AT the last #PiliPinasDebates2016, the only Presidential candidate who was asked about his Statement of Assets and Liabilities (SALN) was Vice President Jejomar Binay. This was under the topic of Track Record, and one wonders why exactly his owned property, and Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s health, and Mayor Rodrigo Duterte’s being a role model to the youth, had anything to do with their track record of service.
This was an obvious bias of the GMA News and Philippine Daily Inquirer sponsored debate, one that purportedly was about informing the public better about our candidates on an unbiased platform – that is, if we are to believe the Commission on Elections (COMELEC).
That non-debate only gave candidates ammunition against each other, and given the biased questions against VP Binay, Mayor Duterte, and Senator Santiago, it’s clear who got the most number of bullets here.
Case in point: Roxas has continued to get some mileage out of asking the VP: Saan galing ang yaman mo?
But in fact that question is for all of our candidates. Because lest it’s gotten lost in the spin, all our presidential candidates are wealthy.
Including Roxas. This is a man who lives in a mansion in Cubao. A man who is called “A scion of the old, landed rich from the central Philippines’ sugar-baron country” (ABS-CBN News.com, 31 Jul 2015). A man who, on matuwidnadaan, got the BIR to lower the taxes on the sugar bloc of Negros, to the joy of our sugar plantation owners (Inquirer.net, 31 May 2015); not a peep was heard from him about raising the wage of sugar farmers, of course.
In mid-2015, Roxas’s mother asked sugar plantation owners: “Can you imagine if a Negrense is in Malacañang, what can come to us in Negros?” (Amando Doronila, 1 Jun2015)
I meanwhile, can only imagine what will not come to those who are not part of the elite, not part of the oligarchy, not part of the old rich that Roxas belongs to. (But who cares about that.)
About those SALNs
That the bias has seeped into the way our media organizations operate is no surprise: after all, they need to earn some money too, and the only way to do that is to pander to public opinion, no matter how baseless, or shallow. No matter that this opinion is also being controlled by the more powerful among us.
As such the discussions we’ve gotten from media about our candidates and their SALNs have been taken over by the idea that we only need to know about VP Binay’s wealth, and not any other candidate’s.
I’m all for understanding the VP’s wealth better. But I also want to understand Roxas’s wealth, Poe’s and Miriam’s and Duterte’s, too. I do want to know too: Saan galing ang yaman nilang lahat?
Because while there are no corruption charges against the four other candidates, certainly that should not save them from questions about why they are rich in a nation that is impoverished? Certainly it is valid to question all our candidates’ wealth and measure that against the kind of money they have put out for nation, the kind of work they’ve actually done for it? Certainly we must find out what that wealth represents, who is it biased for, from which business interests does it come?
I mean I’d want to know how Poe can call herself an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) katulad ng maraming Pilipino (GMANetwork.com, 18 Dec 2015) and yet in 2014 declare a net worth of P126.9 million pesos.
The lesser of five riches
Surprisingly, if you’re just looking at the total net worth of each presidential candidate, you will find that Roxas and Poe are on top of the list, followed by Miriam, and then by Binay and Duterte.
Of all five candidates, only one has explained his net worth at length (a Google search reveals explanations on the Office of the Vice President website, and an article on GMA News). For the GMA News article, only Binay’s camp spent time answering questions; Roxas and Santiago do not respond; Poe and Duterte were asked far simpler questions. (23 Feb 2016)
These are missed opportunities to understand these candidates’ wealth better, so that we might understand where their interests lie.
It would be great to understand how much Roxas has invested in his family’s businesses for example, including a sugar plantation that exists on feudal relations and the low wage of farmers. It would be great if we could look into his mining investments, as well as how much he’s got in the seven mining companies (as revealed by the Kalikasan People’s Network, CNN Philippines, 1 Mar 2016).
This is the kind of wealth that is telling of the kind of President Roxas will be, and the kind of biases he will have for or against the people.
But it seems we’ve come to believe that being rich is okay, as long as you didn’t steal the money. Yet one hopes that after six years with a President who served only the interests of the wealthy and the landlords, the oligarchs and the hacienderos, we might know by now that corruption can be defined in multiple ways, and that sadly we must measure stealing against other worst things.
Because matuwid na daan reminds us: there is elitism. There is looking down on the poor. There is the belief that the poor don’t deserve more, because they already know to survive on so little. There is the focus on profit versus people’s basic rights. There is the decision to have plenty in savings, and the refusal to spend on the needs of the majority.
And then there is this: we forgive those who are born rich and don’t even ask them about their wealth. Yet we demand so much explanation from those born with little, and refuse to listen to explanations about their wealth.
What does that say about us?