I have a five-year-old grandson in kindergarten. Like Vice President JejomarBinay, DILG Secretary Mar Roxas and possibly Sen. Grace Poe, he wants to become president. He has a friend at school who is slightly older, the grandson of a Forbes magazine-listed magnate, whom he wants to run as his vice president. I am not sure the other fellow knows about it. But the five-year-old seems to be more advanced in his planning than any self-proclaimed presidential candidate.
The boy is handsome and bright. He is also athletic. He not only likes to play video games, he also likes to read. But more than anything else, he has apparently managed to make friends not only with everyone in his class but with everyone else in the entire school, including the security guard. In a strict political sense, he has developed a solid bailiwick.
I have not asked him about his political platform, if he has any. So I don’t know what he thinks about climate change, BRICS, China, Ukraine, Isis, EDCA, Asean integration, the New Silk Road, the ageing of Japan, Singapore, Korea, China and most of the world, the Bangsamoro Basic Law, federalism, the mining controversy, the national grid, etc. But since no presidential wannabe has said or wants to say anything about these things, I don’t think he is at a serious disadvantage.
The smartest politicians, whenever asked about any of these, quickly change the topic or say, “This matter is under serious study. “This puts the issue on hold, without exposing the vacuity or unpreparedness of the politician concerned. The study never gets completed, but the politicians manage to project themselves as the “most studious” officials around.
Now, the boy could simply do the same, to avoid getting pinned down on any specific question. But being basically honest, he is likely to say, “I don’t know” if he really doesn’t know the answer to a question. That could cost him popular support unless the mainstream media points out that his particular inability to say anything intelligent on an important issue gives him so much in common with the average voter. He then becomes everybody’s man.
But, how did it all get started? I am embarrassed to say I don’t know. A young family member tells me, in absolute confidence, that it began after the boy’s mother complained of a splitting headache in the middle of EDSA’s wicked traffic. As his mother’s favorite, he resolved that she should never again have such headache. The only way to ensure that would be for her never to pass EDSA again. But there is no avoiding it, and the entire city is now one big EDSA, so the only solution would be for him to fix the traffic. And the only way he could do so would be for him to become the president.
Like most of us, he has apparently come to believe that in this country everything depends on the President. And since the President has failed to do anything about the traffic, as he has failed to do anything about everything else, somebody else must fix it.
How sweet, I thought, and how brave. Among the known presidential wannabes, he is the only one who wants to become president because he wants to do something concrete. Most presidential wannabes want to become president only because they want to become president, without the slightest notion of what to do if elected.
Many of them believe they deserve the office because they have made enough money from graft, are shown on TV, outdoor billboards or pulp magazines endorsing a type of fish sauce, and are said to be “popular for no other reason than that they are popular,” to borrow Walter Bagehot’s words. They have also paid the propaganda pollsters to “conduct” continuing surveys to show their alleged nationwide trust support, even though only a portion of 800 to 1,200 “samples” of unverified existence are claimed to say so, out of 100 million Filipinos.
Where my grandson wants to fix the traffic, most presidential wannabes merely want “to serve the poor,” without saying how they intend to do so. The poor are never asked how they are to be served. But many of them are grateful to hear the demagogues say so, especially if their demagoguery comes with a few hundred pesos to seduce their votes. But they normally end up using the poor to serve themselves. AferPNoy’s “daang matuwid” and the unconscionable Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), no further proof is needed.
I have tried not to ask the boy how he intends to fix the traffic. One administration after another has failed. And so long as they continue to construct extra high-rise buildings in almost every possible space in the overcrowded cities, put in more cars, buses, trucks, lorries, and even tricycles on the road without increasing the road space, the traffic would build up until the whole country chokes to death.
Sometimes I wonder how different things might have been if our voters, a few decades ago, had the good sense to elect Pascual Racuyal, the perennial Philippine candidate for president. In my youth, he famously proposed that we install moving plastic belts in lieu of cars and other means of land transport. I found myself thinking of this last week after my plane from Davao took less than two hours to get to Manila, and I had to crawl for two hours and a half from NAIA-3 to Ortigas.
Imagine if we had conveyors belts instead of cars on the road, as Racuyal had proposed. All we need to do would be to stand on the conveyor belt, and we would get to our destination at a constant speed without having to battle any monstrous traffic. Unfortunately, Racuyal was too far ahead of his time, and was dismissed as a crank. He might have been even targeted by the fierce Japanese car lobby, which could not afford to lose the Philippine car market to a regime of conveyor belts, just as it could not afford to lose that market to a cross-country national railway. Thus, the Philippines-Japan Friendship Highway.
I hope my grandson would be as creative as Mr. Racuyal, when the time comes, in confronting this life-changing issue. But unless the Constitution is changed to allow the most precocious teenagers to run for president, we won’t be seeing this until 2050. That is quite a long wait. In the meantime, we are stuck with PNoy and a whole slew of politicians who seem to have no idea that they had become completely irrelevant to the life of our country.
The wretched traffic, which my grandson would like to fix, is merely a symptom of the real disease. The real disease is the total collapse of the moral and intellectual order in our society. We have to restore the moral and intellectual order by fixing our broken constitutional and political system and bringing back men and women of moral and intellectual worth and proven professional integrity to provide the sound moral and intellectual governance that will cure our country’s real disease.
“Woe to you, O land, whose king is a child, and whose princes feast in the morning,” Ecclesiastes (10:16) reminds us. Given our total moral collapse, we can no longer insist on choosing the “the lesser evil” to lead our country. The lesser evil is evil still, whereas our real battle is between good and evil, between right and wrong, between moral and immoral, between legal and illegal, etc.
Although we are fascinated with a five-year-old’s daydreams about the presidency, we need a mature and highly moral and intellectually competent political leader to take full responsibility for the governance of this country. We can no longer pick our leader from the usual sources—-not from the Cabinet, not from the Congress, not from the predatory business sector either.
We need to light Diogenes’ lamp to help us find a truly worthy, honest man somewhere within the society. Since the entire political system is broken, we must first fix it. And since the political landscape is barren, we must now turn to the deepest reserves of our citizenry to find what our political class can no longer generate.