PRESIDENT BS Aquino’s last State of the Nation Address this past Monday should not have been the swan song he attempted to make it; he still has about nine and a half months to wait before he legitimately becomes a lame duck in the six-week period between next May’s elections and the inauguration at the end of June 2016.
Don’t try to tell him that, though. Aquino’s two hours and fifteen minutes of heavy breathing was clearly the last word as far as he was concerned, and if it wasn’t clear enough from the content of his speech Monday, it certainly was after the amateurishly contrived leak on Wednesday that Aquino would “anoint” Secretary of the Interior and Local Government Mar Roxas as the Liberal Party standard-bearer on Friday (even though declaring a candidacy this early is an apparent violation of election rules).
All of that leaves us with having to make the best of two long-term and not altogether pleasant situations: Trying to maintain our economic momentum while the government spends the next three quarters in maintenance mode, and trying to make a rational assessment, if that’s even possible, of who among Aquino’s prospective successors might have some idea of what a president is supposed to do.
Because candidates cannot officially declare their candidacy for a few more months, the only certain candidates, the ones who have made it explicitly clear that they are indeed running for president, are Vice President Jejomar Binay, Roxas, and the ‘What could you be thinking?’ tandem of Senators Grace Llamanzares and Francis Escudero. The likely candidates from the overcrowded ‘Will they or won’t they?’ field are Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and Senator Bongbong Marcos.
Ironically, it is the latter two long shots – who are either foolishly giving their better-equipped and better-publicized opponents a big head start, or wisely letting them kill each other off first before jumping into the contest – who have shared something like a platform. Between the two, Marcos comes across as better-organized and less likely to throw someone off a balcony, but Duterte does need occasionally to stop channeling a Viking chieftain long enough to express some coherent policy ideas.
Of the three more popular candidates, Binay is capable of developing a platform; in times before he started feeling so persecuted, I have heard him set out some clear policy goals, but disappointingly, he seems to have abandoned that to plunge head-first into a typical Pinoy political personality contest with the Llamanzares-Escudero duo. Roxas, to his credit, had for the most part remained politely quiet leading up to his coming-out party yesterday. He is actually also capable of producing a substantial platform, although he disguises it well; whether or not he takes the high road or jumps in the bog with the three front-runners remains to be seen.
That’s the crowd we get; what we need from them are some answers about what they intend to do about Aquino’s unfinished business: A functional infrastructure development plan; tax reform; regulatory reform in the energy and utilities sectors; putting the military modernization effort back on track; a reasonable peace agreement in Mindanao; and finding ways to shrink the country’s ridiculously wide income gap. People whose interests lie outside the economic sphere also have some valid expectations, such as improvements in law enforcement, health care, stronger environmental protections, and better progress against abuses like human trafficking.
So far, the prospects for getting those answers seem rather slim. In the big scheme of things, it does not really matter how much this one paid for the free birthday cakes, or what year the other one’s passport is dated. We should probably quit treating it as though it makes some kind of difference.