Friday, November 20, 2009

How morally and intellectually fit are the candidates?

With so many overcrowding the 2010 presidential race, it may not be so easy to avoid  a no-holds-barred campaign.  Negative campaigning could rule the day as all gloves come off and the parties expose and exploit each other’s dark secrets. Is that good or bad? Bad perhaps for those who have a lot to hide, but probably good for us who need to know more about our candidates.


If we can but agree that government is not entertainment, that an election is not a beauty contest, and that more than popularity and charm are needed to run a government, then we should welcome knowing more about the hidden lives of our candidates.  


Until now,  all we know is their media image. Unverified and unverifiable surveys and uninhibited hype have tried to perpetuate these images in lieu of the truth about the candidates.  Do we really know what kind of human beings they are?  Are they morally and intellectually fit for the office they seek?


We do not seem to care.  It seems  enough for us to be able to say that Manny Villar used to be poor, that Noynoy Aquino is the son of Ninoy and Cory Aquino, that Gibo Teodoro is the candidate of President Arroyo, that Erap Estrada  counts on the masa, that Mar Roxas is married to Korina, that Edu Manzano is a game show host, that Loren Legarda has great billboards, that Jojo Binay runs Makati, and that their fate depends on the surveys.    


But if we really want to be part of the electoral process,  we need to know, at the very least, the candidates’ moral character and  professional competence.  This is a conditio sine qua non for our responsible and intelligent participation in the process.  


First, character.  This is the first building block of leadership. It defines a person’s personality, his or her relationship with others, his or her private and public life.  If he or she has no control over his or her carnal appetites, that person is likely to have no control over his or her appetite for power or material wealth.  If a person thinks nothing about his or her marriage vows,  that person is not likely to think any better of his or her oath of office.  If a person is a serial adulterer or one of loose moral character, he or she is not likely to be the soul of honesty, purity or justice in public office  or anywhere else.


            It is imperative, therefore, that the candidates’ personal  lives be known to all, beginning with their state of health, mental and physical.  In that respect, we could perhaps adopt the admirable practice in the United States, where despite the society’s moral permissiveness, no one may seek high office whose public record is  tainted with even just one known adultery, past or present. 


            Of course in Europe, some streetwalkers and transvestites have been raised to parliament, and some divorced politicians have landed in the highest places.  But  these are polyamorous and neo-pagan  socities whose norms are different from ours. Our experience with a president with multiple households has not been good for the country, the government or even the president himself.  We cannot have another such president, or even a vice-president of the same moral mold.   


            After character, comes competence.  The most morally upright individual will not do, if incompetent.  In fact, no morally upright individual will want to take on any position for  which he or she is not qualified. That would be rank  dishonesty, corruption and injustice. Not unlike putting a blind man on the bridge of a ship to steer it to safety through a storm in the high seas.  


We have had that very same experience at least a couple of times now. We cannot, we shouldn’t,  wish for more.  The cat that burns its butt on a hot stove learns never to lie down again on the same stove  even after it has gotten cold. We would be less than cats if we do not learn from past experience.   


Several years ago, somebody asked Dolphy, our greatest living comedian, to run for president.  His reply was quick: “Ayoko, baka manalo ako.” (“I don’t want, I might win.”)  Unfortunately we only have one Dolphy; the other celebrities are not nearly half  half as bright. It is now up to us to deal with them.


            At all levels, we are plagued with a diseased understanding of politics.   


1) Loren Legarda strangely announced her vice-presidential candidacy before she could find a presidential candidate.  This normally is not done.  After Manny Villar finally took her into the NP, the first thing her NPC partymates said was that they were supporting her but not Villar. They are simply not part of the deal.  The guy who picked up a hitch hiker on the road may or may not have a smooth drive from here on.     


2) Former Sen.  Ralph Recto, who had been  Arroyo’s  Socio-Economic Planning Secretary after his unsuccessful Senate run in 2007, resigned his Cabinet post without any known policy conflict with Malacanang.  Then he walked into the Liberal Party which welcomed him as a senatorial candidate. 


The issue here is honor, not party loyalty, which no longer exists. In any administration, a Cabinet member shares the responsibility for the success or failure of the policies of the administration. If the Arroyo administration has failed Recto was partly responsible for that failure.  Inside a casino no one could go to the cashier to claim any winnings after losing his game.  But that’s exactly what happened here. Recto seems luckier than everybody else, including the LP, whose loss is now Ralph’s gain.


