This is my column today. I will post my own take on the specific issues that I feel are relevant in the 2010 Presidential elections over the weekend.
It is still too early for our presidential timbers and toothpicks to begin trading barbs and lobbing bombs at each other, but it is never too early to discuss the issues that are, should be, or must be relevant in the 2010 presidential elections.
This is because elections should ideally be about the issues more than the personalities.
In a perfect world, or at least in mature democracies, the electorate chooses candidates based on the issues that they espouse. This is what political parties are supposed to be about. They are supposed to represent specific ideological, political, or even social and spiritual beliefs and platforms.
Of course, personal qualities should also count, but only to the extent necessary to articulate the issues clearly, and to perform the functions of the posts the candidates are aspiring for. There simply is no point in expecting our candidates to have the same personal virtues as, for instance, a cardinal of the church.
And yes, even charisma has its limits. At a certain point, candidates must prove that they have something else between their ears other than a pretty face; candidates must stand for something other than their personal vested interests.
In our country however, personal qualities—attributes, actually—seem to be the primary consideration among the electorate. Fortunately, we seem to have gotten over our fascination with celebrities and movie stars and have since then been able to make a distinction between their real qualifications and their onscreen personas.
But most among us do continue to “buy” on emotions and later on justify these with facts. Our choices are still often based on very personal reasons—such as a sense of personal affiliation with the candidates borne out of a shared demographic factor. This early, for example, a Senator Mar Roxas—Cebu Provincial Gov. Gwen Garcia tandem for 2010 is being floated around as winnable, supposedly because it locks up the Visayas and Mindanao votes. Supposedly. What is sad that is that nothing is being said about whether there is a complement of platforms and issues between the two candidates.
This situation results in the rather incongruous situation where it is the electorate that ends up embracing the issues of the candidate rather than the other way around. The electorate ends up justifying their choices and settling for whatever issues their chosen candidates are regurgitating, even if these issues are alien and irrelevant to their situations as say, the fluctuating prices of swamp cabbages in Kathmandu.
This is why educating the electorate is a critical task that must be given priority by those who have the means to do it. If we come to think about it, most of our problems can be traced to poor leadership. We are simply electing to positions of power too many incompetent or unworthy people; they may be good looking, they may be popular, they may be generous, but they are the wrong people for the job.
What happens is that we eventually spend too much time and effort trying to impeach or recall these leaders (only to replace them with people of the same ilk). Sadly, there isn’t enough time spent helping our people choose and elect the right leaders to begin with. If our voters were more intelligent and discerning, the incompetent and the corrupt would have more difficulty winning.
An educated and empowered electorate, however, is a bane to traditional politicians who rely on the usual dirty tricks to win elections. Thus, people who expect voter education and empowerment initiatives to come from our politicians are in for a big disappointment. Our politicians maybe inept and lacking in mental resources, but they aren’t stupid enough to shoot themselves in the foot.
Fortunately, there are groups and individuals that believe in the cause. And happily for them, there is the blogosphere which remains free and democratic. The downside is that not everyone has access to the blogosphere.
One such initiative is being undertaken by blogger Janette Toral in one of her blogs (http://digitalfilipino.blogspot.com). Toral has recently organized other discussions and fora on the 2010 elections including one on “Blogging and 2010 Elections Program.”
Toral invites people to weigh in with what they “think are the important issues that people should consider as priority when analyzing politician’s or political party agenda come 2010 Philippine Elections.” This latest attempt at encouraging more people to speak up and be heard regarding the issues for 2010 has netted quite a number of interesting and enlightening points of view.
The usual staple issues are still there, of course, such as national security, crime prevention, employment, energy, the environment, the economy, health care, land reform, education, electoral reforms, Charter Change, housing, countryside development, trade equity, tourism, etc. My own list hues closely to the Top 10 list of blogger Rom Sedona (http://smoketalk.wordpres.com) although it would contain more specifics such as HIV/AIDS prevention and reproductive health issues.
These issues are expected to be major discussion points in any electoral campaign. Any candidate who does not respond to these issues is bound to come out as totally out of touch with reality. Thus, all candidates do go through the motions of putting together a platform that responds to as many issues as possible, but in broad strokes and with motherhood statements about “further improving” or “turning around” or “gaining headway” in these areas.
Some bloggers have come up with other fascinating issues, though. For example, Alleba Politics (http://politics.alleba.com) includes in his short list of possible agenda for 2010 the following: legalization of divorce, women and gay rights, Philippine arts and entertainment, and science and technology research and development.
Given the propensity of our politicians to obfuscate issues and to play safe, it might be a good idea to ask them specific questions. For example, I would rather that we ask candidates where exactly they stand on controversial issues such as contraception, censorship, sex education for high school students, divorce, etc. But that’s just me.
What is important is that we get the discussion about the issues going before our attention gets diverted by the circus and the smokescreens that our politicians are already preparing to unleash upon us.