In search of a President

2016 is an election year for the Philippines and this early on, election jokes are on the rise. The best one yet goes something like this: “Paalala lang po na ang rally ng mga Binay ay hindi palabas ng El Gamma Penumbra” (Notice is given that the rally of the Binays is not a presentation by El Gamma Penumbra).

Seriously though, the nation is in need of a President that can sustain the gains the country has earned in the past years. I wouldn’t want to just limit the gains to the current administration because I for one believe that the foundations for the economic gains achieved by the country was laid in the past administration even if the current one is loathe to admit it. The country needs a leader that has the integrity to hold the country together whether they be Muslims, lumads, Tagalog, Visayan or whatever else we may be. It needs one who can stand up for the country first and put self-interest last. A leader the military and police would be proud to call Commander-in-Chief. One that would value social reform over and above “business as usual”. A man of courage, intelligence and, for me, great faith.

Presently on the field are two candidates: Mar Roxas and Jejomar Binay. On the wings are Grace Poe, Rodrigo Duterte and, possibly, Miriam Defensor Santiago. If this were a game show, let’s meet the contestants!

Mar Roxas. He is the choice of the current President. Formerly a legislator before joining the executive branch, he is seen to carry forward the current administration’s work for Daang Matuwid or the Staight Path. It is supposed to be a fight against graft and corruption in government. Supporters are thinking selling the idea of Daang Matuwid is enough for their candidate to win but Daang Matuwid is much harder to do than say. Take a look at the current administration’s record: they supposedly bagged a former Chief Justice and is prosecuting the former President. They’ve charged three sitting Senators and a number of Congressmen but those closest to them appear to go scot free. Somehow the message appears to be that they define what Daang Matuwid means and it definitely does not apply to them for they can do no wrong. Such selective disposition of Justice puts into question the very idea of Daang Matuwid. Worse, Mr. Roxas has shown a disturbing partiality even in the face of death and destruction. Worst of all, Mr. Roxas was himself excluded in the planning and implementation of apparently one of the most important security operations to have ever been undertaken, the Mamasapano operation where, sadly, 44 police officers of the highly trained Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police were killed. While it can be argued that its failure gives Roxas a certain degree of deniability, had it been a success, he would have been left out in the cold. If the current President himself cannot trust him, then how can we? Needless to say, Mr. Roxas has a mountain and more to climb before we can even consider him in the running as President. Is it a hopeless cause? I for one do not believe his cause to be hopeless; however, Daang Matuwid is not just something spoken of. It is something very much ingrained in the persona of the President, something which, to my mind, the current President failed to live up to. If Mr. Roxas wants to be a contender, then he must show us that he will hold no one above the law and be not just the current President’s choice, but that of the people – the common tao – as well.

Jejomar Binay. Former mayor of Makati, the principal business and commercial center of the Philippines. Some would say a republic unto itself. He takes credit for making Makati what it is today but there are those who would argue that without the Ayalas, Makati wouldn’t be much especially with malls, cafes and other entertainment centers sprouting everywhere now in the Metro. Makati is Makati because business enterprises have been there and feel the need to continue to be there over the years. Worse, Binay the elder is under investigation for graft and corrupt practices during his time as mayor of Makati, together with his children, the current mayor of Makati and a sitting Senator, and the rest of his family. Worst, he is the current Vice President of  the Philippines and after five (5) years in office, taking a position against the current administration is a monster task because whether he likes it or not, he is in fact part of that administration. If he suddenly decries its illegal and corrupt ways, then why did he remain quiet for so long? Binay, a lawyer, should have known better but, no, he waited up to the time that he was certain that he wasn’t going to get the current President’s endorsement before he made his move to distance himself from the current administration. One thing he really has going for him though is his experience as an executive. Years as mayor and Vice President has given him the exposure and the street wisdom in dealing with a hundred and one situations well before breakfast. Based on what I have heard of the man, he is someone when asked to participate in a meeting, will do so well prepared. He may also be short of friends that matter politically and that may mean he may not get the pull these friends can provide him in the upcoming elections and spell disaster. So, like Mr. Roxas, he has an image problem and one that cannot be fixed just by saying he is different or experienced. Still, he is second in the polls, which brings us to…

