MANY commentators in the formal press and social media have already noted the somewhat dubious irony that for the first time in this country’s history – and as far as our own geopolitical and history experts know, in any country’s history – there are more candidates for vice president than there are candidates for president.
While this unusual situation mainly illustrates the odd, unwieldy nature of our political system, it also highlights what seems to be a disturbing lack of seriousness on the part of those vying for our votes next May.
The vice presidency is a bit less demanding than the job of being president, but it is still a vital position that must be filled by a fully-qualified, experienced, and committed leader. The vice president is not there to simply “enjoy all the perks with none of the responsibilities,” or simply serve as the president’s understudy, but must be fully capable to serve as the president’s replacement. We certainly never wish for anything untoward to befall the nation’s leader, whoever that might be, but it is a matter of historical record that a Philippine president has a one in three chance of not finishing his term.
Even under “normal” circumstances, the vice president serves as the nation’s caretaker when the president is out of the country, and since the time of President Joseph Estrada, it has become a tradition for the president to give the vice president a cabinet portfolio. Clearly, it is not a job for those who are not highly-skilled, and it is certainly not a job for those who are unable to articulate its importance or the reason they are seeking the position, nor is it a job for those who publicly express misgivings about their competence for it.
The circus-like atmosphere already surrounding the campaigns for both president and vice president will do nothing positive for the country, and for our own good, we must all demand that the bar of public discourse be raised. What that means in practical terms to the participants in the overcrowded vice presidential race is that we will demand cogent, realistic policy views and campaign platforms that address matters such as job growth and regulation, tax reform, infrastructure and agricultural development, poverty reduction, education, public health, the environment, disaster management and recovery, and foreign policy, among others.
Some of the candidates have shown signs that they do understand and have considered these things – as any potential leader of a nation of more than 100 million souls should – and that gives us a little hope. Others, however, have a long way to go to even approach a level of legitimacy to be seriously considered.