THE last time we checked, there were minimum age requirements for candidates for public office in the Philippines. Perhaps someone should investigate whether those rules are being comprehensively violated, because the early contenders for next year’s elections all seem to be about nine years old.
To be clear, we are neither endorsing nor rejecting any candidate at any level at this point, and the reason why is that the rhetoric and behavior of nearly every one of them at this early stage of the election campaign is far below the level of maturity one would expect to see in aspiring political leaders, or for that matter, normal mentally-healthy adults.
At the national level, we have already been treated to the spectacle of a public inquisition of the Vice President and his family (at considerable public expense) in the Senate; one presumptive candidate treating the serious business of standing for election as a schoolyard threat; another whose mother made an appeal to voters on his behalf; and yet another who has yet to offer anything more than, “I support the President” as a qualification to be his replacement.
This sad state of affairs is certainly not limited to the national level. The province of Masbate is a typical example, as an exasperated community organizer explained to The Manila Times. A three-way clash of clans among the families of two former governors and the current one has descended into an embarrassing drama of childish name-calling and shallow one-upmanship. “No one has any plans, or thinks of anything long-term,” he complained.
Substitute any other province, city, municipality, or barangay for Masbate, and the story is likely to be similar. A tremendous amount of energy and resources are being expended by competing political factions at the level of the lowest common denominators of personality and transactionalism, offering nothing helpful, progressive, or even at all imaginative to the voters.
This cannot be allowed to be the prevailing standard of conduct of the election campaign. The election of May 2016 is perhaps the most important election the Philippines has faced since its earliest days as an independent nation. The next President, members of Congress, Governors, Mayors, and local councilors will face unprecedented challenges to the country’s integrity and well-being. Rapidly growing tensions in the West Philippine Sea threaten to put the Philippines in the middle of a conflict – possibly a future military conflict, and in the near-term certainly a diplomatic and economic conflict – between Chinese and American superpowers. Internal peace is at grave risk from the reaction to the outcome of deliberations over the Bangsamoro Basic Law bill; greater unrest in Mindanao and possibly elsewhere seems inevitable whether the BBL is passed or not.
On the economic front, the integration of the Asean Economic Community beginning later this year will put increasing pressure on the country throughout the next administration’s term, and will require constant improvements in institutions, governance, and competitiveness if the Philippines is to claim its rightful place as a regional leader. Other critical concerns such as expanding and improving the country’s infrastructure, efficient management of government revenues and budget planning, and effectively fighting the chronic ills of unemployment and poverty will all need to be substantially addressed as well.
When the candidates seeking our votes care to acknowledge these various issues and explain how they would tackle them, we will give them our full attention. Until then, no one should validate their campaign-related “business as usual” with too much commentary or analysis.