Rep. Luis Villafuerte was into numbers in his opening speech. The party, according to him now has 2,000 plus members nationwide. That they are now the party with the 2nd biggest number of congressmen in the lower house (55 with 17 more to join them soon) and that they already have as members 1/3 of the incumbent local officials (7 governors, 15 vice governors, 74 board members, 575 mayors, 249 vice mayors and 396 councilors).
the President inherited from her father -the first politician to claim he visited every single barrio in the country- an obsessive (and effective) attention to politics on the local level. All effective presidents have had this characteristic. Her difference is that the local trumps the national every time (and not just by force of circumstance, but instinct, I’d think). The selection of Gov. Petilla, for example, for her senate slate according to an editor I talked to, is simply to accommodate the candidacy of Martin Romualdez in Leyte.
Benevolent hegemony, it seems, will cure the world’s ills and establish a lasting reign of freedom and peace. The idea that different states might make different decisions about questions of war and peace must be rejected, because in the past it has led to (among other things) great wars. We need fear nothing because the hegemon is a democracy. Unfortunately, it is more than scoring debating points today to note how Rice’s argument that democracy checks excesses has been decisively undermined by the Administration of which she is a part. Our democracy, as Pfaff notes, has re-introduced torture and indefinite detention without trial into the civilized world, now with the concurrence of the Congress. The American people democratically voted against the Administration’s foreign policy last November and the Vice President immediately made clear the Administration’s intention to ignore their views. The President’s subsequent conduct has confirmed this. Moreover, in perhaps the most troubling development, he has ordered surge not only in opposition to both American and Iraqi public opinion and the opinions of the Baker-Hamilton Commission, but against the advice of the entire permanent government, including both the State Department and the Pentagon.
There are three things I briefly want to point out in terms of the coming elections:
1. Politics is a continuum. As is life. We all evolve -or should. So do politicians. In politics, which marries ambition to public service, and depends on the people’s money, reward and punishment is a two way street. The politician may pander, even bribe, be glib, ruthless, or dissemble, but in the end, so long as fraud is minimized, the politician is subject to promotion or ouster depending on the public’s perception of his performance (capricious or not, but often not as whimsical as some tend to think). It is precisely the times spent out of power, recovering from a stinging defeat, that can turn some politicians, when they return to power, into statesmen; in other cases, it at least restores their responsiveness to public opinion; just as slavishly obeying public opinion doesn’t necessarily guarantee success at the polls. Lito Banayo let loose a folksy saying on Dong Puno’s show last night, to explain why the public is more tolerant of people leaving any administration to join the opposition of the day, or is admiring of those who doggedly stick to their guns: “it’s like moving from the big, soft bed to the hard, cold, discomfort of sleeping on the floor.” This also explains why the cardinal sin for any opposition member is to abandon the minority for the comforts of joining the ruling majority.
2. Politics is about both issues and personalities. Politics is a profession and like any other sphere of human activity, it requires interpersonal skills whose presence or absence are a relevant guide to determining if a politician is worthy of support or not. Politics is built on communication, and the means of communication the public relies on determines what kind of communicating works. the doctor with a good bed side manner will have more patients than a cranky, unpleasant doctor, and often people prefer a marginally less competent doctor to the one who may represent the pinnacle of his profession but who fails to inspire confidence or comfort; it helps to have a pleasant person selling you a house, though of course if the house is rotten, in a bad area, and overpriced, you won’t take it. And niceness won’t clinch every deal, nor should it.
But it would be a great mistake to confuse the manner in which people absorb and digest issues, with an absence of those issues: the observer who does this assumes that because the issues aren’t being communicated in the manner the observer prefers, then there aren’t issues at all! Perhaps the issues are better discussed in some venues than others? I’m not sure this is the right approach: on a national scale, the issues will, by necessity, be broader: do you want the sitting administration to stay, or go?
The perennial issues, observers say, in the Philippines, are graft and corruption (and the corollary: abuse of power). And not much is achieved, they say. But show me a country where the two aren’t the core issues always? They are at the heart of politics: that power, which is what’s contested in elections, can be so corrosive that periodically, those who possess it have to be challenged to justify their past and future stewardship.
3. When an government is subjected to a referendum the totality of its actions are what’s being judged. A government, any government, will try to present its successes as the only issues that matter; the opposition will necessarily do the opposite. It is about punishment as it its about alternatives. And it is about applying the brakes as it can be about changing the driver. Every election is about regime change to one extent or another.
There are certain things about modern life -and running a modern state- that actual limit the options of those in power. There has been little practical difference between the policies of every post-Edsa government, because there are certain things no responsible government could abandon (devotion to the free market, to private property, etc.) but each government will emphasize various programs differently, because each administration has come to power on the shoulders of a constituency, which it has to please to keep power. But even as it tries to do this, a government is regularly subjected to the judgment of all, and all things being equal, this means portions of that whole will have a larger role to play come election time than other parts of the whole.
Which is why, for example, the middle class have clout in between elections but less so on election day itself: but perhaps it all evens out. Worse, from comments here and there that I hear, the middle class instinct seems to be, to throw in the towel and informally boycott the elections: which will not affect the outcome, but places them firmly where the Palace wants them. That’s 25% of the vote you can potentially monkey around with, because the votes weren’t cast but the ballots can still be counted -and no one will in a position to contest those “votes”. And yet the the middle class will have the snob’s ultimate satisfaction: its predictions made possible by its own withdrawal from the contest. This is why the “O tempore! O mores!” wailing irritates me: at least right or wrong, the masses vote; right or wrong, the committed make a stand; but neither having participated, nor showing any commitment except to their own biases, such people then turn around and castigate the rest for their choices? That is what makes no sense at all.