Slim pickings

My May 26, 2015 column.

Who is your bet for the presidency in 2016? I have been asked this question quite a number of times in the last few weeks and my reaction has been the same – I don’t know yet;  it depends on who is running.  
It’s a copout response, though.  The truth is that no one from among those who have signified their intent to run for president, or who have communicated their willingness or desire to be considered as candidate, has caught my interest.  To be honest, there have been many occasions in the last few months when I felt like putting my hands up in the air in exasperation.  Seriously, folks, isn’t there anyone else more deserving of our trust and confidence that can lead this country forward? I know.  There are people that seem perfect for the role – the likes of Gibo Teodoro and Tony Meloto and even Serge Osmena - but they do not seem interested in becoming president, and I cannot blame them.  Becoming president of this country is like setting one’s self up for self-annihilation; we have not had a president in the last 60 years who did not end up being vilified, demonized, or jailed.  But then again, that has not seemingly discouraged certain people from keeping a moist eye on the highest post in the land.     
The presumed frontrunner, Vice President Jejomar Binay, is supposed to be someone whose heart is in the right place.  I have met many people who root for Binay on the strength of first-hand experiences with the man, citing various incidences where they were at the receiving end of personal attention or service.  I have personally held office in the same building and floor with Binay and I can also attest that he is someone who is approachable, and with a touch for the common tao.  However, it is just so darned difficult to ignore the mountains of accusations that have surfaced against him, and they are getting more and more scandalous each week.  It is tempting to dismiss the accusations as politically motivated, but I firmly believe that the post of president of the country is first and foremost a position of credibility.  Binay needs to clear his name first before he can be presumed to lead this country effectively.  It is almost difficult to imagine how Binay can command moral authority over the whole bureaucracy when he has all these unresolved cases of graft and corruption haunting him.  We’re not even talking yet about the possibility of the presidency precisely being sought as a tool for vindication and redemption; such a scenario would be disastrous for everyone.
The putative candidates of the administration are Senator Grace Poe and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas.  Both have been playing coy, and we’re all being made to believe that they are not actively seeking the presidency although they have on many occasions communicated their interest in being considered.  There seems to be some wisdom in keeping one’s cards close to the chest; for as long as one has not declared his candidacy, one is still spared from direct and vicious attacks - look at what happened to Binay.  But still, it would be very helpful to get a glimpse of what the two really stand for outside of the motherhood statements about how they would be in a position to perpetuate the legacy of the Aquino administration.  Regardless of how highly the Aquino cabinet regards itself, people do want candidates who are able to stand up on their own feet.
I am not sure the others who are offering themselves as possible candidates deserve serious consideration, particularly those that have resorted to premature campaigning.  The backlash that the TV ads have generated in social media should be more than enough reason to have them pulled out.  Instead of endearing them to the electorate, people are now openly asking where the money that is being used for the ads come from and how these politicians intend to recoup their campaign expenses.  For me, the problem is not just that the ads are premature but that they represent the political version of the Dance of the Seven Veils – they tease and seduce in an almost scandalous way but don’t really reveal anything worth considering.  The ads are an exercise in shameless self-promotion, nothing more.
It does seem as if we are being conditioned to settle for the lesser evil, to accept a compromise.  The technical definition of a compromise is that it’s a situation where nobody wins – both parties lose.  It’s either we settle for someone with experience, but who is corrupt, or go for someone who is a political rookie with very little actual experience in governance but who is supposed to be clean.  Or we can pick a trusted lieutenant who has political experience, but is, for all intents and purposes a wimp who has not been able to prove his leadership and management skills despite many opportunities.  Or we can pick someone who has political will renowned for his no-nonsense approach to getting things done in the city where he has been mayor for decades, but whose human rights record and tolerance for diversity is dismal. 
The question that no one seems to be asking is:  Why do we have to settle for this very short list?  
Someone has said this before but I am going to repeat it just the same.  It is inconceivable that in a country brimming with talent and real leaders, our choices have become almost zero.


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