• Jo Chanco

Who's Got It?


Who among the 2016 presidentiables, should be this country's next president? For our sakes, it has to be one who truly understands the need for government to strengthen the role of the masses and the marginalized in nation-building, despite the apparent fractionalizing due to increasing diversity. But it should be someone who also possesses the necessary political will and determination to actualize the solutions needed. Who among the candidates has the substance and the right stuff? Let us think.

Must be a Revolutionary Thinker

To successfully lead this nation the way a genuine patriot would, in the years to come, one would have to take on a Herculean task, demanding radical changes in many of our political structures, starting with the very principles by which we operate our democracy. Many of the current systems that our government employs today—from the way we elect our leaders, to the way we create and implement our laws—must be forgone with and supplanted by new, more fitting methods and processes. This is what we need to set our nation to the right path.

Can a rightful leader emerge if the very electoral process is full of faults? Members of political dynasties are allowed to run for public offices despite the explicit provision in our Constitution to ban such malpractice. Convicted and suspected plunderers are simply permitted seats of authority, while other well-meaning citizens, those who have no such involvement in any graft and corruption scams, are booted out from the chance to serve the public, because of minor technicalities. The Commission on Elections as well as the Philippine National Police keep on claiming every time that we have relatively peaceful and honest elections, despite decades of election violence, poll fraud, vote-buying, the mass disenfranchisement of voters and, as experienced during elections in recent years, numerous cases of malfunctioning automated counting machines (compounded by suspiciously-timed brown-outs in whole municipalities). Should we honor the electoral process still? Do the winners of our political elections truly represent the common weal?

The fact that political dynasties are commonplace in our society clearly shows how our democracy has been hi-jacked by the ruling elite, which in many cases are actually just a bunch of corrupt, power-greedy families that neither have an honest will to serve the public, nor have much knowledge on how to develop a nation. Because of such a set-up, our government, to the majority of Pinoys, has become largely dysfunctional and increasingly intolerable. As society’s elites keep government structural change to a bare minimum, keeping as much as possible the loopholes that make corruption unpunishable, they become bolder and bolder, running for offices even without any viable platform for governance, and moving to alter national policies that are skewed to accommodate all sorts of scams. Our right to suffrage has been flagrantly usurped and turned into an instrument to legitimize a blunt sham.

Must be the Strongest Advocate of Truth and the Freedom of Information

Because the flawed system allows the candidacy of those who have the most inaccurate perception about the country’s needs, and those who are the most indifferent to the sentiments of the masses, elections then become ineffectual in the cause of progress. Here, hypocrisy and empty lip-service are but customary political exercises.

Many politicians, while campaigning, make vociferous vows in the themes of good governance and anti-corruption. But do they really fulfill these vows once elected? As a matter of fact, it's become too often that the very people who promise to end corruption, once they are in a position of authority, are the ones who turn out being charged with graft later on. So, unfortunately for most Filipinos, the elected are usually the ones who do not want meaningful change and progress to happen, as they benefit from the corrupt status quo where they can plunder and get away with it rather easily.

In our dire situation, information is crucial. But then even this very abundant resource that we share quite freely in this age of "pocket technology" is deliberately suppressed or controlled by a government that's become so obsessed with the privacy rights of public officials.

Must be Progressive, Pro-majority, and Anti-trapo

With the same breath, the inept leadership suddenly becomes so discrete about their inaction on urgent social issues, almost always playing blind, deaf and dumb when it comes to addressing the weal of the confused and impoverished masses.

The poor and undereducated comprise more than two-thirds of the Filipino population, but they’re representation in the law-making body is cruelly minimized as “marginalized sectors”, with the implementation of the Party-List system. So technically, the united voice of the majority is chopped up into minute social fractions, a dizzying array of subcultures and socio-economic archetypes, bearing only watered-down voting power in the policy-making process. The resultant framework further traps the most needy in our society, deeper into unserviceable positions in a perpetuated cycle.

Instead of the hard-up and hungry majority being able to simply lobby for one, united national food program that is not prejudiced against them, now the food program for, let’s say, the jeepney drivers might seem too small to act on immediately, as the food requirements of many other party-list groupings need to be considered as well. Somehow, it even gives the corrupt more opportunity to plunder, having more "causes" to use as reasons to not release funding to those who need it most. So even if the whole transport sector protest in front of Malacanang Palace, it wouldn't have the same impact of, let's say, an EDSA Revolution where the citizenry is united, moving as the body of the majority, and thus able to overthrow tyranny or the ruling power.

