This article is written with the view that Senator Grace Poe-Llamanzares aims to leave a legacy of integrity and good governance during her years of public service. This writer takes that perspective on the word of a former classmate, a Jesuit priest who taught Poe at Boston College.
While many consider Poe a neophyte who lacks expertise and experience to rule the country, it is right for her to seriously ponder how best to respond to the high regard toward her among Filipinos, as seen in voter surveys. And precisely because of that public trust and confidence, it behooves her to think beyond political calculations toward what’s best for the nation’s future.
That may not be what she often hears these days from would-be advisers and allies. Quite a few probably argue that she should run for president in 2016, because things may drastically change in subsequent years. Others say that Poe owes it to her adoptive father, the late superstar Fernando Poe Jr., to vindicate FPJ by winning the presidency which he could not, allegedly due to fraud.
As for campaign finances and organization, there would be no shortage of assurances that money and machinery will come as the senator’s ratings surge. And the best indication that ratings will attract resources is President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s overture to run as a candidate of the dominant Liberal Party.
Three questions for Grace
All these points may be valid, but none of them address what should be the primary consideration for Poe, assuming she is the kind of person described in the opening paragraph: What’s best for the country?
And to answer that question in the context of her possible candidacy, Poe should address two other queries:
Is she qualified under the Constitution for the positions she is considering?
What are her positions on major issues, and her big programs for national advancement?
The first question is for the Commission on Elections and, if elevated to it, the Supreme Court to decide, and only after Poe files a certificate of candidacy for president or vice president. Ensuring that legal requirements are followed which is indispensable to the rule of law, which, in turn, is essential to integrity, stability and progress.
Poe would, of course, need sound and, more important, impartial legal advice now on her eligibility. And the arguments of those who favor or oppose her candidacy should be taken with a good helping of sodium chloride. Bottom line: Put the matter in the hands of the Comelec and the Supreme Court. That is best for the nation.
What’s the plan for the nation?
Question No. 2 is really asking two things: Does a candidate have a solid, credible plan for governance and progress? And is he or she capable of formulating, advocating, and implementing it?
A seasoned, competent politician with no sound program of government has nothing to offer the nation. But a great plan would only generate unrealistic expectations for a leader lacking in the knowledge and capability to deliver.
Poe has to truthfully ascertain if she has the breadth and depth of knowledge regarding major national concerns, and formulating her program of government is one way to gauge the level of her governance expertise and experience.
Months ago, when talk of her candidacy first emerged, the senator expressed reluctance, citing her limited years in government. Since then, those who favor her candidacy may have made the case that there would be expert advisers aplenty to help craft and implement policies and programs.
But advisers are not elected by the people or accountable to them. Hence, a government in which the chosen leader lets his team of experts shape policy which he cannot adequately understand, may be undermining the electorate’s will to be governed by their elected president, not his think tank. Not to mention the very real possibility that trusted advisers may craft programs and projects for private gain.
So in deciding whether to run, one should ask the question that then VP Noli de Castro raised when people were urging him to run for president: What if I win?
Kabayan was, in fact, quite knowledgeable about public affairs, from decades in media and years in the Senate. And having seen him run Cabinet meetings in the absence of then President Gloria Arroyo, this former Secretary of the Cabinet can say that he was competent in governance, no doubt learning much from frequent Cabinet meetings.
But De Castro knew his limits, and for the sake of the nation, so should anyone aspiring for the highest offices in the land. For 2016, let those seeking national office ask themselves if they would competently handle such issues as the Bangsamoro Agreement and Basic Law; South China Sea tensions; the best policies for growth, competitiveness and jobs; and record crime and corruption (yes, both are worse than ever, with smuggling, pork barrel, malversation, and crime incidence 2 to 5 times pre-Aquino levels).
The vice-presidential option
A further question all candidates ask is whether they have the money, mass appeal, and machinery to win. But that’s not a question for Poe and her trusted ally Senator Francis Escudero: they have admitted that they lack the resources and nationwide political network for a presidential campaign.
And while political parties, big business interests, and major sectors may support Poe, that rarely comes without strings. So she must ask herself if building needed funds, political and media backing, and grassroots organization may compromise too much her agenda for the nation.
On the other hand, running for vice president, Poe would seem to be so far ahead that she could win with far less resources and political backing. Indeed, she could even run as an independent, maybe adopted by rival presidential candidates keen to have her join their sorties.
As VP, Poe will have six years not only to raise her governance knowledge and experience, but also build her own base of political and material support. How she could do that would be discussed on Thursday.