First, let’s get real.
The looming line-up of presidential candidates in 2016, whether administration or not, do not inspire hope for good governance.
The dominant Liberal Party and its coalition partners will undoubtedly back a standard bearer who will protect grafters under this regime, especially those who perpetrated, abetted or gained from the five-fold leap in smuggling, trebled pork barrel, the illegal Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), and a host of dubious deals like the Metro Rail Transit and Tarlac roadworks contracts.
The opposition leadership, sadly, has its own figures with corrupt reputations, if not graft convictions. Like then presidentiable Benigno Aquino 3rd, his camp’s rivals will promise to clean up, punish and stop sleaze. But given the enormity of anomalies Aquino ushered in — P200 billion lost to contraband by his own count, over P20 billion a year in pork barrel, the P150-billion DAP, among others, plus bribing Congress, browbeating the Supreme Court, and policitizing constitutional bodies — it is hard, if not foolhardy to believe other big-name politicos promising reform.
No, Filipinos should never again put our trust in the political establishment. Certainly not the leaders and dynasties who have won election after election by amassing illicit wealth to bankroll media campaigns and grassroots machinery. The great majority of our next leaders should come from the ranks of clean, conscientious, caring and qualified citizens.
Yeah right, many a jaded political watcher would smirk. Much as the nation may wish good guys to rule, they in fact finish last in every election, simply because they don’t have the cash, connections, and compromises so effective in getting votes. So many advocates of change in leadership and administration are lining up behind politicians with records and reputations not unlike the sleazeballs to be booted out.
In addition, segments of the administration are doing what they always do when political winds look like shifting: quietly get ready to swing to the winning side. So seasoned observers would not be surprised if local administration bigwigs are secretly making deals with Vice-President Jejomar Binay’s camp not to support moves against him in exchange for his protection if and when he comes to power.
Doubts about another EDSA
In sum, politics as usual, with its unprincipled alliances of convenience, multibillion-peso election campaigns, and since 2010, computerized cheating sans safeguards of any kind, will not advance good governance in the Philippines. So what are integrity-loving Filipinos to do?
The National Transformation Council, which includes Cardinal Ricardo Vidal and other leading figures of religion and integrity, urges nothing less than a recasting of Philippine democracy by a caretaker government taking over from the Aquino administration and amending the Constitution.
While many may agree with NTC’s call for regime change, a good number also doubt if it will garner enough mass support to advance its goal. For one thing, three out of four Filipinos are satisfied with how Philippine democracy is working, according to a Social Weather Stations survey in July 2013. Even with the pork barrel and DAP scandals, most citizens probably still feel constitutional institutions and processes are effective.
Others may wonder if a third uprising would be good for the country. They fear another EDSA would destroy hard-won investor confidence and economic resurgence after seven years of being among the region’s growth leaders, expanding even during the 2008-09 global recession. And with elections less than two years away, most of the public may prefer to just wait, as they did in the final years of the Arroyo government.
Bottom line: If there is limited support for regime change before 2016, good governance advocates need a Plan B that includes contesting the next polls, while avoiding alliances with traditional politicians. Can such a strategy work? Yes it can, if the leading individuals and institutions of good governance, morality and spirituality can join forces in selecting, publicizing and, during elections, endorsing candidates of proven integity, competence, and commitment to public service.
Can upright candidates win in 2016?
Imagine a nationwide coalition including major religions, independent civil society, and community organizations compiling a list of upright individuals for national and local positions from President down. The coalition’s seal of good governance, if widely publicized in parishes nationwide, can counter the moneyed media and political clout wielded by entrenched politicians.
For 2016, the integrity list can focus on upright, competent people for 26 national, 230-plus congressional, 81 gubernatorial and 35 independent city mayoral posts — fewer than 400 candidates. To avoid splitting the integrity vote, the coalition must endorse only one candidate per position. Those unwilling to yield to its choice should not get its vote.
Will Filipinos vote for the coalition’s lineup, backed by leading religions and civil society? The yearly Philippine Trust Index surveys show that the public trust religious leaders the most, with three out of every four citizens having confidence in Church leaders. Moreover, Social Weather Stations found in early 2012 that religious groups wield positive endorsement value among 57 percent of voters. And people see integrity as the top criterion for trusting political leaders.
For sure, forming the integrity coalition and drawing up its lineup of upright leaders is immensely challenging.
Going up against the political elite’s guns, goons and gold is even tougher. And the fraud-ridden automated election system [Smartmatic-PCOS machines] must be junked, too, for honest candidates to have a chance.
Still, these odds are far better than trying to address misgovernance and corruption with the very schemers who created the mess. For real reform to happen, the forces of integrity must back upright candidates nationwide — or mount another EDSA.