Probing presidential platforms
The problem with presidential platforms is that these are just individual promises and do not represent a political party’s vision. In the Philippines where the political party system is weak, the campaign promises of presidential candidates should be taken with a grain of salt because what comes after the polls is an entirely different story. A candidate may be earnest, but campaign promises cannot materialize without a strong political party as the backbone and machinery to move the aspirant’s vision all the way. The “political parties” or “coalitions” battling in the 2016 elections are nothing more than transitory poll machinery built out of political expediency and therefore prone to compromise, factionalism and duplicity.
Nonetheless, the five leading presidential candidates’ election platforms as well as demeanor provide voters an idea on their values and policy choices. Two—Miriam Defensor Santiago and Rodrigo Duterte—appear to have strong political convictions grounded on their track records as longtime public officials. Two others—Jejomar Binay and Mar Roxas— show strong proinvestment preferences, with the former supporting the amendment of constitutional provisions on foreign ownership. The fifth, Grace Poe, cuts a moderate figure but bats for job-generating industries and agriculture to address unemployment.
The candidates share some platforms but their policy differences are pronounced. Four (Binay, Santiago, Duterte and Poe) seek the enactment of the freedom of information (FOI) bill during their watch. All are for continuing or expanding the conditional cash transfer program, and for using international law to resolve disputes with China while forging bilateral talks with Beijing, with the Philippines playing an important role in Asean.
From their track records and policy pronouncements, Santiago and Duterte are predictable and consistent with well-defined, opposing platforms.
Santiago is protective of the Senate’s independence in foreign policy: She wants to renegotiate the Visiting Forces Agreement and insists that the Senate should have had a say in the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. She wants the patronage system in the military and police abolished, the antipolitical dynasty provision enacted, bureaucracy ruled by meritocracy, and minimum wages raised.
Duterte projects himself as an unorthodox and tough politician through his claim that he will end corruption in three to six months, his stand against labor contractualization, and his promise that he will provide farmers with free irrigation and will streamline the government bureaucracy. He vows to restore the death penalty and to work not only for federalism as the final solution to the Moro rebellion but also the industrialization of Mindanao to boost Asean integration. Like his opponents, he proposes to decongest Metro Manila by transferring public offices outside it, but goes further by saying that he will open more job opportunities in the countryside.
Unlike his rivals, Binay openly defends political dynasties in defiance of the Constitution. In foreign policy, he sounds more pragmatic by favoring strong economic ties with China in order to benefit from its economic surplus. Poe, a neoliberal, takes a realistic posture in pushing the development of a strong economy and security force to cut the country’s dependence on foreign aid. Roxas, as the “Daang Matuwid” coalition’s standard-bearer, presents nothing new in his agenda except the promotion of “BUB” (bottom-up budgeting), which should not be equated with prioritizing the ordinary citizen precisely because the “bottom” here refers to the traditional local government unit.
Although again campaign platforms should not be judged at first blush, what the candidates articulate somehow shows a value system. No doubt Santiago comes across as a constitutionalist, unlike Roxas whose ilustrado worldview and stance do not sit well with CDE voters.
Binay was an anti-Marcos activist and rights lawyer, but his progressivism was sidetracked by a single-minded goal to build a political empire, making him no different from traditional politicians. Poe probably had an initial taste of critical or patriotic thinking at the University of the Philippines where she spent some semesters, but her education and long residency in the United States have molded her neoliberal politics, which is balanced by a strong independent and competitive streak. Her surname made her top the 2013 Senate race; this advantage may help decide the 2016 contest.
Hands down, the brainy and battle-hardened Santiago stands out, but her health is directing sympathizers to other aspirants. Unflinching in his admiration for the communist New People’s Army, Duterte beats all in vowing to trounce crime and corruption in six months. One wonders, however, how he can do this.
The challenges facing the next president are daunting: income disparities considered among the highest in Asia; derailed peace processes with communist and Moro rebels; high incidence of crime and corruption; the lack of an FOI law; low public trust in the elite-ruled government; an unstable state; and a weak criminal justice system.
The next president must have a firm grasp of these problems that are the result of powerful interest groups’ involvement in the plunder of state resources, foreign-imposed neoliberal policies long abandoned in many countries but which continue to wreak economic havoc on the Philippines, and a resilient oligarchy-led government that prescribes palliative and token remedies instead of transformative solutions.
Voters must patiently scrutinize the candidates and their platforms.
Bobby Tuazon is a political science professor at the University of the Philippines and the director for policy studies of CenPEG.