Like It Is

Are we living in a movie?

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The problem with politics in the Philippines, as we all like to say, is not the politicians but the people. Because it’s the people who vote these totally unqualified politicians into office.

So with the campaign season upon us, I want to see a campaign that will remind the electorate to vote wisely, to choose only people with the competence for the task, and not vote on just a name. Equally, or more importantly, I want to appeal to the patriotism of some of those running for office. Think of your country first. Do you really, truly have the knowledge, expertise and experience to competently serve the people? I think we can all agree, and name many, who do not have those qualities.

Let me start the campaign rolling with one generic class: actors (with the acknowledgement, as in everything else, that there are exceptions). Actors, because they are possibly the worst example of this predilection for voting on no substantive basis at all. Voters mistake the screen persona for the real person. With one or two exceptions (I have to say that to protect myself), the role of an actor is to repeat the words and thoughts of someone else, to plagiarize without need for attribution. They are not allowed to think for themselves. A movie in which they do will be a disaster. They see nothing wrong with plagiarism because that’s what they do in real life—use someone else’s words, and thoughts. It’s tempting to want to pass a law to ban actors from politics, but (sadly) that’s not the way to go. Voter education is. Or the miracle idea of convincing actors that it’s not good for the country for them to pretend (after all, they are actors) to serve. Actors should stick to what they do best: act a part.

The Philippines has, under this President, the chance to break the mold of the past, a mold that has dragged the country to the bottom in Asia. It can become what it promised to be many decades ago—a leader in Asia. But it must have good leaders to achieve it. Actors can help; they can be a force for that change, by staying in their field. Produce films that inspire people to be their nationalistic best. Film is a powerful medium, so they can use that power they know and are good at for the national good. Stay away from something they have no experience in, or expertise for.

I suppose I’m going to anger some actors, but I care for this country and I’m prepared to anger a few if I think it will benefit many. And for those who think I’m being unfair to actors, just look at the record of those who’ve been in power—it’s by and large a pretty dismal record. Whether in local or national positions, few, if any, actors have achieved notable improvement for Filipinos and Philippine society. If there are any that think they have, I’ll be happy to publicize their names as they rank in the list of exceptions. On the other side, I can name dozens who should not be taking up offices that better qualified people can fill. But if I do name them, I will doubtless be sued for libel.

Then, of course, there’s the argument about dynasties. I’m of mixed mind on this. The framers of the Philippine Constitution rightly saw the harm that so many “warlords” were inflicting on their communities, and the high levels of corruption that flowed from generations of being in power. But they did what is done too often in Philippine politics—took it as a simple black-and-white problem. The problem is the abuse of power by some political families, so ban them. But there are also good political families, where the patriarchs’ ideals and visions are imbibed by the offspring. So there’s a continuity of good governance. The problem is to distinguish one from the other.

Track record, as this newspaper’s editorial said on Monday, is a good start. Do the candidates have a record of success in their career to date? It doesn’t matter too much what that career is, as long as success can be proved. If they have none, why are they inflicting themselves on us, squeezing out people who are qualified but have no “name,” for their own aggrandizement? They should care for the country they profess to love and stand aside. It’s the patriotic thing to do.

What we need are people of proven worth. As Jun Magsaysay says, “What’s important is our track record, what we’ve done before as legislators.” Indeed. His record is excellent. He previously served as senator from 1995 to 2007. As chair of the committee on national defense, he initiated laws to create off-base housing for soldiers, brought soldiers’ pay at par with the rest of the bureaucracy, and mandated priority promotion for on-the-field soldiers. As chair of the committee on agriculture, he led the inquiry into the Bolante fertilizer fund scam. Among the measures he cosponsored/authored were the Electronic Commerce Act, Anti-Money Laundering Law, Magna Carta for Small and Medium Enterprises, Amendments to the Omnibus Investments Code, Mechanical Engineering Law, and Further Strengthening of the Social Security System (creation of a Provident Fund).

His father was the most revered President this country has had, a wonderful man who died far too early. Jun is not going to sully that legacy. But despite his accomplishments and squeaky-clean image, Jun is down at No. 16-17 in the latest Pulse Asia survey.

Then there are the unknowns, who should have a fair chance. Like Dick Penson, a successful businessman who has proved he can get things done. But he’s not faring well in the surveys, while people with nothing but a name are near the top. It’s ridiculous. No, not ridiculous, but incredibly sad, that a wonderful nation cannot distinguish between real and reel talent, and cannot reward accomplishment over name recall.

This time, let’s vote wisely.

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