Monday, March 02, 2009

Gordon responds

This is my column today.

A couple of weeks back, I wrote about Senator Richard Gordon in this space. I wondered why the Senator was not a front-runner for the 2010 elections. I listed the man’s qualifications in terms of traits and track record and argued that a major test of our maturity as an electorate is choosing who should be in the shortlist of candidates for the 2010 elections. So while my column was about Gordon, it really was more about the sad state of the electoral system in our country.

The senator has written a rather long reply to my column, which I am sharing with my readers below. I would like to state for the record that I am not endorsing Gordon for the presidency. While he has indeed expressed interest in and availability for the highest post in the land, he has not openly launched his bid yet. I haven’t decided on whom to support, myself.

He says that he is still busy with his legislative work as chairman of the Blue Ribbon committee. We should note that this committee, under his watch, came out with a report on the fertilizer scam last week. That a Senate committee came out with something concrete after all those physical exertions and emotional hara kiri by our lawmakers during the hearings is a wonder in itself. That the report actually implicated the President and the Ombudsman and made specific recommendations as way of moving forward gives us some measure of hope, no matter how fleeting, that some things still work in this country.

Gordon is also heavily at work pushing for the automation of the 2010 elections. In a related development, the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting and the National Movement for Free Elections have come out with full-page ads in some broadsheets asking for support for the project.

I have decided to lend space to the senator’s letter because I feel that he raised some insightful ideas about what the 2010 elections should be. Of course it can be argued that the senator’s letter drips heavily with undisguised political agenda; that is to be expected. I am not that naïve. But at least the man has not been putting out slick television ads that, quite frankly, are so gratuitously self-serving. If we want the 2010 elections to make a difference in the country, then we must make sure that our pool of candidates are not limited to those who have the means to build a cult following through magic tricks. What follows is Gordon’s reply to my column.

“Thank you for your article ‘Are we there yet?’ which appeared last Feb. 2. It is indeed humbling and flattering to find out that at least one more person of your stature believes that we should be considered as a possible presidential candidate for the 2010 elections.

“Apart from expressing my deep appreciation for what I take as a kind compliment and acknowledging the merits of your analysis, perhaps it would do well to point out that your entire column speaks more of what we ought to change in ourselves as a people in order to save our country from continuing on a downward spiral.

“Perhaps the crux is not so much that I am not a front-runner, but rather, in your own words, the real problem is that ‘we’re stuck in this rut where landing on top of surveys is seen as blanket substitute for qualification, where money is considered the ultimate advantage, where populist strategies win over the principled, etc.’”

“I wholeheartedly agree with you in sounding a call to the Filipino electorate to look beyond a candidate’s popularity, claims of fabulous financial girth, and demagoguery. While these attributes may make for an interesting and lucrative candidacy, they will certainly fail to solve what ails our country and, in the years after 2010, we will once again witness protests against whoever is the occupant of Malacañang.

“Therefore, the next election should be all about competence, integrity and reliability—not popularity, much less money or political machinery. The tragedy of our political history, of course, is that money had not always been able to buy electoral victory. Even our present political parties have become graveyard of real ideas and the birthplace of empty promises. Everybody talks about change. But who had stood for that message when nobody else would?

“I have yet to declare my candidacy as president for a number of reasons, the best ones are the many pressing legislative matters at the Senate, notably as Chairman of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee, and with our humanitarian work I lead in the Philippine National Red Cross. Nevertheless, while we have already expressed our interest in seeking a higher position, I have on top of my list the automation of the 2010 elections. We all need to see to it that the Commission on Elections would no longer have any excuse not to automate the country’s elections. We have proven it can be done in the last elections in Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, and given the national political will, we can do it too in May 2010.

“The title of your particular column caught my attention. ‘Flash Gordon’, after all, was an old monicker given to me by people who believed in and supported my brand of leadership back when I was still Mayor of Olongapo.

“It brings me back to the time when I stood shoulder-to-shoulder with my townmates as we lifted ourselves out of the morass of criminality, corruption, literal filth, and hopelessness that was Olongapo before my term as mayor. It has also made me recall the time when 8,000 of my townmates and I volunteered to transform Subic into the tourism destination and industry haven that it is today.

“We also remember the monicker having regained some currency when we were promoting the country as tourism secretary and succeeded in bringing two million tourists to the Philippines a year despite the negative tide of publicity brought about by SARS, coups d’etat and whatever else was there.

“Right now, I am given to a fair amount of wondering: Will my track record as well as my current performance as senator enough for people to consider me as their choice for president in 2010?

“I stubbornly believe that meritocracy is still attainable in this country. I still believe that if one works hard and becomes the best in what he does, he will be recognized and rewarded with the privilege of a greater responsibility. But regardless of how passionately I fight for my beliefs and demonstrate my willingness to sacrifice for what I believe is right, all I can do is offer myself and my service in humble gratitude to the nation and its people whom I hold dear. The Filipino people want a president who cares for ordinary people, who can be trusted and relied upon to make tough decisions. It is my ardent prayer that I measure up to their expectations.”

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