IF integrity means not stealing from the public treasury, Mr. Aquino gets a passing grade. What took place was probably this. He got excess financial support in the 2010 elections and decided that what he had saved from that campaign was enough for a lifetime. As president, he has intelligence funds to cover extra-ordinary expenses such as contributions to friends and politicians in need. The need for piling up personal wealth has not been an urgent, pressing and all-consuming concern of his presidency.
Yet, even with the perfect knowledge that he did not raid the public coffers, there is no appreciation from the common man like myself for Mr. Aquino. In fact, were he allowed by law to seek a second term, say, in a hypothetical match-up with Mr. Binay, we would probably vote for Mr. Binay, despite his soiled reputation and the allegations of massive corruption.
I have to answer this. Why would we in the vulnerable sectors pick the tainted Mr. Binay over the non-stealing Mr. Aquino? Mr. Binay, to most of us in low-income to really poor categories, is an authentic Robin Hood. What he gets from means fair or foul, he spreads around to the poor and the needy.
Mr. Aquino, meanwhile, in all the years he has been president, has been pushing for policies that have been enriching the rich and the super rich at the backs of the proletariat. Between a real, authentic Robin Hood and a reverse Robin Hood, who do you think the poor huddled masses will vote for?
Between the Randian with personal integrity and the Robin Hood that practices the “R” word – redistribution – on a sustained basis, who do you think will win the hearts and minds of the common man like myself?
Voters, rich or poor alike, hate crooks. And this is a universal truth. Corruption, as Pope Francis said, is a “ gangrene” in the life of a nation. It is debasing and dehumanizing. (I practiced this. I served briefly in government under Sec. Orbos and did not even get my RATA, feeling that my meager basic pay was enough. I took jeepneys to Malacanang. Oca Orbos had a L300 van – now extinct -with a defective aircon.) Massive acts of corruption attract the scrutiny of the outside world. Until now, when “lists” of the world’s most corrupt rulers are made, you see Marcos and Suharto in the Top Ten. No self-respecting nation wants to go through another bout of global notoriety.
But made to pick, between a supposed crook who makes life better for the underclass on a sustained basis and on an institutional basis (may pa cake pa for senior citizens, ha ha) and a free market type wholly committed to upward redistribution, the common man will always go for the real Robin Hood. Pushed to the wall and given no choice, the ordinary Filipino will pick the real Robin Hood over the reverse Robin Hood-type.
It is in this context that this question is worth asking? Where does Grace Poe stand in a society riven by so much inequality? Will she reverse the heartless technocracy of Mr. Aquino that will surely be bannered by Mr. Roxas? Will she do something dramatic to address the Great Divide? Will she be content in just spewing meaningless, hackneyed lines such as “inclusive growth” amid the hopeless, static lives of the common man. In a society in which dynamism is just enjoyed by the Top 1 percent? Will she be just another daughter of privilege hectoring us on “ integrity?”
Sorry, Senator Poe, but we have to tell you this. We have been through five years of the great unraveling. The tortured formulation of Mr. Aquino’s campaign – kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap – has been exposed as the greatest campaign hoax ever sold. The personal integrity of Mr. Aquino has not been a life-changer for the underclass The rich got richer. The poor got more miserable. That has been the undisputable narrative of the nation over the past five years.
Indeed, where does Ms. Poe stand amid such brutal, but perfectly reversible, realities?
Having gone through the joyless growth under Mr. Aquino, the 2016 elections will push most voters to pay attention to the presidential candidate who will pledge to lay down the infrastructure for a more equitable, egalitarian society. After having proven that heartless technocracy and personal integrity can go hand in hand, the premium of integrity as a campaign plank in 2016 – this is the sad truth – has been totally devalued.
Integrity, we should shout this out, be damned.
To most Filipinos, the current antics of civil society groups aimed at pushing Camarines Sur Rep. Leni Robredo for VP because of her integrity is simply nauseating. Ms. Robredo is an honest legislator and a great human being. What is more admirable about her is she is totally without the airs of one with power and that is very rare in a politician. Given she is all these, one question should be asked: Are her integrity and her humility enough to catapult her into the VP position?
What are her policy chops? How deep is her grounding on the global issues, from the China question to the nuances of Janet Yellen’s statements after every FOMC meeting? How would she connect the appointment of Sundar Pichai as Google CEO to the need to review the country’s global manpower export policies? After the destabilization of the BRICS, what is her take on emerging economies?
How will she address the issue of nagging social and economic injustice?
Man, were integrity in leaders so important, so pivotal, so life-changing to the nation, we could have conquered half of the unexplored universe in the past five years, wiped up the army of the Left and crushed debilitating poverty. But we remain where we were five years ago, still a sad sack of a country riven by so much misery and poverty.
The next time the civil society poseurs hectors us about integrity, we will start a national movement to elect an authentic Robin Hood as our next president.