Sen. Grace Poe-Llamanzares shares this absurd fantasy with her Senate defenders, her lawyers and legal advocates, her financial backers, her political allies and her mass of supporters: they all look at the Philippine presidency as an entry-level job, a first-stop for a career in politics.
Instead of a lofty view of the highest office of the land, what they offer is “a worm’s eye view” of the presidency – of the leadership that it must provide our nation of 100 million, of the enormous challenges that it must surmount in these times of uncertainty in our country, our region and in the world.
It has not occurred to them that Malacañang is not just an official residence, but a real job, in which many personages of considerable merit have faltered and reached their level of incompetence.
To the contrary, they imagine that a complete novice, with sufficient popularity and enough money, can win the presidency and succeed at the job. They see it as an entry-level job, no more difficult than filling a position in a department store, a bank or a government agency.
In organizations, an entry-level job is the first job that a new trainee or graduate takes upon completion of a training or degree program. Entry level in this sense refers to the entry point into a specific chosen profession.
Can the presidency be approached in this way? Can we entrust this highest office within our gift to a person with no executive experience, no particular education of note, and no noticeable support from a notable political party that may be expected to provide the support needed to succeed at the job?
Pedestrian, shocking and embarrassing verdict
I started asking these questions after the Senate Electoral Tribunal handed down its ruling on the disqualification case against Ms Poe, saying that as a foundling she is a natural-born citizen of the Philippines and is therefore qualified not only to keep her seat in the Senate, but, by implication, to also run for president.
My query turned into alarm after I spent an entire day literally reading the majority opinion and the motley set of dissenting and concurring opinions in the tribunal’s decision.
I was shocked by the utterly pedestrian language and arguments of the majority opinion, whose authorship has been understandably concealed.
I was awed by the weighty and persuasive opinions of the three SC justices in the tribunal who dissented from the majority opinion.
Lastly, I was embarrassed by the inanity and sentimentality of the opinions submitted by four senator-members, whose votes decisively shifted the tribunal toward a vote in favor of Ms. Poe.
By saying in the ruling that they seek to uphold the rights of foundlings in this country, the senators virtually made law, judged the case not on its legal merits but according to political calculation.
They offered their well-wishes to Ms. Poe in her imaginary march to Malacañang
You awaken from this reverie when you realize that the president is our head of government and chief of state, the commander-in-chief of all the armed forces, and that he/she literally controls several trillions of our people’s money, and that he/she makes all important appointments in the government bureaucracy and the high positions in the judiciary.
Politics as a search for remedy
Bringing down the presidency to the status of an entry-level job is to my mind the ultimate insult to our Constitution, to our history of struggle for self-government, and to all those personages who have served our people and our country in the highest office of the land (three of whom are still very much with us).
Benigno BS Aquino 3rd has, no doubt, brought the office to new lows of indignity, irresponsibility and ineffectiveness.
While seemingly a precedent, that is no excuse to bestow it next year on another novice.
We can prattle all we like that it is good and democratic to bring the views and feelings of the masses into the entire presidential selection process; but to allow populist perspectives to shape and dictate the actual decision is nationally suicidal.
Choosing a president is not a lottery.
At its best, the historian Arthur Schlesinger called democratic politics “the search for remedy.”
The search is for national leadership who can provide answers and supply the public policies to resolve the great problems of national life.
A democratic election is not an escape into fantasyland. It is and should be a confrontation and debate of contrasting candidates and policy agendas.
The prize should belong to the candidate and program that best fit our times of uncertainty and challenge.
It should be bestowed on the candidate who does not run away from the problems, but rather confidently confronts them, and offers thoughtful and practicable solutions to them.
Offering a so-called 20-point program does not qualify as a remedy. It may not even be good enough as a band aid for our superficial wounds.
We have already learned to our sorrow how foolhardy and dangerous it was for our people to put all their eggs in the basket of Benigno BS. Aquino 3rd.
Whereas at his leave taking, the American people hailed George Washington as “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his country men,” we are today in a quizzical position of maybe bestowing on BS Aquino the title of the worst.
A caricature of democracy
Up to this point, we Filipinos have been treating the runup to the presidential campaign as a game of cat and mouse, Rody Duterte has made it more interesting game by reentering the conversation. Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, after some make-cute public appearances, has receded into the shadows.
We are in danger of seeing an election that is a caricature of democracy’s possibilities?
It is a grave mistake for the nation to fritter away its time and attention on candidates who, bereft of governing experience, cannot address sensibly and articulately the great questions of national life.
Every day that we waste in listening to the prattle of candidates is a day wasted.
Fortunately, enough time remains to turn our focus on the problems and the character and qualifications of the candidates, and to reduce the field to the really serious and worthy candidates.
There will be powerful public support now for candidates who are really thinking hard about the problems and lab-testing the answers.
What people hunger for are leaders who can do the job – whether in the presidency, or the vice-presidency.
Candidates with no executive experience and no professional credentials should be cast aside as nuisance candidates in either the screening or the voting process.