This, however, is not an isolated case. Some administration senators are seeking reelection not as administration candidates but as  “guest candidates” of  parties in the opposition. Only in the Philippines.        

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What did Hillary tell GMA and Noynoy?

Reports persist that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has told President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in Manila to simply ensure clean and credible elections instead of running for any elective post in  2010.  And that she gave Sen. Noynoy Aquino at his request a brief private audience.      


            Are these to be believed? 


            First, the Arroyo story.  For obvious reasons, neither Malacanang nor the U.S. Embassy will confirm this story. But perhaps certain things could help.  While Clinton was in town,  the Star ran my piece on  Mrs. Arroyo possibly running for vice-president.  It elicited a few telephone calls. Before the day was out the ruling Lakas-Kampi party announced Edu Manzano, a tv host of modest standing, as its vice presidential candidate.


Some observers noted that although not all politicians are superstitious, they generally avoid making important decisions on  the 13th  day of the month, least of all on Friday the 13th.  They are not likely to build a building with a 13th floor or be photographed in a group of 13.  But the ruling party chose the date for Edu’s run as though it could no longer wait.


            In apparent appreciation, President Barack Obama put his arm (figuratively) around Mrs. Arroyo at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Singapore. He sat with her at the US-ASEAN summit at the margins of the APEC meeting and asked her to draft a five-year plan for US-ASEAN engagement in trade, security, human rights and climate change.


            A heart attack may no longer be called for if at the end of the day, contrary to all previous speculations, Mrs. Arroyo and family finally decide to go on an extended ocean cruise around the world, end up in the Galapagos Islands or Rio, and not run for anything anymore. 


            What about Hillary’s  reported encounter with Noynoy? It is to Noynoy’s credit that if there was such a meeting, he has not made political capital of it by leaking it to the press.  But it should be good for all if he could reassure his present and potential supporters that he is not running as an American candidate. It is no longer fashionable or helpful to be called an American boy.


In 1953, the Filipino voters did not mind having a president who was openly managed by the CIA’s Col. Edward Lansdale.  Ramon Magsaysay was genuinely popular among the masses because of his anti-Huk campaign, and when he died in a plane crash in 1957, our people interred him in their pantheon of heroes. No Filipino scholar has since dared to reexamine his record, so year after year, several men and women are proud to receive  their Magsaysay awards. But times have changed. 


Even though the US  had figured prominently in deposing Marcos and installing Cory Aquino as president, she tried not to be seen openly as an American marionette. She marched to the Senate to try to persuade her own senators to approve a new treaty that would have given the US bases another ten years after 1991, but no one could persuade her to receive US Defense Secretary Richard Cheney even for a few minutes, for being the alter-ego of US President George Herbert Bush who had made the unfortunate mistake of praising Marcos earlier for his “adherence” to the democratic process. 


Those who have heard Noynoy say anything on any subject at all would probably wonder what he could have said to Clinton. A  one-way conversation seemed more likely, with the young senator lending his ears.  Clinton might have found him eager to support US global policies and programs, whether or not he becomes  president.


One program could be “reproductive health.”  Aware of the strong moral and constitutional opposition to the RH bill in Congress, Clinton had wisely steered away from the subject in her public statements here.  But she remains firmly committed to propagating reproductive health around the world. As she told the Foreign Affairs Committee of the US House of Representatives “reproductive health” includes access to abortion, and the Obama administration is resolved to abolish all obstacles to such access around the world.


Noynoy is a proud supporter of the RH bill, even though, like so many others, he has shown very little or no understanding at all of the constitutional, ethical and anthropological issues involved.  He says women should be free to choose, completely unaware that they are already free to choose----no law prohibits them  from contracepting or getting sterilized. Then he says the State should provide contraceptives and sterilization services to everyone, completely unaware that  this is not constitutionally possible---the Constitution says the State shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception. 


Like his friends in the RH lobby, the young senator obviously sees no contradiction in the State on one hand protecting the unborn from the moment of conception and the State on the other hand running a contraceptives and sterilization program whose purpose is to prevent women from conceiving. 


