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Now that Senator Grace Poe has declared for the presidency, the battle for the highest post in the land has been joined. Assuming that Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte makes good on his vow not to run for president, the race for Malacañang promises to be a humdinger, a three-cornered fight that looks to go down the wire.

Poe, President Noynoy Aquino’s candidate Mar Roxas and Vice President Jejomar Binay all have different strengths that they are expected to exploit to the hilt and weaknesses that they will seek to downplay in the run-up to the May elections.

Poe has her gaudy survey numbers, Mar has the money and the massive resources of the Aquino administration and the party in power and Binay has his vaunted local network and organization. All three factors —popularity, resources and organization—are necessary to win it all next year; the declared candidates appear to excel in one attribute and to be weak in the other two.

And this narrative of mutually exclusive strengths is what makes the presidential race so compelling. The rivals seem to be almost evenly matched, offering what, in a more lopsided contest, would be the monopoly of one, dominant candidate.

To illustrate, Joseph Estrada, when he ran for president in 1998, had a virtual monopoly of the strengths that Poe, Roxas and Binay have separately now. That is why Estrada was such a juggernaut; he had the mass-based popularity that generated even more bandwagon popularity, the money that attracted more money as befits a wire-to-wire leader and the local and nationwide organization that united all the opportunistic politicians who wanted to be in the good graces of an impending winner.

I can’t remember a presidential contest as tight as this since Ferdinand Marcos challenged Cory Aquino in a snap election in 1986. And since the advent of the current multi-party system, this is probably the closest to a one-on-one fight that we shall get to witness, with three major candidates contesting the biggest prize of them all.

It certainly looks like a battle for the ages. Let’s get it on.

* * *

By now, everybody and his barangay chairman knows that Congress can no longer gather enough members to constitute a quorum or perhaps to even fill a regular-sized jeepney. And we’ve been told that our lawmakers, in the House of Representatives particularly, are now busy setting up their campaigns in their districts.

I seem to recall that it was the British ambassador, of all people, who declared recently that he could not understand why Congress could not get enough members to attend its sessions, not even those belonging to the administration Liberal Party who have been directed by President Noynoy Aquino to pass the draft laws that he wants passed, like the Bangsamoro Basic Law. Surely, there must be a bigger reason for the wanton and wholesale absenteeism that is afflicting Congress, especially among the members of the LP majority.

A source in the House has offered what appears to be the most likely explanation: the LP members are afraid of candidates that may be fielded by their own party against them.

The source cited the case of an incumbent, palace-allied congressman in Central Luzon who was told by the LP’s bosses to step aside because the party wanted to field someone else. The congressman was told that he could choose to run anyway, but that he should not expect any support from the party in power.

Now, if there’s anything a congressman or any other local official, for that matter, will not allow, it’s anyone telling them that they cannot run for office. And the source told me that the Central Luzon lawmaker’s case is not an isolated one.

All over the country, especially in vote-rich towns, cities and provinces, the Liberals have decided that they will directly meddle in local politics. And if that means disregarding the old “equity of the incumbent” principle, then so be it.

This strange new policy is apparently not only intended to improve the chances of Mar Roxas, the LP’s presidential candidate, in May but also to ensure the viability of the party beyond 2016. And because of the threat of massive support only for candidates that the party, not necessarily the incumbents, congressmen are understandably panicking.

So I guess this means that there really is no hope for any of the administration bills on Aquino’s shopping list. A congressman’s home court must be defended—especially if the threat is from the congressman’s party itself.

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