Old ways must go in May 2022 polls
The people deserve to have the May 2022 presidential elections at variance from previous ones. For who among the aspirants are prepared to deal with enduring issues that have become far more complex and challenging? Five years of the current presidency have seen a climate of fear: wanton killings ensuing from the drugs war and social activism, an anti-terror law that threatens political dissent, an economy now seen as Southeast Asia’s slowest, and a public health care system whose defects were laid bare by the pandemic.
So far in this context, nothing is heard from the current crop of would-be presidentiables today or way before they began to set their eyes on the country’s highest position. This tells us how the election campaign will go: empty promises and no substance.
Names being floated for the presidency include Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, Vice President Leni Robredo, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, Sen. Manny Pacquiao, former senator Bongbong Marcos, Sen. Richard Gordon, and former speaker Alan Peter Cayetano. Except for one, all the aspirants come from political clans, old or rising. The rationales behind their candidacy range from continuing the Duterte legacy to restoring “decency” in governance or simply replacing the incumbent. But all seem driven by traditional politics, with cosmetic reforms being offered for problems whose roots run deep.
The current Malacañang occupant has admitted to having failed to stop illegal drugs and curb corruption. The country suffered the lowest GDP in Southeast Asia in the wake of COVID-19. The economic contraction has hit agriculture and trade while employment has deteriorated, with more informal and part-time work reducing family incomes and many more experiencing hunger. Wrongly equated with strong leadership, authoritarianism became the governance mantra, in the process sustaining a culture of impunity that dates back to the Marcos fascist years.
Clan politics that have continued under the Duterte administration are incapable of instituting all-sided reforms in response to the country’s systemic problemsʍpoverty, social inequality, citizens’ lack of access to policy-making, etc. Going by past presidencies, the probability is nil that genuinely pro-poor reforms will be instituted, with land reform having turned out to be hoax or altered into stock distribution schemes, resulting in the concentration of large properties in a few families. The cry of workers for a decent minimum wage has remained unlegislated for ages. Further monumental proof that no social and economic reform can be had is the government’s refusal to negotiate for a lasting peace with the armed left except by force.
Lessons should have been learned by now about the iniquity of clan politics dominating the country’s political system. Evidence shows that candidates of political families have an 80-percent higher chance of winning over non-dynastic aspirants, thus assuring their families’ perpetual power. Driven by power and dynastic continuity, presidencies merely change hands, with each administration’s short-term goals eventually replaced by the succeeding regime. Systemic ills are thus perpetuated, and institutions like Congress remain mired in power politics with the least priority given to national interest.
The 2022 elections should thus be handled with a new tack. In the short term, citizens’ poll watchdogs should demand full transparency in the record and performance of all candidates, and that these candidates submit themselves to public scrutiny. All aspirants for public office should be asked to show concrete targets and indicators on their election agenda, which should enable people to monitor their performance once the candidates are elected.
Looking beyond 2022, the system of political parties should be overhauled to ensure that genuine, people-centered parties are built from the grassroots. The construction of new political parties should be accompanied by the refiling of anti-dynasty bills. The current Commission on Elections should either be abolished or a new law passed guaranteeing its independence. First off, prohibit the chief executive from appointing members of the election agency.
Concerted people’s actions can be done to put an end to clan politics that, for centuries, has made the country’s political system rotten to the core.
Bobby M. Tuazon is director for policy studies of CenPEG (Center for People Empowerment in Governance) and teaches at UP Manila.
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