, because Bongbong has chosen to run under the little-known Federal Party and not under the tarnished KBL of martial law vintage.
The redoubtable pork barrel nemesis Sen. Ping Lacson may have to bite the bullet if he remains in the Pulse Asia cellar, and save his partner, the popular Senate President Tito Sotto, a slot in Yorme’s Akyon Demokratiko, or in Manny Pacquiao’s Promdi, or in the PDP-Laban, or even in the Liberal Party (LP) where the VP bet, Sen. Kiko Pangilinan, has publicly expressed his willingness (to his wife Sharon’s comfort) to withdraw if VP Leni Robredo’s bid would thereby be enhanced.
As for VP Leni, she will remain the opposition’s hallowed candidate especially of the anti-Duterte and anti-Marcos crowd. However, if Sara runs, Leni would lose the distinction of being the only lady gunning for the top job.
Strange, however, why Leni chose to run as an independent and not as a nominee of the LP she chairs. By being independent, Leni deprived herself of the legal pluses of the LP as the dominant minority party. I wonder what benefits her singularity would bring. But the fact is: No independent has ever been elected president.
The LP has a long and storied history since it was founded 75 years ago and has an army of loyal cadres down to the barangay level. (I know a bit of LP politics because after the Edsa revolution when Senate President Jovito R. Salonga was the LP president, I was the LP’s chief legal counsel.)

Practically abandoning the LP cadres and the unsung “yellows,” can Leni expect their total, unwavering support? Can she expect them to remain loyal to and stay in the LP after their leader has detached from them?
The pandemic is shifting political campaigns from face-to-face to online. Do her “kakampinks” have the expertise and wherewithal to tap social media successfully? Do they have influencers the likes of Mocha Uson who, despite their loathing, is conceded to have “attracted 4 million likes and recorded around 1.2 million engagements” while campaigning for President Duterte in 2016, so says a 2020 white paper of the respected ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore?
To minimize preaching to the converted (as the deluge of social media posts did after Leni filed her COC) and to understand the “strength of weak ties” and the “weakness of strong ties” in spreading beliefs and triggering actions via social networks, her team may want to read “Change” by Penn professor Damon Centola (January 2021).
In sum, whether she runs or not, Sara will be the game changer of the political landscape come Nov. 15.
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