Always neglected and disappointed by the government, the multitudes in poverty careen in despair, threatened by an uncertain future, and live frantically as if each day unraveled a new life-and-death situation. The acquisition of something as basic as food is a major struggle to them. This, then, is how the ruling elite come to endanger themselves and their opulent dynasties whenever they ignore the clamor of the masses.

Such indifference by the leadership become so obvious when the rest of the world were more prompt and more generous in extending aid to the Yolanda survivors in Tacloban, than our own government. The disaster victims couldn't understand why public officers can give mostly just excuses instead of much needed help, not only for rehabilitation but for their very survival.

In a supposed democracy wherein the minority, and not the majority, run the government, only corruption can progress. Various progressive groups have been echoing this fact for several years now, but the government never really paid attention. And it's a big mistake not to.

Through decades, we have seen how the roster of so-called illustrious Philippine statesmen did not act to solve the nation's most fundamental problems, but instead proceeded callously proceeded with mere lip service and slogans like—“Philippines 2000”, “President For The Masses", "Strong Republic" and "Daang Matuwid". And viola! Where are we now?

Corruption only worsened. It seems clear that many of our leaders know that corruption is our society’s prime weakness, with a lot of them proclaiming to be strongly against it. So why, after all those years since the Marcos kleptocracy, has corruption even proliferated under the watch of these so-called graft busters and leaders that emulate good governance?

Must Shun Hypocrisy

Under the supposed “straight path governance” of the seemingly incorruptible NoyNoy Aquino, the Pork Barrel Scandal broke out. If the transparency and good governance that Aquino repeatedly invoked were indeed genuine, then the institutionalized corruption should have already stopped there. But it didn't. The DAP (Disbursement Acceleration Program) fiasco followed shortly after, despite the Supreme Court's decision to rule it as unconstitutional, along with other bulk disbursement schemes with vague budgetary line items. After the DAP, the 2015 and 2016 National Budgets were tainted with the same scheme, only labeled differently or not even labeled at all.

After all his talk on setting the government straight, did P-Noy simply overlook the grand theft happening in the Senate and in Congress? After Erap’s famous lines, “Walang kama-kamag-anak, walang kai-kaibigan”, did he fail to see that in his shortened term he managed to build a strong political dynasty, side by side with a cronyism that’s very much in the color of a mob syndicate, like the Mafia? After replacing Erap via Edsa Dos, surely Gloria Arroyo can’t seriously believe she built a strong republic, exiting the presidency with the government bankrupt, and consequently allowing her to languish for years under a farcical hospital arrest while she in effect evades prosecution for various criminal charges? Are we to hope that Mar Roxas will have a much better version of “Daang Matuwid”, or just bank on Duterte to clean up the government, which he claims he can achieve in a matter of weeks? Can we expect good governance to happen under a Jejomar Binay presidency, when charges of graft plague him and his political dynasty of a family, or should we entrust our fate to law-savvy Miriam Defensor-Santiago, who was either mum during the course of very un-constitutional corruption-riddled administrations, or spoke in favor of the wrong side (remember the critical “envelope” during Erap’s impeachment…and the Infamous 11 senators who triggered EDSA Dos by their sheer bias to uphold an elaborate cover-up)?

We are, unfortunately, still stuck in such backward ways of government. In the grip of patronage politics, both politician and voter reduce the profundity of leadership selection to a mere popularity contest and, thus, put people who are clueless in positions of authority. It's almost ordinary in our case that those who have the power and resources to effect meaningful change either do not wish to do so, or do not know how.

A New World That Demands Fundamental Changes

Only when the public is able to truly exercise the freedom and right to know the whole truth about the government can it be deemed a real democracy that is of the people, for the people, and by the people. The importance of this principle of democracy is vastly ignored, but yet is the most fundamental for democracy to work and for it to survive through the 21st century.

In this dynamic age of information, we are bound to diversify a whole lot more, as technology drives our minds to become increasingly aware of far more things at a time, thereby multiplying our options and choices--of things to do, things to create, things to attend to, things to watch out for, or buy, guard against, fix, promote, feel happy for, feel sorry for, things to build, and things to believe. Our convictions become myriad to almost an infinite level, pressing on our need to decide on an equally infinite number of things.

The number of minority groups that shall be formed by the blending of various opinions, diverse beliefs, and idiosyncratic cultures will overwhelm us completely. The diversity that is unraveling in the midst of our society will soon be so astounding, so mind-boggling, that Congress will need to have hundreds, if not thousands, of party-list groups just so it can be consistent and true to the concept of representation politics. If today, our system of government already seems so dysfunctional and unable to serve the public as it should, it would be many times more inutile and shall fail dismally in its functions to serve the public five or ten years from now.