Face to face with the formidable Hillary Clinton, did Noynoy not reaffirm his support for the US RH policy and promise to pursue it should he ever become president?  Or did Clinton choose not to discuss it at all, given her guest’s limitations?   US National Security Study Memorandum (NSSM) 200, however, commands the US President and Secretary of State never to let any opportunity pass without taking up the population issue---now codenamed reproductive health---when meeting with foreign leaders.


Hillary does not owe us a statement, but Noynoy Aquino clearly does. 

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Chiz soufflé?

The press was quite exhuberant in saying that Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero “rearranged the political landscape” when he bolted the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) on the day he was to proclaim his presidential bid under that party, said a mouthful about political parties, and left his supporters clueless on his next move as a once-declared presidential aspirant for 2010.

Indeed, he would have done so had he declared himself an independent candidate after leaving his party. But he stopped halfway. As things stand, Chiz’s bold move altered the political landscape only to the extent that a crumbling cheese soufflé disfigures itself without affecting anybody else except the person who has to eat it.

Thanks largely to media’s apparent fascination with him, one news headline screamed, “Chiz junks NPC, Danding” instead of the other way around. Clearly it was the NPC and its founder Danding Cojuangco who had spurned Chiz when they rejected his bid, or decided not to field a presidential candidate at all.

Chiz ought to have foreseen the perils of campaigning for votes outside his party long before the party had formally decided to field him as its candidate. Of course, he was not alone in that egregious course; as a rule, our presidential and even vice-presidential wannabes nominate themselves instead of allowing themselves to be nominated by others. But unlike the others, Chiz did not own nor control his party.

Neither did he exert enough effort to make his party play by the rules. For instance, in 2007, it did not matter to him that while he, Loren Legarda, Sonny Osmeña and Nikki Coseteng were running as NPC candidates on the Genuine Opposition (GO) senatorial ticket, two other NPC members---Tessie Aquino Oreta and Tito Sotto---were running on the administration’s Team Unity (TU) slate.

A more sensitive partymember would have protested that arrangement, which threw away all party rules. He could have resigned from the party then, and it would have been a principled move. But none of those involved in that farce did or said anything about it. In a sense, Chiz’s party resignation was one election too late.

Chiz might have assumed that given his impressive and costly performance in that---his first----senatorial election (he got 18 million out of close to 40 million votes), sustained temporarily by some superficial surveys, he had become ripe for the highest office, and that his party would simply have to concede his point. But he had assumed wrongly, it turns out.

Topping one or several senatorial elections has never guaranteed winning the presidency or even being picked as a party’s official candidate. Look at Jovy Salonga. Before our voters started putting all sorts of jokers in the Senate, Salonga habitually topped the senatorial polls. But when he finally ran for president as “Mr. Incorruptible,” he ended behind Imelda Marcos, who merely took a tourist bus to shake a few hands here and there, without ever making a single serious campaign speech.

Look also at Sen. Mar Roxas. Since his first Senate run under President Arroyo in 2001, he had been preparing to become president. Even his recent marriage was said to have been originally intended to improve his chances. But everything that could go wrong has gone wrong, and he is now running simply as Noynoy Aquino’s teammate.

Chiz might have believed that just because the youth of the country outnumber their elders, his youthfulness was enough to propel him to the highest office. Indeed, many seemed convinced that his ability to say everything every young person likes to hear on any given issue gave him a decisive edge over the others. But many find his record a bit too thin for the office.

The presidency demands some maturity and experience. Chiz has every right to mature under stress in order to become the most suitable material for president. Unhappily, his test came last week, and he found himself in what chess players call a zugzwang---an untenable situation where one has no choice but to make a bad move. He ended saying things no one with half his brains would have said to a political science class for pinheads.

“I am leaving my party because I believe that I can fulfill the role that I am bound to play in connection with the coming elections…not as a member of any party or a companion of any person, but as just me….” One’s political party should be the party of all Filipinos, and one’s party mates should be all Filipinos.

This is arrant nonsense. It is not the same as Manuel L. Quezon’s oft-quoted, “My party ends where my country begins.” In an electoral democracy, the party answers to the people for the kind of men and women it runs for public office. To insist that no party should be owned by any one individual and function like a basketball team is to insist on educating the politicians and the electorate alike. But to suggest that parties as a rule are a negative influence upon government and should be discarded is to replace centuries of political theory and praxis with a demagogue’s conceit. All of us are capable of making the most outlandish mistakes, but no one of Chiz Escudero’s promise deserves to make that mistake.

