Friday, February 26, 2010

Villar and Aquino: Slogging through campaign slogans

In this frenzied political season, all eyes are focused on the presidential candidates hoping that maybe, just maybe, one of them could be the messiah we all have been waiting for. Once again the masses are hypnotized by means of silly and trite campaign promises like extirpation of poverty, peace in Mindanao, eradication of graft and corruption and a lot more, name it and they could readily unleash answers that would solve our country’s plight. Yes, all of these, as they would like us to believe, can be done in just a matter of six years. What a crap! What an insult, an affront to our collective intelligence as particles of sovereignty.

Philippine politics as we all know revolves around personalities and not platforms, principles or programs of government. Because political parties are often seen as “ideologically” bankrupt democratic entities, most Filipinos vote for individuals not parties, or at the very least, the principles they represent as democratic organizations. The propensity of politicos to jump from one party to another throughout the political season clearly enhances popular disgust on the political system. Logically speaking, the seismic crack in our political system has a direct link why political dynasties and incompetent movie personalities thrive in the halls of public offices.

From this perspective, no wonder most presidential contenders are so obsessed in creating their own myths by flaunting their faces on prime time television, reinforced with profound campaign slogans which represent the issues of the day. Amongst the favorite “gasgas” themes of tradpols is the perennial problem of poverty. While poverty is a legitimate social issue of Third World democracies, sad to say that it is also in fact an effective political issue during election season. Thus, poverty being the ultimate source of the ills and inequality in our society, still remains to this day, the most exploited theme for candidates aspiring to sit in public office. Unless poverty is lessened through meaningful social reforms, populist platforms will always be the favorite campaign strategy to bank on during elections. For obvious reason, politicos readily embarked on populist theme because it aims to touch the hearts of the underprivileged segment of the electorate which by experience, determines the “winnability” of a candidate.

In the 1998 presidential elections, Erap played his cards well in convincing the masses to choose one of their own to seat in Malacanang. Anchoring mainly on a populist platform expressed in his slogan, “Erap para sa mahirap,” he was eventually elected “overwhelmingly” as the 13th President of the Republic. Erap being a “mahirap” is of course a brazen lie. Nonetheless, his campaign strategy worked well knowing for a fact that he had the upper hand in terms of mass appeal and popularity. Undoubtedly, by portraying roles such as the defender of the underdogs in the big screen, no one dared to examine his checkered past nor question the truthfulness, the exaggeration inherent in his claims as the purported champion of the poor. Conversely, the late Senator Raul Roco with all his sterling credentials, tested and unwavering commitment to principled politics finished fourth in that electoral contest for the presidency.

Today as it was before, the issue of poverty appears to be the trend for an effective campaign strategy. The most vocal and by far credible of all presidential contenders is Nacionalista Party standard bearer Manny Villar. The problem however with Villar, unlike Erap in the ’98 elections, he has no star quality to rely on. And so whatever it takes, he needs to play the “poverty card” with utmost precision. We all know his side of the story. His television campaign ads coupled with a catchy campaign jingle speak for themselves. In the end, he proposes a one-liner solution to eradicate poverty, “Sipag at Tiyaga.” Thus, as of this writing, Villar was reported to have spent a billion for his campaign, the highest so far amongst other presidential candidates. This is expected of Villar because preparation-wise, both financially and emotionally perhaps, he is the most determined to conquer the seat of power at any cost. What worries me, and I’m sure hundreds of Filipinos too share the same trepidation, is the many IOUs (I owe you) he may have incurred as a result of profligate campaign spending. Indeed politics in our country has become too expensive which only the well entrenched oligarch could afford.

If Villar’s campaign battle cry is profound and simple, Liberal Party contender Senator Noynoy Aquino, his closest rival in the surveys, has a family-oriented campaign slogan, “Mama at Papa.” This of course is not intended to belittle Aquino’s intentions but I’m merely stating the obvious. The decision of Noy Aquino after all, came as a surprise to everyone. Almost like a thief in the night, he stole the ambitions of Senator Mar Roxas to become Liberal’s standard bearer. As I have mentioned before, the perceived clamor urging Aquino to run for the presidency was merely an offshoot of Cory Aquino’s celebrated funeral. Being the symbol of the EDSA revolution, the death of the former president brought back a lot of emotions for our people. It rekindled our sense of nationhood through shared suffering in the face of a perceived indestructible despotic regime. Then suddenly, the spotlight was focused on Noy Aquino, the progeny of Ninoy and Cory, among the heroes of the EDSA revolution.

Critics both pros and cons, were quick to express their opinions. Some praised Senator Noy Aquino’s courage to take up the challenge while others expressed doubts because of his dismal performance as a legislator. The think-tanks of the Liberal Party panicked and chose to exploit the spirit of EDSA to patch up Aquino’s supposed weaknesses and lack of solid track record. Lately, Aquino and those behind his strategy opted to invest more on “character” issues which make all the more suspicious that he has nothing to offer except his family name. Surprisingly during the 1986 snap election, Cory Aquino too did the same thing when President Marcos questioned her lack of experience for the presidency. But how can we be so sure of Aquino’s character if I may ask. I barely saw him articulating his views on controversial issues during his stint as legislator. When asked about his obscure legislative track record all he could offer was that he devoted much of his time as a legislator by attending legislative investigations. Kudos then for the good Senator! But what Noy Aquino seemed to forget is the fact that legislative inquiries serve only as an aid for legislation. Simply put, legislative hearings are incidental to primary function of Congress that is, to pass laws. Very well then if so, what landmark legislation did the good Senator pass during his term as a Congressman and later a Senator of the republic? How convenient it is to deceive the public especially when majority of our people are unfamiliar with the rudiments of government and its institutions.

I think character, as a necessary ingredient of leadership, should be measured conclusively when it is being put into severe test of will power and convictions in times of insurmountable crises. In the august words of a patriot, “Seldom is a leader remembered for what he said during a crisis. He is often remembered for what he did.” Unfortunately for Aquino, we seldom see both. As a legislator, he chose to be part of the “silent minority” bloc which clearly shows his unpreparedness to become the next president of our country.

It is for these reasons that I urge the academe to take an active part in overhauling the mind-set of our people, the masses in particular when it comes to political education. Civil society organizations can only do so much. More often, they too are being utilized by moneyed and highly influential politicos to set the trend of discussion which would fit their own purported advocacies. Corruption indeed touches everything. Today, albeit more and more people engage in participatory democracy, still we have to work harder in bringing the discussion down to the uneducated masses. If we want to change the system, or at least neutralize traditional politics, we have to consider the bottom-up approach in dealing with the problem. As they say, all politics is local.

Campaign slogans no matter how distasteful, at times funny, depict the kind of politics we have in this country: perpetual exploitation of the masses by allegedly joining the poverty bandwagon. Therefore, the next president of this nation should not be solely gauged with whether you believe in Sipag at Tiyaga or you have high regards for “Mama at Papa,” rather, he should and must be measured based on his platforms and deep-seated moral principles that will enable him to defy temptations of the supposed grandeur of a public office. In the end, it is not afterall choosing between, Sipag at Tiyaga or Mama at Papa, it is choosing for our “Bayang Pilipinas.”

Next time I would be dealing with LAKAS’ standard bearer Gilbert “Gibo” Teodoro and BAGUMBAYAN’s Richard “Dick” Gordon.