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Push agenda, not personalities

The presidential race, still more than two years away, is off to an early start. Aspirants are making their declarations, alliances are a-forming, the positioning of various personalities is getting tested.

The Binay-Roxas rematch, this time for the top post, remains the main item although it could be losing steam with Mar Roxas’ “winnability” facing challenges. The “Yolanda” storm surge could have swept away his chances. Only P-Noy’s dogged support of him keeps the fire of the rematch going, and that in itself is still banner-story stuff.

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Apart from Alan Peter Cayetano, an Erap wild card is being tossed around—perhaps simply as a bargaining chip, but who can really know? A Ping Lacson possibility occasionally crops up. The FPJ factor through daughter Grace Poe is a fresh idea proffered. A Sonny Belmonte run may be a long shot in the works. Or can a Rodrigo Duterte take on the national stage? And as long as he wins all his bouts before May 2016, maybe even Manny Pacquiao can be a front-runner. In Philippine politics, nothing is absurd.

But what big agenda is being pushed forward? Will the personality cult continue to dominate the electoral choices?

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Decades ago, there were antis or pros, nationalists or liberals, “Bagong Lipunan” or “Laban.” After 1986, the elections, as well as the different coup attempts and “Edsa Dos,” seemed to all have been mere power play: Who gets control of the government? Until 2010, when Benigno Aquino III took as his campaign slogan “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap!” The choice was made clear: Rid the government of corruption or keep the status quo. The people accepted the promise and made the overwhelming choice.

P-Noy’s efforts have borne fruit: Business confidence has soared and the economy has grown at a sustained fast pace, giving the Philippines upgrades in credit and investment ratings. But: “Marami pa ring mahirap,” and “ang corrupt di pa rin nawawala.” A culture of corruption so entrenched will simply not go away within one presidential term. And the poverty that results from the abuse by the powerful of their access to resources will take time to overcome, in step with a serious “revolution” to rid society of corruption.

There have been propositions that perhaps some corruption in government can be justified as long as the needs of the poor are provided for. That there is no pure system. That realism requires tolerance. But what value system can be upheld if, at the core, a distorted premise is built-in? Entitlements will become the norm. The powerful will say that they are entitled to their abuses as long as they satisfy the needs of the poor who keep them in power. The cycle of distorted interdependence will be sustained and the poor will stay poor. There is no poverty in spirit in this situation, there is spiritual bankruptcy.

Who among the personalities eyeing the presidency in 2016 can take up and push the anticorruption agenda forward?

The early virtual campaign now centered on personalities can distract from the initiatives to probe the corrupt in government, as currently focused on the Napoles pork barrel scam. Unless there is vigilance, the investigation and prosecution can be diverted to the back burner, like many other high-profile cases that hogged the media for some time before losing momentum and ultimately languishing as unfinished business.

But the virtual campaign can be used as an opportunity for the media to extract agenda issues from those who are declaring their intention to become president. The debate can be made to start early as well.

There is a serious attempt at resurrecting the Cha-cha (Charter change) agenda. Underlying this attempt may be self-centered motivations rather than the common good. The declared intent is to help sustain economic growth by encouraging bigger foreign direct investments to come in. But with the current economic growth rates, further impetus need not be generated by drastic changes in the economic provisions of the Constitution. If the bulk of the remittances from overseas Filipino workers and the business process outsourcing revenues can remain in the country and be used for capital expenditures rather than for the import of consumer goods, there will be no urgent need for bigger FDI. There are other factors that will determine the entry of bigger FDI than foreign ownership or control of land or selected industries.

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And the Cha-cha debate can be another major distraction in the fight against corruption. Not that all other issues will have to be set aside in favor of the corruption fight. Life must still go on as normally as possible. The anticorruption initiative, however, is not in the mode of merely being a part of life, or business as usual. It asks for raising the effort to the scale of a “revolution” to bring about drastic changes in social values. As in Edsa 1986, it must give Filipinos another opportunity to again show the world the stuff they are made of in responding to the call for big social change.

The presidential election alone will not hack it if personalities will continue to be the dominant consideration for the selection of leaders.

One can have significant differences with P-Noy, in his style or his judgment, or the lack of it. But he cannot be faulted for his personal crusade of fighting corruption. No one has done this to the extent that he has. Some friends of his may be getting in the way—and this is pure conjecture on my part—but he plods on. He is committed. Nothing will stop him.

Danilo S. Venida holds undergraduate and postgraduate degrees from the University of the Philippines and the Center for Research and Communication/University of Asia and the Pacific. He is a former president of the Philippine Daily Inquirer and is now a business consultant.

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TAGS: 2016 Elections, Alan Peter Cayetano, Cha-cha, corruption, Elections, Government, Jejomar Binay, Mar Roxas, Philippines, politics
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