3-6 administrations, not 3-6 months
The COVID-19 pandemic, now on its 18th month, is the most deeply gouging and traumatic experience since Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law regime that has affected the Filipino to the last person. It has systemically upended lives, careers, businesses, organizations, governments, cities, and nations. The extent of the psychological and emotional trauma it has caused may not be immediately visible, but like post-traumatic stress disorder, it will emerge and will demand adequate and calibrated attention.
The post-Duterte period of 2022-2028 will be a period of great stress and uncertainty, akin to the post-Marcos period of 1986-1991. Recovering from the twin Duterte and COVID-19 pandemics makes the next president’s program of governance critical. The presidential candidate who treats the pandemic as only a hiccup in the life of the Filipino nation will be the least responsive candidate to offer himself/herself to lead the nation in the next six years.
The time to craft that national mobilizational program and strategy is now, not after a candidate is elected president. The people must be given the chance to evaluate these contending governance programs and strategies at the national and local levels, so that they will vote in the May 2022 elections on the basis of these programs and own the consequences of their decision.
The real poverty of the Philippines in mid-2021 is a poverty of strategy. Despite the phrase “whole-of-government approach” being bandied about, the strategic orientation of government is low across policy areas. In this situation, candidates and political parties and movements need not be the only ones coming up with programs of governance. Think tanks in universities should address this poverty of national strategy and come up with their own offerings of prototype programs of government.
In this context, the declaration and platform for the 2022 elections issued by the Laban ng Masa in March is like a cup of strong barako coffee on a rainy day, a perky contribution that political parties and movements must match. The platform has 25 planks, comprehensively and coherently elaborating on a systemic diagnosis of the ills of the nation and offering pointed solutions.
Characteristically, the Laban ng Masa point of view is a bold and panoramic indictment of the establishment: “Duterte is simply the latest of a succession of elected leaders since the 1986 Edsa People’s Power Uprising that overthrew the hated dictator Marcos that promised to serve the people only to betray them. From Cory Aquino to Fidel Ramos to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to Joseph Estrada to Aquino Recycled to Duterte, politics has been the art of sacrificing the interests of the 99 percent of the people to those of the one percent. Who are these one percent that feed on the sweat and blood of the 99 percent? These families can easily be identified by scrolling the names of the members of the House of Representatives, where they are well represented in order to promote their dynastic interests rather than those of the people who voted them to office. They own or control most of the country’s privately-owned land.”
The Laban ng Masa program of government and emergent others like it deserve to be seriously debated by all would-be presidentiables, including Mr. Duterte’s would-be anointed candidates. It is no exaggeration to say that any program of government broadly formulated to meaningfully address the Philippines’ accumulated problems should have a horizon of three to six administrations, not three to six months, or even three to six years. Only programmatic political parties held together by tensile party discipline and strategic vision can string together several administrations and deliver this level of continuity.
While such political parties do not exist in the Philippines today, the May 2022 elections are an opportunity to vote into office a slate of candidates that are committed to carrying out a responsive and strategic program of government. The May 2022 elections are also a dangerous junction, where we could make that single misstep that will lead us miles astray.
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