Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Santiago's political decision

My October 20, 2015 column.

Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago has always been a political gadfly.  She has never been known to conform to anyone’s idea of what is acceptable, consequences be damned.  She has also been renowned for never holding her punches, often spewing what many would consider outrageous statements.  She has never been known to have long-term loyalties, or to have a core ideology, other than looking at herself as a Messiah of sorts.
It would seem as if Santiago’s main purpose in life is to challenge conventions and in the process, annoy or infuriate others.  Of course there are those who think the world of her, but it would be difficult to find someone other than her family members who has consistently been pleased with her actuations or statements.  Santiago is who and what she is; and it is unreasonable to pick the things about her that we admire and those we find repulsive.
Her decision to run for President, therefore, should not have come as a surprise.  It’s in her nature to be a maverick. 
However, while it really is too early to predict the results of the 2016 elections, I think it’s also important to be realistic.  It is an understatement to say that this election will be steep uphill climb for her.  And while I sincerely pray that she continues to enjoy the medical miracle that she has been blessed with, I am afraid that the rigors of the campaign might be punishing.  I hate being morbid, but we can all draw parallels from what happened to the late Senator Raul Roco.  Still, I will not stand in the way of someone who wants to fight.  I understand just how important it is for someone who has been dealt with something as overwhelming as cancer to want to fight.  My late mentor, Dr. Celia Jessica Villarosa, spent eight years valiantly fighting and overcoming the many challenges that life offered her, including cancer.  To the very end, she refused to allow cancer to define her. 
So yes, I have great empathy for Santiago.  I am even willing to make allowances for her choice of running mate. I think it’s mainly a political decision; the Marcoses do continue to have a solid following in the North and among diehard loyalists.  It’s not much of a consolation, but at least she has brought once again to the surface the horrors of Martial Law and the many reasons why the Marcoses should never be allowed to return to Malacañang.
I will not demonize Santiago for her political choice.  It’s, quite frankly, a futile waste of time and energy.  But I will vigorously question many of her assertions.
Santiago said that the Marcoses, as a family, do not owe the Filipino people any apology. I have mixed feelings about this, mainly because I think the time for apologies have long lapsed.  An apology needs to be sincere, must be offered while it still matters, should include an admission of guilt, and more importantly, must offer amends—all of which the Marcoses are incapable of doing.  Besides, we’re talking of crimes, the scale of which remains unparalleled in this country’s history, so I am afraid an apology will not suffice.  Quite frankly, I would have preferred that they all went to jail.
Santiago also said that Ferdinand Marcos Jr. should not be punished for the sins of his father.  I disagree.  Marcos Jr. may have been a child when his father rose to power, but he was already wearing a military officer’s uniform and wielding a high-powered gun when they were forced out of the Palace by People Power. He was not a passive observant of the large-scale kleptocracy that defined his parents’ conjugal rule; he was a party to it!
I think that the Filipino people have really tried to move on from the horrors of the dictatorship, which is why the Marcoses have acquired some semblance of respectability despite the grave injustice they have inflicted on the Filipino people. We’ve allowed them to return to power.  It would be a major slap on the face of the Filipino people to allow them to return to Malacañang.  First, because such would represent full redemption for the Marcoses and second, because they do not, have not, deserved forgiveness.
But, like I said, I will respect everyone’s right to run for office, or even make utter fools of themselves.  I have bigger respect for the Filipinos’ ability to do what is right—which is to trounce undeserving candidates at the polls in May 2016.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