We cannot be selecting our leaders the way we do it now, if we want true progress, for we we'll only be selecting the wrong people, for the wrong reasons, and through wrong, obsolete methods. We’ll need to come up with radical new ways of voting and attaining consensus. Definitely, new laws need to be established to address the rapidly multiplying issues the citizenry needs to face, issues that are also increasing in terms of sophistication. And a good place to start our transformation is in the way we choose our presidents.

Presidential debates, for instance, should also act as forums where aspirants are required to present and elaborate on their respective platforms and explain their viability. Perhaps we should also ban convicted criminals, whether they've been pardoned or not, from running for the presidency or holding any public office for that matter. And with so many government officials linked to corruption over the years, particularly presidents, perhaps stiffer prerequisites should be imposed on all public offices, like making the SALN (Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth) include a clause that in effect would be an automatic waiver to relinquish bank secrecy, right to privacy, and right against self-incrimination---for all government officials and employees. A system to rate public servants based on merits that certify integrity, dedication and past acts that were done for society as a whole might also be a good idea.

Instead of electing personalities simply because they are popular or powerful, we ought to be more serious and cautious, and choose well---

1) Who among leadership aspirants has the most practical vision on matters of sustainable food security;

2) Who can best avert violent conflict while at the same time assert our sovereignty and protect the national territory from foreign intrusion;

3) Who possesses the astuteness to prioritize and implement viable energy solutions to close the "power gap" and, in the process, force a total shift of the power-generation and distribution industries towards the mass utilization of cleaner, cheaper and renewable energies;

4) Who has got the brains and the most conviction to finally make all Filipino citizens enjoy true “inclusive growth”, where taxation does not encumber but rather uplifts—with free and good quality education, well-appointed, free and steadfast health and social services, and a justice system that serves swiftly and equitably regardless of age, sex, religion and socio-economic status;

5) Who has the most understanding about the gravity and complexity of our problems on the environment, pollution and climate change. It will do this nation a whole lot of good to create a system that allows citizens to openly review the qualifications of would-be public servants. And it's certainly a more productive step than just watch candidates prove their macho by challenging each other to a slap-fest, a fist-fight or a gun duel…on national TV.

Chance of Daylight

Now Grace Poe…she’s another matter. She seems to be a cut above the rest. Maybe even several cuts. Or at least, that's the impression she makes every time she speaks in public.

After P-Noy delivered his exit year SONA, a number of public officials made comments in the media about it. Of the brief, nervously tacky, and self-praising speech, some said the SONA was concise, some said it was well-delivered, some said it was beautiful. In short, it was a slew of narrow adoration…the usual feedback from suck-ups. For seriously, this was delivered in the wake of the vaguely explained Mamasapano incident. At that point, dark and gloomy clouds were already threatening what bright future our nation could possibly have under the circumstance, until Grace Poe said what she thought of it…and literally became a beacon of hope.

“He didn’t mention anything about the Freedom of Information Act”, she said, obviously sharing what was anticipated by most members of progressive groups

and true patriots. Bingo! It is exactly that kind of disposition, expressed spontaneously as she did, that tells a genuine nation-builder from a fake one. It somewhat confirms: Grace Poe is no Tra-po.

Grace may have, inadvertently or on purpose, stretched some facts a bit to satisfy some technical pre-requisites for her candidacy. However, the arguments posed to disqualify her, like that of her being a foundling or about her lacking two months stay in the country to qualify for residency status, are not as significantly foul as allowing convicted plunderers or members of political dynasties to government posts. To block her aspirations to lead this nation might not be so just, and maybe, just maybe, if she truly possesses the stuff of leadership...she won't let these technicalities stop her from vying for the presidency.

Perhaps, like Cory Aquino, Grace wouldn’t even need to devise a meticulous campaign strategy to be president. And after all the defects that smear the sanctity of the polls, she might not even need an election…like Cory who lost in rigged snap elections against Marcos, but then ended up unseating him in the end. If what is needed is a tearing down of an old dysfunctional system anyway, then why subject this potential new era leader (as opposed to tra-pos) further to the crooked rules that give the advantage to the corrupt leaders she needs to replace in order for genuine national progress to happen.

Despite the stressful hurdles laid out on her campaign trail by rivals--the attempts to belittle her and disqualify her completely---amidst the taunts and instigations by critics that could have driven anyone to lose their cool---Grace kept her respectable composure. Instead of breaking down, retaliating and lashing out at her detractors, she spoke for those who were willing to listen to her—not just about what she promises, but actually explaining why we must address certain imperatives that the incumbent administration outright neglected.

Among the presidentiables, she demonstrated how she might have what it takes, more than the rest of them. So yeah...Poe’s got it.

*Published in print version (Voice of the South, Volume 12, Issue No. 12)

#Opinion