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‘It’s entirely about character’

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That line is from “The American President,” a political romance starring Michael Douglas which the incumbent American president recently described (for comedic effect, but not inaccurately) as “Aaron Sorkin’s liberal fantasy.”

The quote comes from a climactic speech, which to my mind best expresses the view that it is personal character—not platform or policy or ideology—that matters most in politics. (I’m tempted to rank this speech right up there with Charlie Chaplin’s, at the end of “The Great Dictator,” if only because it is less abstract, more grounded.)

To be sure, we don’t need to take a detour through Hollywood to express the same idea. I can, for instance, and as I have done a couple of times before, quote John Adams again.

“Public Virtue cannot exist in a Nation without private, and public Virtue is the only Foundation of Republics. There must be a positive Passion for the public good, the public Interest, Honour, Power and Glory, established in the Minds of the People, or there can be no Republican Government, nor any real liberty.”

Adams made an explicit connection between private and public virtue, but it is his emphasis on the “positive Passion for the public good” that speaks to me directly, and by which I understand the meaning of political character.

I will vote, then, for those who have demonstrated a commitment to “public Virtue” in their lives, who have placed “the public good, the public interest” ahead of other concerns. Using this as my primary criterion (I have others, including the ability to stand up to a Juan Ponce Enrile on the Senate floor), I have narrowed my choices to nine.

First on the list is Koko Pimentel, whom I’ve known the longest (a fact regular readers of this column will know). So much time spent together has allowed me to take a fuller measure of his character: How he aspires to the rigor of mathematics in his thinking; how he conducts himself as a son always struggling to be worthy of the legacy of “Tatay,” his father; how his ideal of religious practice is the unostentatious kind of devotion; how he has led a life of quiet integrity.

It is worth noting that Koko did not only invest in the political system (a public Virtue if there was one), by filing election-fraud charges after the 2007 elections; he also paid the political price for it. He did not run in 2010, when he was on the short list of many presidential candidates, because doing so would have meant abandoning his electoral protest. I believe he will help take the lead in election reform and antidynasty issues.

The other candidates are, in my view, no less deserving. In the forums I’ve attended or seen, Ang Kapatiran candidate Marwil Llasos has been the standout performer: directly responsive to questions, succinct and memorable in his answers, with an easy pop-cultural wit that crosses barriers and generations. As a public-interest lawyer with a remarkable back story, he would cut a dramatic figure on the Senate floor—and on the public jeepneys he will ride to and from the Senate.

I’ve voted for Loren Legarda for vice president, twice, and I will vote for her again as senator. She is about to match an unlikely record: the statesman Jovito Salonga’s, who topped Senate elections in 1965, in 1971 and in 1987. (She topped the Senate race in 1998 and in 2007.) Her performance in the Senate has been outstanding, and her questions at the Estrada impeachment trial and during an inquiry into the NBN-ZTE deal the most consequential. Once majority leader, she would make for a viable alternative to a Drilon Senate presidency, and a good Senate president in her own right.

The first candidate to say he would take part in the Inquirer Senate Forums, Ramon “Jun” Magsaysay Jr. is a gentleman of the old school. He does not keep others waiting, and he keeps his word. Like Ting Paterno in 1987, he strikes me as this year’s “Mabuting Tao” candidate. He is a unifying figure but, as he proved in the fertilizer fund scam, unafraid to take on sitting presidents.

Dick Gordon had an excellent first term in the Senate, and it was unfortunate (as I had occasion to tell him once, when he visited the Inquirer) that he decided to join the 2010 presidential race. A man who does not fail to think big, he is exactly the kind of leader a resurgent country needs, someone who can generate enthusiasm among followers and impress in international settings.

Grace Poe is an unlikely politician; she is, to use Randy David’s apt description, serene—a quality deeply appealing to anyone who has tired of the histrionic politics of the last decade and a half. As friends who know her also testify, she is a true leader. And she can excite even the jaded. In an off-the-record conversation Inquirer journalists had with the brilliant if pragmatic Joey Salceda last month, the governor of Albay allowed only one quote to be recorded: “Grace Poe is my candidate in 2016.”

Ang Kapatiran’s Lito David worked in the Senate for many years; he knows, to use that curious phrase, where the bodies are buried. He deserves the chance to serve as senator himself. As he proved in the third Inquirer Senate Forum, he is no slouch on the stage either. He epitomizes the Catholic ideal of the engaged layman.

I voted for Satur Ocampo in 2010; I will vote for Teddy Casiño in 2013. The far Left deserves to finally have its representative in the Senate, and what a representative: modest, courageous, articulate, always prepared. It cannot be emphasized often enough: Teddy would make a great senator.

Last, but most assuredly not least: Risa Hontiveros. I’ve devoted an entire column to her candidacy; let me just repeat the gist of it: She is the candidate who most embodies Catholic social teaching.

In my own, limited view, these nine candidates are sure helpmates in building the foundation of our republic.

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jnery@inquirer.com.ph/@jnery_newsstand

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