Destiny and aspiration

“ONE CAN aspire for, plan, and win a seat in the Senate. But the presidency? That’s destiny.” That was how Ninoy Aquino, the campaign manager of the Liberal Party for the 1971 senatorial polls, characterized then the ascent to the top during a press conference at the now defunct Au Bon Vivant Restaurant in Ermita, Manila.

Destiny. Indeed, many brilliant officials aspired and certainly deserved to reside in Malacañang, among them, Claro M. Recto, Salvador “Doy” Laurel, Gerardo Roxas, Jovito R. Salonga, and Ninoy himself. But sadly, none of them landed in the Palace. Who would have thought that an unpretentious, guileless and reluctant Cory Aquino would be propelled to the presidency? And now, who would have thought that her son, Noynoy, would be the next reluctant “presidentiable”?

Noynoy had pledged to support Mar (Manuel) Roxas. He was content in promoting his friend’s ambition. But his mother’s death altered their best-laid plans. To his credit, Mar immediately recognized the changed landscape and unconditionally endorsed Noynoy as the Liberal Party standard-bearer.

Fidel V. Ramos too was not thinking of the presidency until he worried that the Edsa legacy he fought and nearly died for would be tattered unless he made a bid for the prize plum himself. And despite being rebuffed by the ruling party, he courageously marched on to capture the elusive fortress, with Cory’s help.

Joseph Estrada was content to be the king of San Juan, until the new Edsa rulers ousted him from his enclave. Thus, he had to seek other avenues – the Senate, the vice presidency and eventually the presidency. Now, after being ousted after serving only two and half years of his six-year term, he has embarked on a new journey to regain his destiny.

Considering the formidable odds facing him, not the least of which are the legal questions of whether as a former convict who was stripped of his political rights and as a former president who – his detractors claim – is constitutionally barred from seeking his previous position, his victory would truly be destiny of the highest order. Yes, destiny it is if he can rise again as the savior of the masses he always loved and of the country he never abandoned.

Succession. Destiny it was also for those who rose by succession rather than by election. Vice Presidents Elpidio Quirino, Carlos P. Garcia and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ascended because they were at the right place at the right time. Carlos P. Romulo was the initial VP choice of President Manuel Roxas (Mar’s grandfather). But Romulo begged off, preferring to be ambassador to the United States (See Romulo, “Crusade in Asia” p. 16). With the untimely demise of Roxas in 1948, the unheralded Quirino inherited the mantle.

The colorful Manila Mayor Arsenio H. Lacson was President Ramon Magsaysay’s preferred teammate. Declining his nomination as VP, Lacson quipped, “Everybody knows a vice-president’s job is to wait for the president to die. I am afraid Magsaysay is a very healthy man and would make a healthier president.” (Abueva, “Ramon Magsaysay Political Biography,” p. 240) When Magsaysay died in a plane crash in 1957, VP Garcia took over, to Lacson’s chagrin.

Remember too that Ms Arroyo was initially gunning for the top job but settled for the vice presidency upon realizing that Erap (Estrada’s monicker) could not be defeated in the 1998 race.

Ambition. While destiny may have propelled many, Diosdado Macapagal and Ferdinand Marcos prepared themselves and meticulously planned their way. Both were brilliant lawyers, nay, bar topnotchers. To steel himself, Macapagal added a doctoral degree in economics to his credentials. Both worked their traditional way to power, by scheming, dealing and winning the people’s vote.

This is the same ambitious road that Manuel Villar is taking. Sipag at tiyaga (industry and determination), so his battle cry goes; first to the House and the Speakership, then to the Senate and the Senate presidency. Doy (Salvador) Laurel saw the future in him. On his deathbed, he asked his nephew and political chieftain Jose Macario Laurel to recruit Villar into the Nacionalista Party. Incidentally, Doy Laurel wanted the presidency too. But like his father, Jose P. Laurel who gave way to Magsaysay in 1953, Doy withdrew in favor of Cory in the 1986 snap election.

Villar revitalized the NP, accumulated logistics through his business empire and methodically campaigned, using time-tested media exposures and well-planned town hall forays, landing him at the top of the latest surveys.

As of now, VP Noli de Castro is neither a hero of destiny nor of ambition. But if he must land at the Palace, it will have to be via sheer piloted desire, which he told me during the wake of President Cory, he did not have yet. But the yellow fever plus the unmistakable signal that President Arroyo wants him impels immediate action. He should now desire the presidency or it will slip away.

Summation. As 2010 looms, I think the battle royale will be among these four: Noynoy Aquino, the yellow man of destiny; Joseph Estrada, the resurgent hero of the masa; Manny Villar, the epitome of logistics and planning; and Noli de Castro, the choice of President Arroyo and the Lakas-Kampi-CMD. Which will prevail: destiny or aspiration? We should know soon enough.

Francis Escudero, Loren Legarda, Jejomar Binay, Gibo (Gilbert) Teodoro, Bayani Fernando, Richard Gordon, Eddie Villanueva, etc. may slide down to the VP derby, or endorse one of the four as Ed Panlilio and Grace Padaca did last Friday. Better to win as VP than to lose as president.

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