Friday, September 25, 2009

Deja vu

Published last August 24, 2009 at the op ed section of the Manila Standard Today. 

As of last week, there were 15 people who had signified their intention, willingness, or availability to become President of the Republic of the Philippines next year.

I am aware of course that many—if not most—of these people are actually angling for a lower post, perhaps that of Vice President or perhaps that of a senator and that the declaration of interest in the presidency is more of a campaign strategy to gain early media mileage. Sliding down to the vice presidency or for a senatorial post makes the candidate seem like a reasonable and gracious person who is willing to give up personal ambition for the sake of the greater good.

Some of these people also don’t have the resources to run a grueling national political campaign and will eventually buckle down.

But here’s the list so far, of the people who have indicated interest in becoming the next President of the Republic of the Philippines, in alphabetical order: Jejomar Binay, Noli de Castro, John Carlos de los Reyes, Chiz Escudero, Joseph Estrada, Bayani Fernando, Richard Gordon, Loren Legarda, Jamby Madrigal, Fr. Ed Panlilio, Mar Roxas, Gibo Teodoro, Bro. Mike Velarde, Bro. Eddie Villanueva, and Manny Villar.

It is an interesting bunch. More than half, or eight of the so-called presidentiables are either incumbent (Escudero, Gordon, Legarda, Madrigal, Roxas and Villar) or former (De Castro and Estrada) senators. Three are religious leaders (Panlilio, Velarde, Villanueva). Three are incumbent Cabinet members of the Arroyo administration (De Castro, Fernando, Teodoro). Four earned their stripes as exemplary mayors (Binay—Makati, Estrada—San Juan, Fernando—Marikina, and Gordon—Olongapo City).

Incidentally, if you are wondering who the heck John Carlos de los Reyes is, he is the councilor from Olongapo City who has been drafted as the presidential candidate of the Kapatiran Party, I am sure he is going to be declared a nuisance candidate eventually but as of now he has as much right as anyone else to be considered a presidential aspirant.

Many of these people have prepared extensively and long. Villar and Roxas, in particular, have already invested hundreds of millions of personal money—supposedly donated by supporters, which as we all know is euphemism for family members—in early and relentless political advertisements.

And now, in a phenomenon reminiscent of what happened in 1985, all the efforts and posturing of these 15 people are now under threat because of groundswell support for a reluctant candidate. There is now clamor for Senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino Jr. to run for president. Just like in 1985, the Aquinos have expressed reservations about giving in to the clamor. It took several millions of signatures and heavy pressure from various quarters before the late former President Cory Aquino acceded to the clamor for her to run for president.

Senator Aquino’s sisters have repeatedly stressed that Noynoy is not yet prepared to become president at this time. Ballsy Aquino, always the voice of reason and sobriety, expressed it quite well when she said that the people pushing for Noynoy’s candidacy for president should first ascertain if they are doing so out of genuine belief that the senator is the best person for the job or just out of sympathy for the Aquino family’s loss.

Are we reliving history all over again? Not that a Noynoy Aquino presidency is the worst thing that could happen in this country, but one wishes that our selection process for the highest seat in the land is more a product of wise and careful decision-making process rather than purely emotional and visceral. Like I said, I don’t think installing Noynoy Aquino as president is necessarily a terrible idea but surely the presidency is not something that’s awarded as some kind of a prize —a gift or offering—in exchange for the tragedies and sacrifices of a family.

There are those who insist—and I must admit that there is a part of me that empathizes with this idea—that the ability to unite the country and moral ascendancy are two critical dimensions that must govern the selection of the next president. I am afraid though that these are not enough.

Yes, we may be terribly fragmented right now but imagine how much more chaotic things would be if government is not in control and someone without the necessary preparation and competencies were elected president. There are other competencies that must be taken into account such as stewardship, proven leadership and management skills, and a viable and comprehensive platform. Again, I am not saying Senator Noynoy Aquino does not have all these—just that there is a difference between having prepared for the challenge and therefore having the willingness to be measured against the criteria and having been pushed for the job out of emotional reasons.

So far, all indicators lead to a possible candidacy for vice president. It’s the win-win solution. Mar Roxas and Noynoy Aquino would be a formidable tandem. Both senators are in the same party, both are scions of political dynasties, both are sons of illustrious senators, and both are forebears of former occupants of the Palace. Of course they also have other ties that bind and the more showbiz-oriented among us would point to the fact that Mar Roxas’ mother is Kris Aquino’s doting godmother and that Roxas’ fiancée, broadcaster Korina Sanchez, was a former girlfriend of Aquino.

But then again, we’ve been there before and history often has a strange way of teaching us lessons. Prior to the groundswell clamor for Cory Aquino to run for president in 1985, Doy Laurel was the putative candidate for president. A Cory Aquino presidency was then unthinkable. We’re also a people with a bent for taking matters into our hands when emotionally provoked. Anything can happen.

What these developments in the political front tell us is that, really, even the best-laid plans and the most sophisticated political strategy are hapless before acts of God. Perhaps Senators Villar and Roxas should jettison all the political strategy and machinery for the old-fashioned strategy that has worked so well for former President Cory Aquino—storming the heavens with prayers.

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