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Philippine Left fielding Casiño in Senate race


MANILA, Philippines—Activists are again embarking on an uphill battle to break into the elite group that makes up the Senate, with or without a formal alliance with the well-entrenched, resource-rich parties that dominate the political landscape.

This time, those who make up the newly registered Makabayan Coalition political party are seeking to field a lone candidate, Bayan Muna lawmaker Teddy Casiño, for the 2013 senatorial elections.

Casiño said he and Makabayan were prepared to weather the electoral contest regardless of whether a major political party would team up with Bayan Muna and its allied groups.

Makabayan plans to embark on grass-roots campaigning, tap partnerships with local leaders and use social media, Casiño said at a dinner with Inquirer editors. But celebrity endorsers would be welcome, too.

“I will run, whatever happens. That is our main play,” said Casiño, a veteran of street protests against administration policies and projects. He will reach the end of his third and last term as Bayan Muna representative next year.

Casiño said he was still open to being adopted by a major party, with Vice President Jejomar Binay’s United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) the mostly likely group that could draft him. But his run for the Senate is not hinged on a major party’s blessing.

“One scenario is I would be a guest of UNA, or I would be allowed to guest in other parties. But that’s just extra. That would just be a bonus,” he said.

Casiño said there was no more question in the mind of leftist groups about fielding a candidate for the Senate. He believed the people were ready for new representation who would speak about gut issues such as the rising costs of fuel, electricity and water.

Not even Makabayan’s relatively shallow pockets could daunt the group, he said.

“I am presenting the idea of an alternative candidate, a voice of the ordinary people,” said the Bayan Muna lawmaker.

Makabayan secretary general Nathanael Santiago said it was time for someone who spoke with the people’s voice and who did not ascend to public office just by dint of political pedigree to join the Senate.

Santiago said Makabayan would continue fielding candidates for the chance to help more people.

“When the progressives entered electoral politics, it was a serious move. It’s not as if we are still debating every election on whether or not we would participate. We think this is an arena or vehicle for progressives to reach more people,” he said.

Santiago further said that Makabayan wanted people to understand that being a member of the Left was not a negative factor. Makabayan’s cochair, the late Maita Gomez, once told the group that people must know that the Left was a good thing.

“Being leftist means opposing antipeople policies and the rotten system, and asking for change,” Santiago said.

Some may dub an independent Senate quest quixotic, what with a viable run usually needing at least a hundred million pesos, which only major parties are prepared to spend, but Casiño believes it is not impossible.

The lawmaker noted that other candidates were able to join the Senate even if they did not belong to a political dynasty or had no deep pockets, like Senator Antonio Trillanes who was elected even though he campaigned from his prison cell. Trillanes, a Navy officer, was jailed after staging two uprisings against then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

The activists are not going into the midterm elections in May next year totally inexperienced.

In 2010, Makabayan fielded senatorial candidates Satur Ocampo of Bayan Muna and Liza Maza of Gabriela. The two were drafted into the slate of Nacionalista Party presidential candidate Manuel Villar. Neither Ocampo nor Maza made it to the Magic 12.

From this, the activists have learned valuable lessons.

For one, Makabayan is fielding just one senatorial candidate next year. This way, its efforts and resources could be concentrated on Casiño. Makabayan claims to have a voter base of about 3.2 million and says it is working on expanding this.

Casiño said the Makabayan bloc started preparing early for the 2013 elections by strengthening and widening its local network as early as 2010.

When Ocampo and Maza ran, the group only had about 18 months for laying down the groundwork and for campaigning. This time, it is devoting more time to marshaling support for Casiño and increasing his exposure.

For 2013, Makabayan would tap all of the “meaningful relationships” that its members have established with people on the ground. This sets him apart from other candidates, Casiño noted.

“Unlike an ordinary candidate who has no people [on the ground] and who is totally dependent on the political operation, we have people on the ground,” he said.

Makabayan would also forge ties with local leaders and enter into partnerships for mutual support, independent of their political party. Many local leaders do not necessarily follow the party line and are usually free to form alliances with people with a different affiliation, Casiño said.

This would mean going from province to province and from region to region to meet with numerous leaders. But it is something that needs to be done by a young political party that is not awash in cash.

“We have to go into retail campaigning,” Casiño said. “It’s a lot of work, but that’s the only way an independent can run.”

Makabayan would also have to maximize its use of social media because it could not go head to head with the major parties in television advertising.

Casiño is also hoping for a celebrity endorsement, although he has yet to decide on his dream endorser. TV host Boy Abunda has spoken of wanting to support him, he noted.

But one group that is fully behind him is his family, consisting of his wife, fellow activist Ruth Cervantes, and their two young sons, Elian and Emilio.

Casiño said Bayan Muna’s consistent victory for a seat in the House of Representatives, with him as one of the nominees, showed him that people were ready for him in his Senate bid.

“They’re ready for new representation in the Senate,” he said.