Unqualified

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Of the 33 candidates for the Senate, only one has no achievements to speak of, no accomplishments to her name. Nancy Binay has not served in an elective or appointive office; she has not run a company or a nongovernment organization; and until very recently, she has not championed a public-oriented advocacy or taken a stand on a political issue. When asked to identify her electoral advantage, Vice President Jejomar Binay candidly replied: “She’s my daughter.”

And that’s it. Nancy Binay is not a lawyer (like her father) or a doctor (like her mother). To be sure, she is a college graduate (one among tens of millions of Filipinos with a college degree), and she has been gainfully employed (by her parents, as, in her own words, a “forever personal assistant”) for many years. She is married and has four children. It is obvious she has a head on her shoulders, and the ear of the powerful and the influential.

But compared to her, JV Ejercito is a local government expert, Sonny Angara a legislative impresario, Jack Enrile a congressional veteran, and Bam Aquino (whose own candidacy this newspaper has repeatedly criticized) a veritable statesman. Why is she even running for the Senate?

Because she can.

The “Aquino argument” cannot be used as a rebuttal. Whatever one’s view may be of President Aquino’s performance in Congress, the fact is he did serve three terms as a representative of Tarlac and as a Deputy Speaker for Luzon. Whatever one’s view may be of Cory Aquino’s preparedness for the presidency, the fact is her husband was assassinated; only then did she take up the cause. Given that Vice President Binay is very much alive, what is his daughter’s compelling reason for wanting national office?

The work in the Senate can look tedious or decidedly small at times, but in fact, the Senate deals on a daily basis with national-interest issues and their wide-ranging ramifications. The Philippines’ relations with China are undergoing a sea change; our conflicting territorial and maritime claims will take a long time to resolve. America’s so-called pivot to Asia ratchets the stakes in the fate and future of its Visiting Forces Agreement with the Philippines. If the conditions are right, the much-desired breakthrough in climate change negotiations may happen in the next couple of years, necessitating Senate ratification of any post-Kyoto Protocol treaty. All these, and more, require a Senate that is not only genuinely solicitous of the general welfare or truly independent of the Executive, but also, unmistakably, competent. Being someone’s daughter may be a political advantage; it has absolutely no bearing on the Senate’s work.

Both the Vice President and his daughter have acknowledged the accidental nature of her candidacy; she was a last-minute replacement. Even if we take their reluctance at face value, and consider the information that it was Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and ex-President Joseph Estrada who had insisted on her inclusion in the United Nationalist Alliance slate, the fact remains that she is seriously unqualified to be in the Senate. Yes, she meets the Constitution’s minimum requirements—but so do millions of other Filipinos. She is in the UNA slate simply because, as the Vice President said, she’s his daughter.

That she is rating well in the surveys is not an argument for qualification. We can already hear her professional supporters say, Let the people decide. But popularity, or “winnability” in her case, cannot be a substitute for her lack of experience, preparation, or achievement. Popularity did not transform Lito Lapid, or the Ramon Revillas (father and son) into competent senators deserving of their seats. (Here’s a question for the Vice President, a human rights lawyer during martial law: Ferdinand Marcos won the presidency in 1965 and, for the first time in the Third Republic, was reelected in 1969; how did his popularity work out for us?)

Nancy Binay is running on a “Gaganda ang buhay” theme, taking off from her father’s successful campaign slogan. That’s easy for her to say: Life becomes beautiful, is made easier, if you’re someone’s daughter.

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