A surplus of presidential hopefuls

My October 1, 2015 column.
On the first day of the filing of certificates of candidacy for national positions last Monday, a total of 22 individuals trooped to the national headquarters of the Commission on Elections to manifest their supposed earnest desire to offer their lives in the service of country and the Filipino people as President. As of Thursday evening, there were close to a hundred presidential hopefuls! The number was astonishing because for a while back there, most of us were actually bewailing the utter lack of choices for the 2016 presidential contest.  
Of course, we all know that the number of hopefuls would be decimated in a few weeks’ time when Comelec declares some, if not most of them, as nuisance candidates. Nevertheless, there are a lot of things that can be said about the surge in the number of people who actually believe in their heart of hearts that they could and should be President of the Republic of the Philippines.
We can all take an optimistic view of this development and convince ourselves that this is reflective of the very wide, deep, and fertile pool of talent that we have in this country. When we come to think about it, it’s not farfetched to imagine that in a country of 100 million people, there are more choices other than Mar Roxas, Jejomar Binay, Grace Poe, and Miriam Defensor-Santiago. This view, however, is shot down —and rather fatally, at that—by the fact that a sizable number of those who filed their certificates of candidacy seemed like people who desperately need to have multiple sessions with a shrink. How else does one explain the fact that we have someone claiming to be an intergalactic ambassador who said he was urged to run by aliens among the bunch?
I like the humor theory submitted by some people. This theory says that what we witnessed this week was really yet another expression of our innate sense of humor. We’re just the kind of people who allows moments of levity even in the most tragic or saddest circumstances. We have been known to crack jokes, or even stage practical jokes, to break the tension out of very stressful situations. Unfortunately, this theory presupposes that those who filed their candidacies had higher thinking skills to grasp the concept of irony or satire, something that seems unlikely given the rambling and often nonsensical gibberish they spewed after they filed their certificates of candidacy.   
Someone I know insisted that those who filed their candidacies for president deserve, at the very least, our empathy. She said she still believed deep in her heart that despite the seeming absurdity of the situation, those people were still driven by the overwhelming desire to contribute to making this country great again. An extension of this belief was about how those people were really activists taking matters into their own hands; presumably, they’ve had enough of the the inability of government to make things work in this country so they were rising to the occasion. I would have gone to Comelec to applaud those people if we saw indications that altruism was truly behind their behavior.   
This leaves us with just two more theories. First, people’s perceptions of the qualification requirements for the presidency have reached an abysmally low level—it seems many actually think anyone can step up to the job. It’s difficult to disprove this perception because we did have a President who was an undergraduate and we have people like Emmanuel Pacquiao who keeps on making public statements about how the presidency can be part of his destiny. And besides, it really is true: the qualification for the Presidency and the Vice Presidency as written in the Constitution is ridiculously low —we ask more from production workers and utility people. Am sure the framers of the Constitution had good intentions; making the Presidency a possible career path for anyone with grit and gumption can be inspiring to any growing child. But I am certain they did not foresee the circus that is happening at the Comelec offices, either.
The last theory is what most people believe in, which is that we just have too many people in this country with too much time in their hands, who apparently have nothing better to do with their lives.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Grain from chaff

My October 13, 2015 column.

The circus officially begins this week when those aspiring for national office start trooping
 to the Commission on Elections at Intramuros to file their respective certificates of candidacy. 
The whole exercise will be marked by all kinds of gimmickry which people will try to pass off as
ceremonial pomp and pageantry.  There will be ati-atihan dancers, marching bands, cheer leaders,
confetti, and hordes of placard-waving and shrieking supporters garbed in whatever colors the
candidates have chosen to represent themselves. 
What all the extravaganza has to do with the occasion baffles the mind. When we come to think
about it, the filing of certificates of candidacy should be a solemn, if not sacred, moment.  It’s when
a candidate declares under oath his or her sincere intention to serve the people.  It is supposed to mark
the moment when the proverbial die is cast, when a candidate makes a date with destiny.  Why candidates
 cheapen such a potentially poignant moment is indicative of their character and the value they attach
to elective positions.
Commission on Elections Chairman Andres Bautista has laid down the specific guidelines to be followed
during the filing of candidacies this week. He has particularly asked that candidates limit to a certain
number the supporters who would join them inside the Comelec offices.  Let’s see if Bautista is able
to implement his guidelines—we all know from experience that most candidates and their supporters
 have the tendency to flaunt laws.  The irony is that these people claim to be messiahs representing change
 and reform, yet they cannot be bothered to follow basic laws of courtesy and responsible citizenship. 
For example, most of them will be organizing motorcades that will create monstrous traffic jams that will
inconvenience hundreds of thousands of people—the same ones they swear they will serve.  And we can
 all be sure that all of them will be leaving behind tons of trash at Intramuros that most of them cannot be
bothered to clean up.  So right at the very start we already know that many of these people are hypocrites
—their actions are not aligned with their supposed intentions.
This week, therefore, we really should be on the lookout for the candidates who will treat the filing of
their certificates of candidacies with the decorum required of the occasion.  It’s when we separate the
clowns from the earnest public servants, the buffoons from the sensible ones, the grain from the chaff.
But then again, we’ve already known the real worth of certain candidates prior to this week’s filing of
certificates of candidacies. 
For example, Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who declared his intention to run for the vice presidency
last week, made big declarations about the supposedly bold and revolutionary transformation that he
wants to initiate once he gets elected into office.  In the interest of disclosure, I will state for the record
 that having personally suffered from the political repression that was prevalent during the Marcos
dictatorship, I loathe the Marcoses and what they represent.  However, I will respect, albeit grudgingly,
anybody’s right to run for any office and to make an utter fool of himself or herself in the process. 
In the case of Marcos, his bold pronouncements about the kind of movement that he will initiate and
pursue once he gets elected as vice president come across not only as hollow and insincere —they were
also, quite frankly, ridiculously implausible.  
Unless the line of succession is invoked, the post of vice president in this country has no value; he or she
serves at the pleasure of the President.  Of course we all know that the vice president is next in line to the
President, but there’s no guarantee that he or she is treated as such.  In many instances in the past, we’ve
even had Presidents who deliberately bypassed or ignored the vice president.  Let’s call a spade a dirty
shovel—the post of vice president is basically a decorative or ceremonial position.  Worse, if the person
occupying the post is not on the good side of the President, he or she ends up doing absolutely nothing,
usually given token responsibilities hardly worth crowing about. So how Marcos intends to initiate his
grand movement as vice president is perplexing.  
We all know that Marcos is not exactly a moron, so we know that he knows about the limitations of the
functions of the vice president.  All those grand pronouncements, therefore were just that—an exercise in
 rhetorical discourse. That’s what Marcoses do best.  Seriously, folks—we’ve been there before, haven’t
we learned our lesson from the Marcos dictatorship yet?