GMA for Vice-President? Don’t scoff at it

Because of the rash of defections plaguing the ruling party, the opposition may be tempted to dismiss President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as a spent force. That would be a big mistake. She is still very much in the game, and the opposition cannot take anything for granted.

The earlier spin was that Mrs. Arroyo would run for Congress, seek the Speakership if she wins, and push for a constitutional shift to parliamentary government and become its prime minister. Even under extremely favorable conditions, that looked like a very long shot.

But conditions are not favorable now, and the old assumptions may no longer hold. Between now and the May 10, 2010 elections, many congressmen would have changed their political affiliations and alignments; they could return to Congress with the same old habits, but a change in the presidency may not leave certain congressional practices unchanged.

Mrs. Arroyo could win a House seat in Pampanga hands down, but winning the Speakership could be something else. I would not worry about it too much; I would worry more about her running for Vice-President, despite Lakas-Kampi’s badly diminished ranks.

Although the idea was first floated rather petulantly by Rep. Danny Suarez of Quezon Province, it does not look like he did it on his own just to spice up the political gossip. It seems more likely that the idea had been incubating within the administration for some time, and Suarez was simply allowed to leak it. All previous talk about GMA running in Pampanga, fueled by her constant visits to Lubao, may have been intended solely to mislead some sociology professors and the press.

The apparent inspiration is the Putin model. This refers to Vladimir Putin who, at the end of his term as president of Russia, opted to become prime minister to his protégé, President Dmitry Medvedev, whom the Western media like to depict (unfairly in my view) as Putin’s shadow or stooge.

In Russia as in the Philippines, the real power is lodged in the president. But a former president who becomes prime minister, whether or not his name is Putin, and a former president who becomes vice-president, whatever his name, are likely to project more power and influence than they actually wield. In Singapore, former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew continues to project such power and influence long after he had stepped down to become senior minister.

This alone should not make us lose sleep. But there would be nothing innocuous in GMA running for vice-president. Especially since it coincides with the shift to automated voting which has raised serious concerns about the real possibility of the system failing, resulting in the inability of the Commission on Elections to proclaim any winners.

By June 30, 2010, all incumbent national and local officials shall have ended their term, except for the 12 senators whose term began in 2007 and ends in 2013. If by then no president and other national officials shall have been elected and qualified, a power vacuum would have occurred. That could prompt Mrs. Arroyo to try and hold over, which is not provided in the Constitution. The military could decide to support her, as they have done so until now, or they could take over on their own, without her, as “the protector of the people and the State.”

But what happens if Mrs. Arroyo runs and is elected vice-president while the Comelec is unable to proclaim a new president-elect and other elected national officials? Under the Constitution, the Vice-President-elect becomes the acting President until the President shall have been elected and qualified. But the Constitution sets no deadline for the election and qualification of the President.

All this, of course, is purely hypothetical. It could happen, but I am not saying it would. Still the mere possibility of it occurring is enough to make some people climb walls. For despite GMA’s badly eroded trust rating, her ability to use the legal and extra-legal powers and resources of the presidency is unequalled and undisputed.

What then should the opposition do? The most intelligent thing for them to do would be to meet GMA head-on by fielding their most popular bets for vice-president. Assuming the reported surveys are real and correct, Noynoy Aquino and Mar Roxas could exchange places so that Noynoy, rather than Mar, should take on GMA, while Manny Villar could probably persuade former President Joseph (Erap) Estrada to sacrifice his own presidential bid and become his running mate instead.

This may sound absurd to the parties concerned, but it may be the only way of preventing a great calamity afflicting the land. It may also be the only way to help Noynoy Aquino rid himself of those strident, unenlightened and irreverent critics who have the temerity to proclaim that his being the modest son of Ninoy and Cory Aquino of happy memory and the even more modest brother of Kris Aquino of popular entertainment tv is not enough basis for him to want to become president of this benighted country. It may also be the only way to help Erap get out of a second presidential run that seems to lack all the promise of his first successful run and which he may not be psychologically prepared to lose.