Still, a bad idea
Abigail Valte would say the following day it was just a joke. Listen to his tone when he said it, she said. That was P-Noy saying at the Agenda-Setting Dialogue with allies in Malacañang last Friday: “I know that the 2016 elections are already on the minds of some. Indeed, the time will soon come when the straight path will choose a new candidate. I hope it isn’t me.”
Maybe it’s a joke, the laughter that greeted it would certainly suggest it. But if so, it is a bad one. This country has had jokes played on it over the years, so it can be forgiven if it does not laugh along with the guests at Malacañang.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines did beg the President a couple or so weeks ago to say once and for all whether he’s running or not to stop the uncertainty. And while I am not a great fan of the CBCP, remembering its repeated injunctions for us to move on in the face of “Hello Garci,” I do think it has a point. This “joke” isn’t going to put things to rest, it is going to roister them. Why make a joke about it at all? Why not just say perfectly seriously so we can all, well, move on, “Dream on but it’s not going to happen”? Why quip, “I hope it won’t be me”? Why not just say, “I assure you it won’t be me”?
Valte says look at the context and see if what P-Noy said wasn’t said lightly. In fact, you do look at the context, or the broader context at least, which is P-Noy’s effort to rally the troops for one final push, and you’ll wonder if it was said entirely in jest. You look at the broader context, and you’ll wonder if P-Noy doesn’t have enough carrot and stick at this point to make him half-serious about running again.
The stick is this: The Liberal Party has no winnable candidate. Mar Roxas is out of the equation, as P-Noy’s silence on him itself suggests. Franklin Drilon’s notion that Roxas’ fortunes will experience a rocket boost from a P-Noy endorsement, enough to thrust him into the frontlines, is just whistling in the dark. That endorsement has been there for the last four years and more. He has been given every opportunity to shine all this time, the “alter ego” of the President while being just another secretary. It’s not as if he would be a surprise pick. How much more endorsement does he need? He’s just not gaining any traction.
The carrot is this: That is conserving the gains P-Noy has made, or continuing his reforms, or perpetuating his legacy, however you want to put it. Are those gains plain for all to see? Oh, yes, and quite magnificently so. Two things in particular are so, which have greatly elevated the country’s status before the world. One is the tremendous growth the country has experienced over the last few years at a time when many countries have fallen into tremendous straits. Two is the forging of peace in Mindanao at a time when many countries are being wracked by conflict and war. Both are world-class achievements and do need being seen through by the next governments.
There’s another stick that goes with that carrot. That is that the leading “presidentiable” right now is Jojo Binay, who is also a leading candidate for being a casualty of the daang matuwid. While it remains for his detractors in the Senate to prove their case against him, the doubt alone about his predilections or predatory bent that this raises cannot qualify him as the best candidate to continue P-Noy’s work.
P-Noy running again, however, is a solution that’s worse than the problem.
At the very least there’s the no small matter of symbolic reverberations. Inside looking out, they can always say, “What’s so wrong about it when we mean well?” P-Noy himself explicitly says that in life he has been “called upon to rise to challenges” and that “none of my decisions stems from personal interest.” That may be believable when it comes to him, but not so when it comes to the people around him. The idea that Roxas and Butch Abad and the Liberal Party want him to run again not from personal interest but from a compelling need to serve the people strains credulity.
Outside looking in, P-Noy could find himself alongside Gloria Macapagal Arroyo whose word is rubbery, with unsavory consequences for his credibility. Or worse, alongside Marcos who tried to change the Constitution to run again. The latter may be farfetched, but that is a narrative that particularly with his confrontation with the Supreme Court would be put forward and not just by the Left.
At the very most, there’s the no smaller matter of presumptuousness. The presumption specifically that the P-Noy administration is as close to perfect at it gets, any deviation from it represents a regression or fall. When poverty remains harsh and rife despite the unassailable record growth. More than that, the presumption is that only P-Noy’s allies in the Liberal Party or P-Noy himself is capable of reform. If none of P-Noy’s LP allies can run and win, it behooves him to do it. When someone for example like Tony Meloto who is perfectly honest, reformist and dedicated to stamping out poverty can always do the job, if not better. Of course he doesn’t want to run, but the example should show up the conceit.
Which has been particularly troubling of late with the conceit morphing into an attitude of “You are either with us or against us.” If you are against us, you are against the people. The last time I heard someone put things that stridently or belligerently was when Arroyo adopted Dubya’s line after 9/11 on this country, saying “You are either with me or against me. If you are against me, you are on the side of terrorism.” Leaders start saying those things, and I don’t get moved, I get scared.
P-Noy himself keeps making jokes like “I hope it isn’t me,” and a lot of Pinoys will start agreeing with him.
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