OFFLINE: Path to the presidency

The six serious candidates for the Philippine presidency should, by this time, have already assembled their campaign teams. In many ways, the personal popularity of a candidate is not enough to win as big a prize as a six-year term in Malacanang.

Leni Robredo, Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., Isko Moreno, Manny Pacquiao, Ping Lacson, and Bato dela Rosa may all want to be president, but conventional wisdom says that it will really be a one-on-one between two bets.

Most political analysts will say it’s a race between Robredo and Marcos Jr., but this need not be so. One only has to take a look back at the 2016 elections to see that the presidential race had candidates moving up and down the popularity charts.

This was also true in the past elections such as 2000.

Six years ago, it appeared like then vice president Jejomar Binay was a cinch to clinch the presidency. After all, he had been campaigning for the post almost as soon as he won the vice presidency in 2000.

As his popularity faded with revelations about his unexplained wealth, Grace Poe rose in the rankings. Her campaign was based on little more than her being the adoptive daughter of the late, great King of Philippine Movies, Fernando Poe, Jr.

Sound familiar? Like Marcos Jr., she had little more to offer the electorate than her father’s name.

Towards the homestretch, however, the two leading candidates were Mar Roxas and eventual winner Rodrigo Duterte.

A sad last placer was Miriam Defensor Santiago, who was gunning for the presidency for a third time. She almost made it in her first attempt, but lost out to Fidel Ramos. She did not do as well in her second try, and her third try was truly pathetic to watch.

This could be a warning to Ping Lacson, who is also running for a third try at the presidency.

Go back further and recall that in 2000, billionaire Manny Villar was initially the favorite to win it all. But Benigno Aquino III skyrocketed to the top, helped partly by the massive support he received following the passing of his mother, the beloved President Cory Aquino.

So now we have five men and one woman all seeking to succeed Duterte. Oddly enough, Duterte’s bet is the weakest of the six presidential candidates, Senator Bato dela Rosa.

His chances of winning are about as close to zero as possible. Only massive cheating on a scale never before seen can do the trick for him. This is not to disparage dela Rosa, but he is a neophyte senator best known for crying whenever he receives bad news. He is also a co-accused with Duterte in the mass murder charges the president faces before the International Criminal Court.

What then are the chances of the “lesser” bets Moreno, Pacquiao and Lacson?

Between the three, it was the Manila mayor who made waves when he first announced that he was running for the country’s top elective post. But his campaign got off to a bad start after his campaign manager quit on him, his top senate bet Noli de Castro also backed off, and the young and popular mayor of Pasig Vico Sotto distanced himself from the former movie actor.

Worst of all, his candidacy is now being handled by a political operative of dubious reputation. Moreno’s attacks on Robredo while avoiding Marcos Jr and his other opponents has also cost him some supporters.

As for Pacquiao, his campaign appears to be aimed at the rural areas where his popularity is unquestioned. I know a key member of his inner campaign circle, and the guy is a true marketing genius.

Pacman’s campaign is based on his generosity, which is the stuff of legend. Long before he chose to run, he had been extremely generous to his followers. He has, in fact, donated 50,000 houses to followers nationwide, using a combination of his own personal funds and the pork barrel he is entitled to as senator.

That’s no typo. The number of mostly small core houses he has donated is about 50,000. That’s a lot of Filipino families he has made happy and who are now beholden to him.

Then there is candidate Ping Lacson. I have to admit that if Robredo had opted to run for governor of her home province of Camarines Norte, the former Philippine National Police chief would have been my choice.

I am aware of some of the horrible things he has been accused of, but I am also well aware of his honesty. He is so against the pork barrel system that he has refused to spend the hundreds of millions he was entitled to during his stint as lawmaker.

Businessmen who dealt with him during his time as PNP chief will also say that he has refused millions in rebates and commissions.

The worst that can be said about him is his alleged involvement in the killing of the Kuratong Baleleng kidnap-for-ransom gang. He was eventually cleared of the accusations, and besides who really cares if a bunch of vicious criminals met their end the same way they lived?

Which brings us to Robredo vs Marcos Jr. Unless the latter is disqualified by the Comelec and/or the Supreme Court, it really will be a one-on-one between the two.

Marcos Jr.’s camp has done well in making him popular with the younger generation of Filipinos through the use of social media. But as more and more of our youth are informed of the evils of his father’s martial law regime, he could fade.

This leaves Robredo as the most viable candidate next year. Being the most qualified in the bunch, she will be the subject of relentless attacks all the way to election day.

In her favor, however, is that her popularity has grown into an honest-to-goodness movement, fueled by massive support from all sectors of society. I daresay that she will be an even better version of Cory Aquino, who was ill-prepared for the presidency and who was unfortunately surrounded by some despicable traditional politicians.

Next week, she may face a real challenge if Sara Duterte decides to join the race, replacing Dela Rosa as the administration’s bet.

If it happens, a Robredo-Duterte duel will be one for the ages.