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Choosing the lesser evil

My October 11, 2015 column.

It’s too bad there won’t be a box in the ballot in next year’s elections that says “none of the above” because I am sure there will be quite a number of voters who will choose to leave the slot for President or Vice President blank. Of course there is the possibility that some people will still have a change of mind as the candidates begin to engage voters more aggressively during the official campaign period, but there will be many who will not be swayed. I know quite a number who are firmly convinced, this early, that no one among Mar Roxas, Grace Poe, Jejomar Binay, and Rodrigo Duterte—who are considered the frontrunners for the presidency—deserves to become President of the Republic.
I, personally, have not made up my mind on who to vote for President or Vice President in 2016. There’s just no one among the four putative candidates who inspires confidence in me. However, I believe that leaving the spaces blank in the ballot is not a wise option in an electoral system where candidates win by plurality of votes. Even if 90 percent of the voters choose not to cast their votes for the top two positions, there will still be winners. The candidates who end on top after the voting will still get proclaimed and sworn into office even if they only garner a ridiculous percentage of votes—say, eight percent of the total population of voters—so the possibility that the least qualified person will win will still be there. At the same time, choosing not to vote for a President or Vice President is tantamount to renouncing one’s responsibility as citizen of this country. Citizens are obligated to support the person who wins an election regardless of whether he or she was the person we voted for during the elections.  
But it sure is disheartening when we consider that the deciding factor on who to vote for boils down to who we think will do the least damage to the country. Put another way, it looks like it’s going to be about picking the lesser evil among the four candidates. This is a complete departure from the usual paradigm where people root for specific candidates because he or she is deemed the best candidate for the post.
Roxas seems like he is ready for the post given the fact that among the frontrunners, he is the one who has actually served in the Cabinet longer, and in various capacities at that. In addition, he has served as congressman and senator, and has management background from his experience in the private sector. However, if the way he handled the Yolanda crisis is any indication of his management style, then we can honestly say that we’re doomed. I personally witnessed the absolute absence of leadership during the first few weeks after the super typhoon struck—Tacloban City was brought to the ground not by Yolanda, but by the anarchy that followed in its wake. The problems of the LRT and the LTO can also be traced to the period when he sat as Secretary of the Department of Transportation and Communications.
Poe comes across as a refreshing change in a political landscape dominated by traditional politicians. She is the candidate with the least political debt and presumably the one who has not been swallowed up by the murky political system—yet. But Poe is dogged by two main issues. First, her lack of relevant experience and consequently, competencies. And second, issues about her citizenship. The Presidency is the ultimate symbol of our sovereignty as a nation—what does it say of us when we elect someone who once chose to renounce her Filipino citizenship, and apparently without much emotional struggle and only out of convenience, as President?
Binay’s and Duterte’s proven track record as local executives are definitely plus factors. When we come to think about it, experience as mayor or governor is probably the best preparation for the presidency as managing a town, city, or province provides the closest match in terms of relevant competencies. Unfortunately, Binay is hounded by issues of corruption—the scale of which boggles the mind. It just seems unthinkable for anyone who is in complete control of his mental faculties to deliberately put someone suspected of being a large-scale crook in charge of the country’s vast resources. On the other hand, Duterte’s human rights record and his authoritarian tendencies are worrisome. And the way he has been flip-flopping on whether he is running for President or not smacks of indecisiveness, something that a President cannot or must never be.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Twerking to infamy

