THIS TOBY Tiangco, the campaign manager of UNA, has a keen political sense.

For one thing, he takes the threats UNA faces seriously. In one press interview, Tiangco was frank enough to express his fear about Senator Serge Osmeña’s involvement in the electoral campaign. Osmeña is giving advice to several candidates of the Liberal Party (LP) coalition, namely, Jun Magsaysay, Grace Poe, and RisaHontiveros.

Osmeña is the Pinoy equivalent of Barack Obama’s David Axelrod. Our senator may not be as politically progressive as Obama’s campaign adviser. But it is insulting to compare Osmeña to the arrogant Karl Rove, who exposed himself to be a bad clairvoyant after predicting Mitt Romney’s victory in the swing state.

Osmeña’s choice of candidates is right but demanding. Magsaysay (not Mitos), Poe and Hontiveros are among the honest politicians and reliable reformers in the LP slate. They, along with the likes of Jamby Madrigal, Koko Pimentel, and Sonny Angara, deserve to win. (The politically correct might object to Angara’s dynasty. But nothing is wrong as long as the dynasty eschews guns, goons, gold and Garci).

But Osmeña’s candidates are not frontrunners. Fortunately, what Tiangco calls the “Serge factor” is a boost for their campaign.

For another thing, Tiangco delivers stinging propaganda that hits the nail on the head. In another interview, Tiangco turns the tables on the LP coalition by accusing the ruling party of accommodating “political butterflies.” Indeed, many of the former Gloria rabble-rousers jumped ship and moved to PNoy’s party. Aray! What is LP’s rejoinder?

Still, the LP coalition has charged UNA of pretending to be daang matuwid. That is very correct, for UNA has a surfeit of candidates who oppose daang matuwid. For that matter, UNA’s candidates are unfit to symbolize daang maganda.

What is maganda about MitosMagsaysay, Gloria’s henchwoman, who blocks every major reform of the PNoy administration? What is matuwid about Gringo Honasan whose claim to fame is his being a serial coup plotter during the democratic transition? What is maganda about Jackie Enrile, the absentee congressman, who nevertheless has name recall, being the son of Marcos’s martial law executioner and Gringo’s godfather? What is matuwid about Miguel Zubiri becoming senator, thanks to the vote manipulation engineered by Gloria’s servants like Abalos and the Ampatuans? And what is maganda about Manong Ernie Maceda, the typical trapo, despite his makeup? To top it all, the UNA triumvirate of Binay, Erap, and JPE is a gang of bandits.

But wait, we cannot be judgmental about political bandits, as propounded by Mancur Olson. Olson distinguishes the stationary bandits from the roving bandits (foreign aggressors, for example). The stationary ones need the legitimacy or the votes to extend their terms, and they hence have the incentive to deliver the public goods.

Think Binay. In Makati, he is a strongman, a maton. Yet, thanks to the huge resources at this disposal, he has made Makati a modern and “socialist” town. And through his delivery of the public goods, he and his family get elected and re-elected. In turn, this performance in Makati propelled him to become Vice-President and has become the launching pad for his ambition to be the next President.

Let’s face it: Both UNA and LP have political bandits. But that’s where the similarity ends.

UNA has obnoxious bandits. And even though the LP accommodates bandits (after all, politics is addition), its core consists of decent politicians and reformers — led by PNoy himself; progressives like the Abads, Tañadas, Jun Abaya, TG Guingona, Jamby Madrigal, Neric Acosta, Sid Ungab, Niel Tupas, Jocelyn Limkaichong; veterans like Frank Drilon, Mar Roxas, Jun Magsaysay, and Serge Osmeña. This is the party of reform — the party of Ninoy Aquino, Jovito Salonga, and Jesse Robredo.

As the party of reform, it should be the party of the future. The lesson from contemporary political economy, especially in East Asia, is that a predictor of prosperity or sustained growth is the endurance of a reformist and visionary political party. Never mind if it has stationary bandits.