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Bacolod City, Philippines Tuesday, July 3, 2018
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with Eli F.J. Tajanlangit

Too late for Albee

Rock & Refuge

From where I sit, it seems like an uphill struggle for Rep. Albee Benitez’s Upper Chamber dreams. His numbers are still there outside the Magic 12 slots for the men and women who will join the Senate in June 30 next year.

With elections less than a year from now, and given his numbers now, it is doubtful if he could still win a seat in the Senate. Of course, his resources are out of the ordinary, but I think the time has come for him to weigh things out and see if the millions he is willing to spend could still make him win.

His enemy, simply, is time. There isn’t any time left for him to effectively engage the voters from Batanes to Jolo. We know he is trying given the stepped-up exposure he has on social media. But that does not seem to work for him. In fact, some of the things that appear in Facebook, the one that is supposed to help him define himself to the public seem to backfire. Most of his pronouncements about housing for example are good, even groundbreaking. But after a while, these beg the question: so why didn’t he work for these in the last nine years? Why only now? Maybe he did, but it hasn’t stuck to him. In other words, by now, if the country knew about his work on housing, he should already be known as “Mr Housing” or some such political titles that voters love.

Remember Mar Roxas’ “Mr.Palengke”? It brought him to the top of the Senate race at that time, but that happened after years of taking up and fighting for public markets issues. All Mar did was actually mostly visit the public markets across the country and that did it. Why, they even produced a coffee table book featuring the public markets of the Philippines!For the vice-presidential race, they tried to launch him as “Mr. Padyak” which turned out to be a dud. After all, there was nothing to back up the title except for that contrived video of Mar driving a pedicab. It simply was just fake and did not help Mar the way “Mr. Palengke” did. By the way, whatever happened to Mar’s concern for public markets and the vendors there? What exactly has he done to better our public markets and the lives of the vendors?

Benitez, it seems, is going the way of “Mr. Padyak”, his campaign hardly taking off. Political circles are talking about that incident where the footbridge he was standing on collapsed and sent him down to the waters. That would have been a big opportunity, they say, for him to capture the imagination of voters. Here is a public servant, going all the way to this depressed and depressing place, and suffering the misfortune of accidentally falling to the sea because he was standing on a weak bridge built by government itself. What more can we expect from a congressman? While many of his colleagues are out there lazing around air conditioned places, here is this young idealistic congressman who went out of his way to check a project and experienced first handthe tragedy that most government projects are. He didn’t have to go to that place, but he did. That should say something about his passion for his work. Instead, his fellow politicos are scratching and shaking their heads: he already fell into the sea and his campaign was still not taking off.

I recall he also had a television show; I think it was titled “Game Changer” which focused on exciting and groundbreaking things. I thought the television show would eventually lead to the subliminal conclusion that he is the game-changer. Whatever happened to that? Had that show continued, and focused on the game-changers in the grassroots, perhaps that would have given Benitez the national presence an aspirant for the senate needs

Some people expected Benitez to capitalize on the falling footbridge and blow it up beyond the feeble, albeit national, media attention that it had commanded. The pundits think he should have launched an investigation into substandard projects; that would have made for a very colorful circus but earned him the national attention he needs for his senate campaign. I have a suspicion why Benitez did not do this: it isn’t him to exploit an incident to promote himself.

That’s admirable, but this is a political fight that demands a lot of things, some of which requiring that he gives up being shy and quiet and become larger than he really is.

This is sad. If Filipinos could send a champion boxer and a comedianto the senate, how could theyignore Benitez? I’ve seen him up close and he is exactly the idealistic politician who has very concrete, and exciting ideas about development that the country needs. We’ve waited too long for someone like him. It is tragic if we do not get that next year.

Still, hope springs eternal. The next months will be very crucial for Benitez. I don’t think he can still go back and run for governor, an easier proposition for him considering that over the years, he has created a positive image here. With that door to the governorship already close to him, he is stuck in the senate race and could only wait for a miracle . I really hope it happens.*

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