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.


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