Grace Poe. The dark horse. Assuming that she can qualify, what with her citizenship and residency in question, it appears that she is the one who can beat Mr. Binay. She is also perceived to be the one who is actually most likely to pull off Daang Matuwid. As a sitting senator, she has indicted the current President for his participation in the failed Mamasapano operation, and Mr. Binay for his alleged corrupt practices. At the very least, she does not appear to be beholden to anyone. Not yet anyway. The adopted daughter of the late King of Philippine Action Movies and presidential aspirant who lost to Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Fernando Poe Jr., she appears to have the backing of the elder Poe’s friend, former President and current mayor of Manila Joseph Estrada. That’s nothing to scoff at because Estrada, commonly referred to as Erap, despite a criminal conviction, almost won the Presidency for a second time losing only to the current President whose saving grace then was that, one, he is the only son of the late Benigno Aquino Jr. and former President Corazon Aquino; and, two, former President Aquino just died and people were sympathetic to him and no longer bothered with his actual qualifications even as a former legislator. If Erap points to Grace Poe, then all those people who supported him before will flock to and vote for her. This much can be said, she, at least, does not have an image problem. If she gets Erap’s support, then I think people will vote for her not just because Erap said so but because she appears genuine and a non-traditional politician unlike Messrs. Roxas and Binay. Critics say she is short on experience and that may well be true but that is the least of her problems considering that she has first to convince everyone that she is qualified on the score of her citizenship and the residency requirement established by the Constitution. Many a people do not think this is worth debating about because she happens to be the best and brightest chance to beat Binay but I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, these issues should be resolved because the Constitution itself demands it, and it will not do to commit a wrong in the hopes of doing a right.

Rodrigo Duterte. The current mayor of Davao in Mindanao and what may be the equivalent of Donald Trump in the Philippines at least in the way he just scandalizes people with his ideas and yet consistently surge in popularity. Without a doubt a key factor in the maintenance of the peace and order in Davao, he is nevertheless accused of setting death squads loose in Davao. True or not, the crime rate in that city is considerably less than in any other large progressive city in the Philippines. I have made a lot of observations about him elsewhere and suffice it to say that I fear what he would do to the country if given the Presidency. His tactics may work in a fixed area like Davao, but an entire nation would be different. What works for Davao may not necessarily work for the Philippines. People are desperate, however, and while aware of the fact that his tactics may be subject to abuse, people are willing to throw their lot with him since no one else have managed to make a real difference for the country. To his credit, however, Mr. Duterte has said that he does not want to be President and I hope and pray that he stays true to his word. The thing about him you see, is that his ideas are no different from those of a dictator and having survived one dictator before, I have no stomach to see another in the seat of  the Presidency benevolent or not.

Miriam Defensor Santiago. The wild card. A sitting senator and former presidential aspirant losing to Fidel Ramos in the 90s. A lawyer and formerly a judge, she was also chosen to be a Justice in the International Court of Justice. She has her issues. Bombastic, irreverent and unapologetic, she is a wealth of quotable quotes from insults to jokes. She is also one who appears capable of understanding the issues and act accordingly. People have questioned her sanity and she has health issues although she says she has beaten it, and through it all she has shown an understanding one would wish all sitting politicians, whether in the executive or legislative departments, had. The problem with her I think is that she gets off track easily, which one doesn’t want in a President. Her mind appears to race so fast that she needs to let it all out in a quick gush. Unfortunately, sometimes, her ideas get jumbled and a good point is lost in all the thunder and fury. Nevertheless, as a legislator, she appears to have done quite well including the impeachment case of former Chief Justice Corona. If she can keep her temper in check, then she may yet prove to be an effective President. The problem, however, is how much time has she to show the people that she can. People are amused by her. How can she translate that amusement to votes enough to propel her to the Presidency?

Five to choose from but all I have written is nothing more than an image of each of them. We have yet to hear their respective positions on a host of weighty issues facing the Philippines: climate change, peace and order, the peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, traffic, food sufficiency, economic development and a host of others. It is not enough to say that one is against graft and corruption. Heck, we expect everyone to say that (I mean, what idiot would actually say he will support graft and corruption) but the real issue is what will he or she do to stop it. We have to go beyond personalities and look at their programs of government. Enough with broad statements. Just give us a litany of specifics. These we need to hear if we are to mature as an electorate and, more importantly, as a nation.we cannot choose any one of them over the others just because of who he or she is. We have to know their respective stand on those issues and how they intend to address them. Will they bother to humor us with such programs?

We are still searching…

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