When more than 35 million Filipinos trooped to their assigned precincts on May 13, they acted with hope. They hoped that their shaded votes would be correctly counted by the precinct optical scan system (PCOS) machines, accurately transmitted to servers of the Commission on Elections, and impeccably tabulated by Comelec computers.
Voters also hoped that winning candidates would serve with integrity, competence and patriotism. And their lives and communities would get better under their elected leaders.
And if things don’t improve, well, what else is new? Just get on with one’s own life and leave politics to the politicians until the elections circus is back in town come 2016.
Once in a while, though, a charismatic, principled and driven leader comes along who stirs the nation out of its submissive apathy. He or she makes thousands, if not millions of Filipinos join hands to press and work for justice, freedom, a greater nation and a better tomorrow.
Benigno Aquino Jr., the President’s father, braved prison and death sentence to galvanize opposition against the Marcos dictatorship. His widow Corazon led Filipinos in mass protests over his 1983 assassination and in snap elections and revolution three years later. And in 2000, then Senator Teofisto Guingona Jr. called on then President Joseph Estrada to resign over corruption, setting the stage for Erap’s ouster in 2001.
All three manifested singular courage in the face of overarching power, which won admiration and emulation among the citizenry. Ordinary Filipinos then found a rallying point and a brave champion to kindle and fan the fires of their own individual and collective striving for truth, justice, freedom, the common good and the national interest.
That same spark of leadership in the face of dominant power was in varying degrees shown by the likes of Joker Arroyo standing up to both Marcos and Estrada, Chiz Escudero and Alan Peter Cayetano leading opposition moves to hold then President Gloria Arroyo accountable in the 2004 election controversy, and Toby Tiangco exposing Palace meddling in the impeachment of then Chief Justice Renato Corona.
In coming years, the cut and thrust of maneuvering and machinations for the next presidential elections will likely dominate national politics. Rival blocs will stir and exploit issues and controversies to build public support and political advantage for May 2016. In this atmosphere, there will be no shortage of leaders challenging the administration.
But an increasingly vocal opposition does not necessarily help the voiceless and disadvantaged. Indeed, from past experience, political jousts tend to focus on media-hogging corruption scandals rather than issues with greater direct impact on citizens’ lives, especially the poor: jobs, food, housing, health, education, and disaster relief and prevention. And even less political attention is given to the environment, which casts no votes and matters little to voters.
So it could be providential that the apparent topnotcher in the senatorial race is an independent wooed by both the Liberal Party-led administration and the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA). As the political arena becomes even more polarized and obsessed by presidential ambitions and politicking, the candidate that captured the most support among the electorate (assuming no “hocus PCOS”) is officially uncommitted in the administration-opposition battle.
Senator-Elect Grace Poe-Llamanzares, while nominally touted by the administration as part of its “Team Pnoy,” won in her own right with no great reliance on President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s backing. Owing him nothing, Poe could very well chart her own course, resisting pressures and inducements to take sides in the looming political wars. Instead, she could position herself with forgotten citizens, communities and causes as the paramount focus of her agenda.
At least, that may be the hope of many of the estimated 20 million Filipinos (going by current canvassing trends) who shaded ovals next to Poe’s cinematic surname on Monday.
Indeed, her besting of survey leaders and past election topnotchers Loren Legarda and Escudero may testify precisely to a desire among countless voters, especially the voiceless, for a new face and thrust among the same old, somewhat tarnished politicians at all levels of government.
The choice and challenge for Poe, therefore, is whether to fall into the usual groove of transactional politics, horse-trading on issues for her material or political gain, or being a truly independent lawmaker, eschewing vested interests and personal gain, and lending her voice and political capital to concerns and constituents that would gain much from her advocacy. Sure, there will be pragmatic compromises either way, but the question is: For whom are the deals —the politician or the people?
Taking the high road of service, conviction and integrity won’t be easy, and not just because of the perks and advantages one gives up. The committed lawmaker must spend time formulating sound positions, working with affected sectors and policy experts, lobbying fellow senators for support, and reaching out to the public and the media. In short, Poe will actually have to do the work she was elected for.
The good news is, there are a host of entities ready to support well-meaning politicians with expertise, advocacy and warm bodies for the causes they espouse. And much as the electorate remains a media-driven horde, it certainly won’t hurt a candidate to have both name recognition and the right advocacies and record of performance, especially more and more educated youths swell the ranks of voters.
In her immensely effective campaign video, Poe spoke almost tearfully of fulfilling Fernando Poe Jr.’s dream to win public office and serve the people, especially the poor.
She has now achieved the first half of FPJ’s dream. Let’s all hope and pray that Senator Grace Poe resists the temptations of lofty position and the pressures of her peers, and deliver on the second and more crucial part of her late father’s wish.