Friday, December 04, 2009

The circus comes to town

This was my column last Wednesday.

The circus has officially descended into town. The arrival was noted the other day as three so-called presidentiables and their supporters swooped down one after the other at Intramuros, where the head office of the Commission on Elections is located, for the filing of their certificates of candidacy.

Each presidential aspirant entered the area with much fanfare. It was as if there was a contest for the most dramatic entrance or as if gimmickry during the filing of candidacy has any bearing on the results of the elections. The fact that the filing of candidacies is marked by cheap stunts designed to attract attention rather than by solemnity is a clear manifestation of the state of things in this country.

Why can’t we treat something that is supposed to be a solemn act—making formal one’s intent to serve his or her country—with a little more dignity?

I don’t expect our candidates to put on a pious demeanor as they sign their certificates but surely, arriving at the scene accompanied by marching bands, half-naked gyrating ati-atihan dancers, and a screaming mob taunting everyone else is a bit too gaudy—and need I say it, cheap —for comfort.

I half expected someone to arrive astride a donkey with supporters waving palm fronds and singing paeans.

Deposed former President Joseph Estrada came driving a jeepney harking back to his widely-successful Jeep Ni Erap campaign that catapulted him to the presidency a decade ago. Estrada’s whole campaign is in fact anchored mainly on the myth of a widely-anticipated comeback. Estrada is harboring the delusion that the majority of Filipinos look up to him as the hero who would provide the much-needed deliverance. He is in for a major disappointment.

Eddie Villanueva was accompanied by his religious flock, clad in green and yellow. While the group wasn’t as boisterous as the others, they were nevertheless as energetic, chanting Villanueva’s name endlessly.

Senators Manny Villar and Loren Legarda’s arrival was preceded and announced by ati-atihan dancers and lots of merrymaking.

It was a grand fiesta outside the Comelec as the supporters tried to create a festive atmosphere.

When all the hoopla was done, when the candidates had left the premises and the media people had gone on to report the day’s exertions, people started to trickle away, leaving the whole place littered with trash—mostly plastic.

And there was the metaphor I was searching for—after all that enthusiastic screaming and brandishing of slogans, after the candidates were done with their speeches and their chest-thumping, after everyone had proclaimed themselves as the messiah that would bring change and hope and better days for all—everyone left the place not much better, and in fact much worse than when they descended on it. They descended on Intramuros to proclaim the start of their quest to clean up the country, to start a revolution, to bring change—and in the process only dirtied up the surroundings. They didn’t bother to clean it up after they left. Not one candidate or party bothered to warn their supporters about vandalizing the walls of the Manila Cathedral, or littering the premises.

As I write, friends who live or work in the area have just told me the circus has intensified as the other candidates tried to beat the Dec. 1 deadline.

Someone at the Comelec told me there were already more than 50 candidates for the presidency as of noontime yesterday. What a circus, indeed.

***

So the cat is finally out of the bag. The President ended weeks of frenzied speculation by confirming last Monday that, yes, she will be seeking an elective post in May 2010. She will run as representative of the Second District of Pampanga.

As can be expected, the confirmation was greeted by widespread consternation.

The reactions ranged from the livid (“she is drunk with power”), to open contempt (“she is shameless!”), to dismay (“how can she demean the highest post in the land by settling for a much lower post afterwards?”), to annoyance (“why won’t she go away?”), to cynicism and skepticism (“she is up to something sinister”).

Of course, everyone prefaced their reaction with the recognition that there are no legal impediments that bars her from seeking a lower elective post; that running for Congress is an option that is available for her. The question however is not legal. It’s not even moral. The question, to my mind, is basic logic. It just doesn’t make sense.

The President said, in so many words, that what prompted her decision to run for Congress was her overriding desire to continue being in public service. It’s the lamest of all reasons. Of course everyone wants to serve this country; there is no shortage of people who want to invest their time and effort in helping this country move forward. But that’s not a valid excuse for running for an elective post because there are many ways in which we can serve this country.

Efren PeƱaflorida, recently chosen as CNN Hero of the Year, has probably done more for this country than most elected officials have. He has done it without being mayor or representative.

And really, it is not just about a leader’s needs; it’s not just about what she thinks is best. A real leader is one who is able to sacrifice personal needs for the sake of something bigger, something loftier.

Anyway. I’ve said this before and I will say it again here. Arroyo is pushing her luck too far. By settling for a lower post, she has effectively started her descent. It’s going to be all downhill from this point on.

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