My October 4, 2015 column.
The official campaign period for the 2016 national elections hasn’t started yet, 
but the circus has already come to town. The circus acts are bound to be more risqué 
and the gimmicks dirtier because of, first, the intense competition among the various 
political parties, and second, it is just so much harder now to entice people to come 
to political gatherings just so they can listen to some candidate regurgitate shameless 
self-promotion propaganda. 
Gyrating dancers clad in sexy attires; singers who slither onstage and flirt with candidates 
and the audience; lewd and bawdy jokes and statements with double entendre 
or laden with innuendoes­—these have always been the staple of political sorties 
for as far back as I can remember. My earliest memory of a political rally happened 
when I was a little boy and it involved a female singer in sequined shorts singing 
“Saging ni Pacing” onstage while feeding a mayoral candidate and his slate of mostly 
male candidates ripe bananas. In the last national elections, I actually witnessed the late 
Tiya Pusit singing “Pusong Bato” while literally taking liberties of the male senatorial 
candidates of the opposition onstage, much to the amusement and howling of the audience. 
These antics have been proven to get crowd all worked up—sex, after all, is a 
universal preoccupation. Unfortunately, it’s also difficult to contain these kinds of acts 
and they do stray beyond what is socially acceptable in most cases.
Fortunately, it is now easier to expose shenanigans in the campaign trail because 
everyone in this country happens to have a cellphone with a video camera which 
we all like to whip out at every opportunity. This predilection has reached what 
I think is a sad point where people already forego the opportunity to fully enjoy 
or savor special moments just because they happen to be more focused on recording 
the event and watching the proceedings from the small LED screen of their cellular 
phones, but I digress. We’ve become a nation of camcorders that events in this country
are now set up so that they will actually look good in video footages. It is now customary 
for people to whip out their cellular phones at any event and take video footage 
as if their inability to record the event will diminish their appreciation of the whole
 experience. And of course we also like to share­—videos, in particular, including those 
that really should remain private, but that’s another story.
I must admit that I, too, was outraged at the videos taken during a recent Liberal Party 
event (the birthday celebration of a congressman but which was attended by party bigwigs) 
which showed a group of female dancers twerking against the crotches of grown men, 
presumably politicians. In fact, I was aghast that no one among those who were present 
seemed to have had the presence of mind to think of the repercussions of such a performance 
finding its way to the Internet given the number of cellular phones that were recording it. 
The dance move (twerking) is already scandalous in the eyes and minds of many people 
as it simulates the sex act. Doing so with a partner onstage is taking it beyond clean fun. 
I fully understand why people are outraged—it’s not just about reducing women to 
sexual objects, it’s also about public decorum, particularly involving public officials. 
However, I think it is quite a stretch to drag Liberal Party candidate Mar Roxas into 
the issue considering that he was not there. I find the attempts of some people—obviously 
from people who are virulently against a Roxas presidency—to insinuate that Mar Roxas 
was one of the guys a dancer was gyrating against quite foul. There were also accusations
 that the dance performance was a “gift” from Metro Manila Development Authority 
chairman Francis Tolentino although this has been vigorously denied.
What we know is that habits are hard to change and that our political parties continue 
to be ruled by traditional politicians who perpetuate sordid acts that sully our political 
systems. We also know that vigilance by ordinary citizens are making a difference 
insofar as changing the system is concerned.
Now that the twerking video has become viral and the culprits have been rightfully 
chastised, I guess we won’t be seeing girls twerking in political rallies anymore. 
This doesn’t mean, though, that candidates won’t be turning into clowns and wannabe 
singers and dancers and comedians.