The Long View
Light and darkness
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:56:00 09/10/2009
So it begins, where martial law ended 23 years ago: at Club Filipino, with its aptly-named Kalayaan Hall – knowing full well, there’s another Kalayaan Hall, in Malacanang.
It’s also appropriate that Sen. Benigno Aquino III declared he’s running for president not only on the 40th day after his mother passed away, but on the birth anniversary of Sergio Osmena, that statesman of whom the late Teodoro M. Locsin once wrote that he “was mad- mad for fairness,” in one sentence that describes what serves as the ultimate and essential check and balance on presidents.
As “meilarnee,” a rehabilitation medicine practitioner, said on Twitter Wednesday, “Our long-standing battle against corruption can never be won by credentials but by character.” Although Ricky Estrada (“RickyEst”) also on Twitter, suggested, “maybe NoyNoy’s best credentials are clean hands after 3 terms in Congress and one in Senate and trained by Ninoy/Cory on the job.”
My personal view is that until our institutions can be nursed back to health after the sustained browbeating and abuse they’ve sustained under the present dispensation – until, once more, an impersonal law can draw the line which no official should dare to cross – we have to have a president whose private conscience will draw that line. We’ve seen how, if that privately-drawn line does not hold, all other lines can be easily moved. Over and over again.
The moveable nature of everythin – past precedents ignored, checks and balances disregarded, accountability not even given lip service – enabled the Arroyo administration to be a moveable target, except that it now faces the very immovable object that enabled it to survive, and even flourish, thus far: the end of the terms of the President and her people.
The administration’s Frankenstein coalition is in the peculiar but not unexpected situation of a well-groomed kennel of poodles that discovered their fluffy loyalty cannot make them men or women of national standing. Instead, it leaves them with nothing but their canine lack of stature. But then they know what it’s like to be all bark and no national bite: similarly entrenched coalitions composed of pretty much the same people went down in defeat in 1986, 1992, 1998 and 2004 (unless you still believe the President truly “won”).
Still, until Wednesday they had probably hoped that machinery would count in ensuring the delivery of votes in 2010 up and down the line. And until Wednesday, the fight was being viewed by nearly all sides (except that of Francis Escudero) as a battle of machinery, of well-oiled logistics, in the absence of the machine candidates being able to fire up the public imagination.
It was all set to be a battle of command votes, ranging from warlords, both from the Left and the Right, and their captive populations, to religious voting blocs, all taking advantage of an overabundance of presidential candidates who lacked broad national constituencies but who, with enough wheeling and dealing, cobble together enough to eke out more than the next rival. The well-ordered, even predictable, universe of the political operators has been shaken up by the Aquino candidacy.
That candidacy has all the makings of a bonafide insurgency: against the Frankenstein coalition and its allies in the military and the bureaucracy; against the command vote brokers in the Left and Right, and so forth. That candidacy also has the dangerous potential of getting bogged down, ironically, by the enthusiasm and volunteerism of people vowing to flock to Noynoy’s campaign. It could become a chaotic mix of frantic dreamers, all energetic exertion but lacking in true forward momentum.
Because of this danger, the first litmus test of Aquino’s fitness for the presidency, after having passed the first hurdle of presenting himself to the people, will be how he manages his campaign. It helps that his announcement was greeted by increased interest in scrutinizing the positions he has taken, politically. It also helps that – anecdotally, at least – I hear many people asking to see his campaign platform.
That platform can provide the shared goals that will unite Aquino, as a candidate, with his volunteers, and at the same time, to borrow his father’s words, provide a basis for “reconciliation with justice.” An election is much more about the future than it is the past; and it is a cohesive yet understandable vision for governance that people deserve to see and scrutinize.
It’s a tribute to the electorate that even among those greeting the Aquino candidacy with expressions of good will, you also hear that many intend to ask tough questions of all the candidates.
Still, since no one can predict the future, elections are also about the public deciding who deserves its trust. A candidate marked by personal integrity, who embraces transparency and flees neither debate nor investigation, and yes, one with concrete ideas as to what constitutes good governance not only on the future chief executive’s part, but for those who want to be on his ticket is a formidable one to start with. But it is not enough to start off that way, one has to finish the race that way.
Particularly since this is now a race where the only real antidote to the Aquino campaign is cynicism. It was cynicism that melted away when Cory Aquino died, it is cynicism that must be brought back if the crafty calculations that have been in play are to remain relevant. It is cynicism that can validate all the compromises that have excused the goings-on that have brought the country to the point it’s at now: with every institution tarnished, and with deep divisions in society.
And that, at the heart of it, is the real referendum this election will be about: to care so mightily about the country one can still dare to hope, or to surrender to the past while cloaking it in appeals to pragmatism.