by Manuel L. Quezon III
FOR all intents and purposes, Raul Roco’s quest for the presidency has come to an end. Yesterday he announced that due to an illness that could be debilitating, he was backing out of the campaign. Although he remains, officially, a candidate, the dreams of his Alliance of Hope are now crushed.
Roco in 1998 and in 2004 was heir to a tradition of reformist outsiders trying to break the iron grip political machinery has held on our politics for generations. His candidacy was an attempt to inject middle class values into a political system infected by the cynicism of the elite and the patronage-based expectations of the masses. Like Recto, Manahan, and Manglapus, he seized the imagination of reformist members of the elite, of a large portion of the middle class, and a great segment of the youth. But before he could even begin to fight, the expectations of the many –that success requires money and machinery- had already defeated the chances of the few.
Supporters of Raul Roco had hoped to prove that idealism requires no compromise, that competence needs no apology, and that seeking excellence is its own reward. It is easy, at this point, to believe that what has proven, instead, is that for the majority of Filipinos, idealism equals being naïve, that competence is irrelevant, and that the rules are not made to be broken in our political system. This is not so. If there is a lesson to be learned, this early on, from Roco’s candidacy, it is that idealism remains a motivating factor for a significant portion of our voting population, and that even an unsuccessful bid for the presidency can have a tangible impact on our political system.
Roco’s campaign was run with sophistication and a dedication to the issues. It was a yearning for a candidate who would decline to appeal to mere popularity, and who would, instead, offer something more substantial, that brought the young and many talented professionals into the Roco camp in the first place. Having gotten on their feet and into the hustlings, the youth and young professionals in the Roco campaign have learned many hard lessons. Almost certainly, it has given them a greater appreciation of the hard and harsh realities of Philippine life: how our society is thoroughly dominated, from top to bottom, by a cynical and ruthless political system.
Having seen the reality, those who were for Roco must surely realize their aspirations go beyond one leader’s ambitions to lead. Their candidate may have abandoned the field to save his life, but their own political lives have just begun.
Where does a leader’s responsibilities to his followers lie, in a case like this? In anchoring his candidacy on integrity and honesty, Roco cannot afford to attempt such a face-saving gesture now. Having put up a good fight, he may fear it would disappoint his followers for him to totally throw in the towel. Perhaps it would be so, if his candidacy were only about Raul Roco and nothing else; if his candidacy were only about his ambition, then it might be preferable to go down to defeat in absentia.
Raul Roco owes it to his supporters to do them one final service: to take responsibility for himself by formally putting an end to his candidacy altogether. Having declared himself morally and intellectually fit for office, he must be honest enough to admit that his health crisis makes him physically unfit for the presidency. There is no shame in admitting this; but there is something mentally dishonest about saying he is abandoning the campaign, but remaining a candidate.
The presidential campaign is not about who will win on May 11, but rather, about the direction this country will take over the next six years. Roco’s supporters are now faced with a tough choice: whether or not, having gone this far, they will vote for him out of loyalty and as a form of protest, or turning around and voting for someone else still firmly in the race. We do not know what the individual Roco supporters will choose to do. We do know, that there remains a gigantic opportunity for Roco and his followers to seize upon. And that is, to keep themselves organized in order to play an important role, in the political landscape that lies ahead.