September 7, 2019

#TPonMB: Duterte Youth’s Cardema vs Comelec’s Guanzon

Over the past several weeks, we’ve been witness to the word war between former National Youth Commission and Duterte Youth party-list nominee Ronald Cardema and Comelec commissioner Rowena Guanzon, with the core issue being Cardema’s eligibility as Duterte Youth’s first nominee.

[NOTE: This piece was first published in the Manila Bulletin on 24 August 2019.]

Comelec on one hand sees Duterte Youth, as its name suggests, a youth sector party-list, so that the age limit on nominees (no older than 30 years by law) apply. The 34-year-old Cardema, meanwhile, argues that the party represents young professionals (yuppies), who are generally defined as professionals in their 20s or 30s.

Cardema has always been a controversial figure but the rift “formally” started in late May when Guanzon questioned Cardema’s eligibility. This is after Duterte Youth petitioned to replace the five original nominees with a new set where Cardema is on top. The Comelec in early June approved the substitution but Guanzon in her dissenting opinion raised the age issue.

A media war happened afterward, and it escalated to new levels when Guanzon in a mid-July tweet published an alleged text threat along with the comment “Who do you think sent this? Obviously.” The public felt Guanzon was alluding to Cardema, an allegation Cardema swiftly denied.

The Comelec in early August cancelled Cardema’s nomination on grounds of age.

A little later, Cardema accused Guanzon of extortion as he claimed she asked him for a large sum and the appointment of several officials. Guanzon shrugged off the allegations.

Cardema and Guanzon threatened to sue each other, with Cardema going the extra mile by blaming Guanzon’s tirades for making his relatives sick.

Cardema then publicly requested for the Palace’s help, a request that the Palace swiftly denied.

Cardema’s motion for reconsideration is still pending and he told this writer in a recent (and quite lengthy) phone conversation that he is still hopeful that it will be granted.

Guanzon, meanwhile, is on a roll. We have to give the commissioner some credit: she has a knack for zingers that Cardema sorely lacks.

All things considered, I cannot help but view the odds are stacked against Cardema while Guanzon has basically nothing to lose. That is, the current political landscape vis-à-vis the Guanzon-Cardema rift suggests that Cardema’s moves over the past several months may have been a series of gargantuan political miscalculations.

FIRST, Guanzon has little to lose. This is just one of the myriad electoral cases Guanzon handles and she will remain a commissioner no matter how this turns out.

Impeachment is a political exercise so that Cardema’s impeachment raps versus Guanzon are unlikely to prosper, as major blocs in both Houses are not exactly fond of Cardema. Moreover, will the Palace be willing to sideline its legislative agenda for the Senate to conduct months’ worth of impeachment trial? I highly doubt it.

SECOND, Cardema has limited political capital.

Guanzon’s July tweet may have been construed as alluding to Cardema but Guanzon didn’t specifically refer to him, offering her the option to exercise plausible deniability. Cardema, however, took the bait and publicly retaliated with little success.

Guanzon, in just one tweet, managed to expose the limitations of Cardema’s political capital.

In a world of rainbows, butterflies, unicorns, and teletubbies, everything boils to down to a question of morality. But reality dictates that most political agreements are quid pro quo, i.e., you scratch my back, I scratch yours. What exactly can Cardema offer that will overwhelm the overwhelming opportunity costs?

THIRD, Cardema’s evidence will likely backfire.

Days after he initially accused Guanzon of extortion, Cardema released a series of screenshots that purportedly showed his text conversations with Guanzon’s alleged bagman in Congress. Cardema redacted the names, phone numbers, and numerous other parts of the exchange, thus raising questions regarding authenticity.

If anything, the screenshots may likely backfire on Cardema because the screenshots are essentially declarations against interest. One of the screenshots show that Cardema agreed to the lobby for the appointments of several people in exchange for a favorable Comelec decision, which sounds like a budding corruption case against Cardema.

Cardema’s biggest mistake? Cardema didn’t wait, even if a few weeks is all the waiting he had to do. If he just allowed the original first nominee to sit as congressman first then told her to withdraw a day later, the issue would’ve been under the jurisdiction of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal instead of Comelec, and he has better chances there.

But he didn’t, so here we are.

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