The horses are at the starting gate

As the old saying goes, the die is cast.

To be honest, I did not know what this meant at first. Did it mean that death would be cast? If so, where? Or did Death – with a capital D – land the starring role in a play or a film?

I only understood it when I learned that the die referred to was the dice that all of us know. Gamblers love it, but even young kids can play with the six-sided plastic cube used in countless board games.

Once thrown, there is no turning back, especially in games of chance.

The phrase is said to have been uttered by Julius Caesar after he crossed the Rubicon.

And so this week, Manny Pacquiao officially agreed to run for president under one wing of PDP-Laban. He will go up against the Ping Lacson-Tito Sotto tandem of the Nationalist People’s Coalition.

Thus far, Pacquiao and Lacson are the two declared bets to succeed Rodrigo Duterte, although another wing of PDP-Laban had earlier declared Senator Bong Go as their presidential bet, with Duterte as his running mate.

Go, however, has said many times that he is not running. And the president’s daughter Sara (without an H) has also likewise stated that she will not run to succeed her father.

But most political analysts say that the Dutertes are playing some kind of game, with Sara (still without an H) eventually agreeing to run if ongoing silent surveys indicate that Go is a sure loser. In such a scenario, old man Duterte will no longer run for vice president, giving way to his lackey Go, who has indicated a willingness to run for VP.

Two noted figures are still out of the picture.

While there is a clamor – a word that I absolutely abhor – for Vice President Leni Robredo to run, she has been hesitant thus far, and I can guess why. She earlier said that her Liberal Party may not have the funds to mount a presidential run, but she may also be wary of the chance that she will win the vote but lose the counting.

The Commission on Elections is now dominated by Duterte appointees, and this alone is reason enough to believe that the counting will be about as fair as a rigged Las Vegas wrestling match.

Then there is former senator Bongbong Marcos, who has been looking for a major party to recruit him to be their standard bearer. There have been no takers so far, except for Partido Federal ng Pilipinas, which probably has all of a dozen members.

There is, however, talk that Bongbong and Sara (sans H) may get together, but they still will need an existing political party with a grassroots organization.

As for Marcos’ Kilusang Bagong Lipunan, the party created by his father only exists in Ilocos Norte now.

There is no question that a Sara-Bongbong or Bongbong-Sara tandem will have all the money in the world to buy their way to victory. But if they had any brains – I do not presume to say that they do not – they or any of the other candidates may want to think twice about running because the winner will inherit an economy that is heading for bankruptcy, with the country’s foreign debt now in the trillions of dollars.

With so many jobs lost due to the pandemic, and prospects for a quick recovery dim, countless Filipinos have become desperate. Worst of all, they have turned to crime just to have money to buy food.

There is anecdotal evidence to indicate that there has been a fearsome rise in crimes against property. A young man who works for my partner had his cellphone grabbed from him in broad daylight at the Sucat-Alabang road last week. In the same area, a friend related the experience of his friend, a woman driving her car who was accosted by a gunman, who entered her vehicle at the parking lot of one of the big malls in Alabang. She was forced to withdraw her money from an ATM, but at least he didn’t kill her.

Even the Philippine National Police has warned of a noticeable increase in crime, and warned the public to take precautions.

The crooks are, of course, free to do what they will as everyone wears face masks when outside. So even if they are caught on CCTV, they are almost impossible to identify.

The next administration will have a tough, almost impossible, task of steering the country back to the economic and political stability it enjoyed during the time of the late President Noynoy Aquino.

Elect the wrong president and the Philippines will end up not as the poor man of Asia, but a country ripe for revolution.

What will the next administration do, kill the hungry and starving the way the current regime killed the desperate youth who had turned to drugs?

My answer: Yes, if the Lacson-Sotto tandem or the Duterte-Marcos or even the Go-Duterte team-up win. I do not believe that Pacquiao would allow the execution of the desperate, although he still believes that the death penalty should be reinstated.

As for Robredo, she will never agree to a hardline stance on poor people who have nothing to eat. But she will need a lot of help in order to get the Philippines out of the mire it is deeply entrenched in, thanks to Digong Duterte.

Next year’s elections will be fought over social media, which means that whoever has the larger troll army will have a big advantage.

I hope I am wrong, but if the Philippine electorate picks the wrong president next year, the country will face a socio-political and economic crisis, the likes of which it has never faced before.