The serious measurement of presidential campaigns is traditionally done by looking at the platforms of the candidates. Are they viable and comprehensive and grounded on reality and data? Then, the follow-up question. If the promises under the platforms will be done outside of executive action (via the powers of the president), are these well-studied enough to get congressional support and funding?
In real democracies with strong political parties, these platforms matter more than the candidates. After all, the victorious presidential candidate is expected to work hard to implement what is in the party platform, with no substantive deviations and even in the face of gridlocks. The elected president, this is mandatory, functions as the main executor of the party’s ideals and principles.
You must have noticed the vast chasm that separates the platform of the US Democratic Party from that of the Republican Party, which are contending in the November polls.
They are just like night and day, especially on issues such as immigration, government spending and fiscal policies, environmental issues and the kind of justices that would sit on the High Court.
So, what about our presidential contest which is now within the election period and which main and brief campaign period will start next month? Sadly, we have seen nothing in terms of comprehensive platforms. Across the board, what we have read and heard have been smatterings of overused words, all dead verbiage and fury—signifying nothing.
Overused words, generic verbs, tiresome verbs, a tangle of words that are enough to break the spirit of citizens who are fully aware of the supreme importance of the leader that would take over after the uninspiring Mr. Aquino. Judging by what the candidates have said in terms of core programs for vigorous execution, we have seen of nothing of substance and national import. Our presidential candidates, save for Senator Santiago, are a collection of a dead prose society.
Let us make quick list on what they have said and promised so far.
Mr. Binay’s favorite words are copy and replicate, which he assumes are perfect stand-ins for a formal platform. Copy what I have done in Makati, Replicate the experiences of Makati. It is a Makati-centric campaign, with minor tweaking here and there.
The grinding rural poverty, as intoned by Mr. Binay, is expected to get solution from the safety nets done the Makati way and here the simplistic solutions offered by Mr. Binay starts to crumble. There is not enough revenue in the poverty-stricken areas and the safety nets of Makati cannot be replicated there even on a limited scale. The country’s CBD is a totally different area from the areas of unspeakable poverty.
Senator Poe’s platform is built around the words “ fight” and alleviate. Alleviate poverty. Alleviate child malnutrition. Alleviate the misery of MRT commuters. The “fight” aspect of her campaign is the standard-issue “fight” corruption thing, which she gladly borrowed from the governing mantra of Mr. Aquino. Unfortunately, people are wary of candidates who give too much focus on “integrity,” which was the favorite world of Mr. Aquino but which did nothing to ease the pain of grumbling stomachs and generate quality jobs not of the slave-pay variety.
Ms. Poe should take a pause and radically alter her words and phrases if she wants to be president.
Mr. Duterte employs a frightening verb, “kill” or its many iterations. “Kill” the criminals. “ Kill” the crooks in government. The synonyms of Mr. Duterte’s favorite verb are “exterminate” and “eradicate.” Whatever the verb he employs, what he means is to snuff out the scums and scalawags from the face of the country.
No presidential campaign in the history of Philippine politics has ever used the verbal choices of Mr. Duterte. And it is probably the reason why many are enthralled by his choice of words. On the negative side, many are likewise turned off by his word choices.
The low regard for Mar Roxas is partly rooted on his empty campaign slogan—daang matuwid. As I have written before, the words are dead and hollow and they reminds us of Pyongyang- sponsored slogan writing contests. What is the best path to earn the love of the Dear Leader? Taking the “daang matuwid” would be a winning answer.
Of course, the “Right Path” captures the be all and end all of the Aquino administration, to which Mr. Roxas pledges supreme allegiance. Cold and heartless technocracy, with the state devoted to two things—growth rates and credit upgrades.
Will the campaign period for the presidential candidates next month kick off with a verbal and policy bang, like the one being done by Hillary Clinton in her US campaign. Like soaking the rich in taxes and attend to often-neglected issues such as autism with a big policy agenda? We do not know.
We need a policy wonk as president but a wonk that is dedicated to one thing – comforting the afflicted and making the comfortable pay for these social programs with their just share of taxes. It can’t be President Aquino’s fake wonkery, which is about comforting the comfortable and afflicting the afflicted. The next president should go back to the high idealism of journalism, before journalists became careerists. Then, we lived on this ideal: Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. It will make our country truly better and humane.