Don’t get me wrong, but in Philippine politics, voters choose their leaders not on the basis of platforms or democratic ideals but on the strength of popularity. Politicos readily recognize the need to be popular at any cost, all in the name of political power. From electoral surveys and television commercials, politicians invest millions of pesos just to infiltrate the minds of the bakya crowd which represents the majority of the voting population. I always deplore these kinds of political gimmickry because it does not only deceive the underprivileged segment of our society it also belittles the role of the masses as particles of sovereignty. Indeed, poverty is one of the most recycled issues deliberately used by politicos to gain political victory. As the saying goes, “necessitous men are not free men.” This practice etched deeply in our damaged political culture is at best pathetic circular if we continue to act as passive voters.
Let me cite my personal experience as a voter. For two consecutive presidential elections, I had always been on the side of Aksyon Demokratiko party founded by no less than the late Senator Raul Roco. He was also the standard bearer of said party during the 1998 and 2004 presidential elections. I consistently voted for him not on the basis of his capacity to win as president but because of his principles and accomplishment as an outstanding legislator. Expectedly, my candidate lost twice in his presidential bid. This experience, no matter how distasteful to my political sensibilities, has not changed my convictions on how to choose political leaders in the succeeding elections. And believe it or not, except for the senatorial posts, my candidates hardly win the elections both in the local and national tiers.
Now focus on the present political landscape. I think the choice on whether to vote for Senator Noynoy Aquino or perhaps Celebrity Duets champion Bayani Fernando as president must be seen in this light. Apart from being a symbol or icon of change, voters must look into the track record of Senator Noynoy Aquino as a legislator and whether he truly represents the ideology of his political party. For one, the Liberal Party has always been a politically potent machine with clear-cut ideological foundations. Its past and present membership speaks for itself. I have always respected liberal stalwarts such as Franklin Drilon and Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, both as lawyers and distinguished legislators. But what does a Liberal truly stands for? What happens if, come 2010 we will be having a Liberal sitting in the Malacanang? I think this is the proper way to look at things when we elect political leaders and that is, principles over personalities.
When we talk about liberalism, the first thing that comes to mind is the concept of freedom. With the emergence of political parties by virtue of the multi-party system under the 1987 Constitution, the concept of freedom has evolved tremendously in the political mainstreams. I wonder whether these political parties and their members truly understood what freedom really is and how it blends with the vast powers of government if placed in actual practice. I understand the arguments of those who supported the multi-party system when this was deliberated during the 1986 Constitutional Commission that framed the present constitution. While the multi-party system sought to democratize political parties and in effect giving the voters a myriad of options or alternatives during elections, the vitality of this mechanism however proved the exact opposite. In trying to rectify and erase the vestiges of the Marcos regime, the multi-party system was nothing but an affirmation of a damaged political culture. Political parties in the Philippines, except perhaps the established Liberal Party, come and go. After elections, they just disappear (some join or merge with the administration party for obvious reasons) only to resurface again during elections.
With liberalism as espoused by the Liberal Party, the concept of freedom is absolutely non-negotiable. In essence this is what liberalism is all about and some people from different walks of life could identify themselves with this basic democratic idea. In one of his essays, German political analyst Ronald Meinardus describes in brief, what liberal thinking is all about, viz:
“Liberal governance always strives to promote and increase the freedom of all members of society. It aims at establishing a framework that permits the citizens to manage their lives according to their own preferences. Government should restrain from controlling citizens and instead, respect and defend individual rights. Liberal governance implies that everyone be treated equally regardless of race, social status, views and beliefs or other personal preferences. Here the religious factors comes in, arguably a most disruptive element in many parts of the world. In a liberal order, state and religion are separated.”
Theoretically, liberalism posits two school of thoughts on the concept of freedom. According to Dr.Meinardus the most prominent of the two competing thoughts is the one that elevates the postulates of freedom over state powers. Thus, "One group of liberal advocates defines freedom in a more narrow fashion focusing on the promotion of liberty against state power. These liberals, who in the United States have come to be termed "libertarians" argue that the state poses the main threat to freedom. Therefore they argue, freeing the citizen from government regulation should top any liberal agenda. Liberalism obviously contributed to the growth of democracy all over the world. In historical terms, the great liberal achievements have been made the spread of democracy, the establishment of the rule of law, respect of human rights and last but not the least, the expansion of the market economy.
Unlike his father, Senator Noynoy Aquino is a man of unquestionable character and motive to run for the presidency. Does he have what it takes to maneuver the ship of state towards the right direction? That question to me is somewhat a grey area for now. I have not yet seen nor heard closely Senator Noynoy Aquino’s views on various issues concerning freedom of expression versus governmental powers, freedom of religion versus governmental regulation, and of course individual liberties. I also would like to hear him debate with his fellow presidential contenders on various pre-election fora like the ones sponsored by major television networks in the country today. I am sure the good senator has good insights on political, economic and social issues. Aside from the usual speeches on the advancement of democratic ideals, I have yet to see him defend democracy in the truest sense of the word. How about his position on Constitutional change or perhaps the Visiting Forces Agreement? These are only some of the pressing issues he has to contemplate as early as now. I do not consider myself as an absolute liberal nor a conservative type of citizen. But part of my ideology leans toward the protection of individual liberties under a stable constitutional democracy. Whether Senator Noynoy Aquino or the Liberal Party represents my kind of politics or thinking is a question that remains to be seen in the next few days. Abangan!