THE POPULARITY of Francis Joseph Guevara Escudero, now senator of the republic and possible presidential aspirant for 2010, has been attributed to many things. Some claim it is his eloquence. Many have marveled at his ability to stretch a single thought into a 20-minute social commentary, dripping with synonyms and similes, delivered with the same deadpan efficiency of a call center agent explaining to the 38th caller just why their electricity went off in the storm. Others claim it is his looks, this tall lean man in shirtsleeves surrounded by colleagues carting potbellies in embroidered pineapple silk shirts. According to his personal website, his “rise into the nation’s consciousness” is nothing less than “meteoric.” He is described as “consistently leading surveys as the most trusted official of the land,” and his various distinctions—including the recent “Most Admired TV Personality” in 2008—proves “he has not gone unnoticed.”
The most trusted official in the land, an Escudero of Sorsogon, spent the nine years of his political career in the comfortable embrace of the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC). In the last few months, although coy about his political intentions—“I try not to think about it”—he was the party’s acknowledged standard-bearer, the darling of leadership forums and youth conferences. With his very recent defection from the NPC on the grounds of personal conviction, the man who defended convicted plunderer Joseph Estrada has become the golden boy of principled leadership, another touchstone of national change on the heels of Noynoy Aquino’s rise as the nation’s moral, if less articulate choice.
Escudero announced he was defecting from the NPC, at a press conference where, both press and his party believed, he would finally declare his intentions to run for president. He gave three reasons.
First, he says that whoever plans to run as president must not belong to any party, not NPC, LP, NP, Lakas or any other, but must belong to the party of the Philippine people. In the grand tradition of Chiz Escudero, the rhetoric flowed on greased wheels. This is the ideal presidential candidate: “All his partymates must be all Filipinos. Child or adult, woman or man, rich or poor, the educated and the not, yellow or red of color, whether a supporter or not, should be treated equally and the same. He cannot only see and hear what his partymates say, while he sees only from afar those who do not belong to his party, those who do not belong to his group.”
Second, he says, “whoever is running, will run, or will become president of the nation must not be chained hand and foot to the party.” If this is all that will happen, he says, the same as ever before, he cannot resolve the nation’s problems. “For me, one party cannot dictate the actions of whoever is running for office. If this is the case, how can he hold accountable the corrupt in government if they belong to his own party?” He gave, to his credit, a list of concrete changes from welfare to security to the state of the oil industry.
But third, he says, “I am leaving my party because I believe that in this way I can achieve what I am to do and the role I am meant to fulfill with regard to the elections, at this time, at this minute, not as a member of any party, not as a partner to anyone, but only myself, as myself.”
In summary, this is what all three of his points mean: A man running for president must not belong to a party, because to belong to a party is to give up independence of action.
In a follow-up interview with TV Patrol’s Ted Failon, asked on what occasion his party has unfairly dictated his actions and choices, Escudero denied he can be dictated to.
“I have never been influenced by my party. When the majority of my partymates partnered with GMA, I was the leader of the opposition in Congress. When some of my partymates ran under the administration in 2007, I ran under the Genuine Opposition, and they respected and accepted it.”
It is difficult to understand then Escudero’s sudden denouncement of party loyalties. With the unimpeachable character he claims to possess, there seems to be little need for the fuss and drama of a party defection. He claims, although he has never been influenced as senator or congressman, to run for president demands more. Assuming there is truth to his claim, he is admitting he suspects he will have less personal conviction as a president, or he believes less was needed as a congressman.
Every party defection is generally a political decision, and the few ideological ones are far between. After all, there is a reason why parties exist in this nation, and it is not for some vaunted idea of ideology. Every party announces good governance as its platform, with little to no variation from over the fence. A party provides machinery, offers financial support, provides a network that can cross over a country as dispersed as the Philippines. I have little to say about the practicability of Escudero’s remaining in the NPC, what I find distasteful is the great white banner of morality he is waving to justify a political decision. Perhaps there is truth in rumors of a lack of financial support, or a falling-out between party members, but whatever the reason, I find it difficult to swallow Escudero’s defection as a righteous stand, the same way I cannot buy Jose de Venecia Jr.’s moral revolution.
The rhetoric shoots itself in the foot. He claims he cannot be corrupted, that his decisions are his own. He denies his party has ever influenced him in the past. And yet he raises an indignant finger at the concept of party loyalties itself, as if a party, irrelevant of the man, can compromise a presidency. He denounces the idea of looking only to a party for advice, when nothing compels a man to look only to his own party. His entire list of changes he wants done are admirable, none of which have anything to do with whether or not he belongs to a party—assuming of course he is the same man he claims to have been in Congress. If he wants to strip himself of the dirt of his own particular party, well and good, but again, it has little to do with the concept of a party, and more to say about the NPC itself.
I do not write this to defend the NPC, or to celebrate the less than admirable goals of the existing party system. I write this because I am offended by one man claiming to be a hero when he is simply a man who made a choice for himself, the same as most men, I write this because I am one of the young people he claims to represent. Mostly, I write this because, very frankly, I cannot trust a man whose mouth says one thing, and his eyes another.