Who will make a better president, Vice-President Jejomar Binay or Senator Grace Poe?
Which is the more crucial qualification for the presidency—experience or honesty?
The problem with these questions is the false options they present. Surely, both honesty and experience in leadership are crucial, along with a host of other must-have qualities, and the nation should not have to forgo certain indispensable traits in electing leaders.
In mishandling the Mamasapano mission and the massacre of Philippine National Police Special Action Force commandos, President Benigno Aquino 3rd showed a clear lack of experience and competence.
That’s what the nation gets for electing Aquino based on his presumed honesty, despite his clear lack of executive and governance ability as seen in his unremarkable record in public and private life.
What’s worse, Aquino may not deliver on honesty either. His obfuscation on Mamasapano shows that he isn’t always keen to tell the whole truth.
Clearly, an honest reputation does not an honest leader make, for once the spotless candidate assumes the highest position in the land, then Lord Acton’s dictum could well apply: Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.
So 100 million Filipinos should demand that our leader be honest, competent and experienced, not to mention inspiring, compassionate, learned, accomplished, lawful, courageous, patriotic, bright, circumspect, persevering, patient, and discerning.
And with tens of millions of citizens aged 40 or older to choose from, there should be more than a decent chance of finding a good number with such qualities.
But there is one big obstacle: our electoral system, with its name recognition, media conditioning, and patronage politics, limits the electorate’s choice to a handful of individuals who get on voters’ short lists not because of proven capability, but by sheer celebrity.
Thus, among the countless citizens eligible and qualified to become president, we’re down to two or three, with the eventual winner pipping the others not by any impressive traits and record which persuade the populace, but due to political machinery, media manipulation, personal charisma, plus guns, goons, gold, and lately Hocus-PCOS.
We can try to improve the system, but really, we should know from leader after leader through the decades, that the governed must needs exert even more effort in dealing with the elected than we did in choosing them.
So yes, we must educate voters, safeguard ballots, counter fraud, stand up to violence, and monitor counting and canvassing. But after all that, even more indispensable are vigilance against corruption, abuse and misrule; outspoken insistence on the national interest, the rule of law, and competent, honest governance; and the democratic sovereignty of the people over personal, family and partisan wishes.
On Wednesday night, a priest-friend raised great concern over Aquino’s reported courting of Poe to become the administration candidate. The priest feared that Poe would be tainted or corrupted if she runs under Aquino’s ticket and guidance.
Things are actually worse than he fears.
First, the administration presidential candidate must commit to protect Liberal Party and other allied leaders from investigation and prosecution after Aquino steps down. The LP-backed standard bearer must keep anomalous pork barrel papers of its leaders and allies under lock and key in the Department of Budget and Management.
Will Poe agree to that? She would have to in order to get the backing of all those administration legislators, top officials, and other political bigwigs who have illicitly benefited from Aquino’s rule and are now hell-bent to keep their camp in power and free from accountability.
So must Binay win to get those hoods facing justice? Hang on. Last time we checked, seasoned politicians hedge their bets, striking deals with presidentiables likely to win.
So it would be no surprise if a good number of LP and other administration members of Congress have quietly assured the VP that they would not support any move to impeach him, as long as they are spared from a pork barrel reckoning.
That’s why even Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., for all his kowtowing to Malacañang, has said that there would be no impeachment mounted against Binay. The House chief knows that most of his fellow representatives may have pledged to oppose a VP ouster.
Now this kind of impending wholesale switch to the winning side is again nothing new. It happened under past presidents, including Aquino. His LP suddenly swelled with former members of his predecessor’s Lakas-CMD and Kampi parties.
Presidential candidates, for their part, have to make deals with unsavory political kingpins to win support in the regions, cities and provinces where the latter hold sway.
So much as the priest is worried about Aquino’s influence on Poe, in fact, the entire political establishment would be pressuring, inducing, and otherwise influencing all presidential hopefuls, with the unchanging aim of survival, power and largesse.
What to do? An upright civil society stalwart also called on Tuesday, partly to applaud the column for that day, and also to lament the electioneering that keeps bringing corrupt, abusive and self-serving leaders into the halls of national and local power.
Unfortunately, his own experience in fielding candidates showed how difficult it is for upright servant leaders to win public office.
Plainly, every democracy merely reflects the level of development — economic, intellectual, media, and moral — of its people.
So it is with the Philippines: the widespread poverty, lack of education, and impaired civic spirit makes our electorate easy prey to candidates with the power, funds, and political machinery and connections to turn out the votes for themselves.
So what to do? Well, we can just keep pointing out the failings of the leaders we elect, even as our people somehow strive for affluence, learning and awareness. At some point, perhaps in another generation, Filipinos would be rich, educated, and motivated enough to assert our interests against the venal ruling class.
Until then, we may vote the right choice, but the wrong ones may well get elected.