This afternoon I went to UP Balay Kalinaw and attended IBON Foundation and Pagbabago!’s forum on 2010 elections wherein UP College of Mass Communications Dean Roland Tolentino, Faculty Regent Prof. Judy Taguiwalo and IBON Executive Director Rosario Bella Guzman discussed a formidable list of criteria for choosing candidates and where the candidates actually stand on issues.
By the time IBON research head Sonny Africa delivered the closing remarks, I had concluded that chances are, on May 10, I was only going to vote for two candidates, and they’re both running for the senate under Makabayan as guest candidates of the Nacionalista Party.That is, if I wanted nothing to weigh on my conscience after feeding my ballot into the PCOS machine.
‘Pagbabago!’ and IBON Foundation released a matrix on the stands of the presidential candidates on issues ranging from economic independence, agrarian reform, human rights, the peace negotiations and gender equality. They weighed the pros and cons of each candidate, and sadly, not one candidate came out perfect: perfect in the sense that they carried agenda that fit in with that of the poor and oppressed sectors when it came to jobs and wages; civil and political rights; their aspirations for genuine freedom and democracy; and their demand for justice against extrajudicial killings and abusive administrations such as that of the incumbent albeit illegitimate president.
Can there be no compromise? Is it possible to support a candidate and not demand that he or she be ‘perfect’? Maybe we’re being too demanding?
In the last three months, the public has witnessed presidential nominees battle it out in all possible venues except the boxing ring. On radio and tv, they’ve released splashy, creative ads, with each candidate trying to present himself as the champion in the fight against corruption and the savior that will lift the nation from poverty. The newspapers are full of stories regarding their sorties, the reaction of their audiences in the provinces, the promises made, the commitments given.
On Facebook and other social networking sites, supporters of Noynoy Aquino did (and continue to do) their darnest (and meanest) to fill the massive lack of their standard bearer by posting raving attacks against those who support Manny Villar. Columnists like Conrado de Quiros contradicted himself and compromised what was previously a strong bent towards human rights and justice for victims of the Hacienda Luisita massacre by coming out with pro-Noynoy pieces and editorials for the Philippine Daily Inquirer wherein he all but absolved Noynoy of responsibility.
In the meantime, administration candidate Gilbert ‘Gibo’ Teodoro is trying to ‘outsmart’ his rivals by harping on his being intelligent: his campaign tag is ‘Galing at Talino’. Apparently, he thinks that by being a top bar passer and a Harvard graduate, he’s already better than everyone else. ‘Rely on me, I’m a genius!’, he seems to say. Nevermind that he sounds exactly like incumbent president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who also said that she has the brains to lead the country to progress.
Ousted former president Joseph Estrada is still living in the old glory days, still deluded in thinking that he is much loved and that he has all the answers to the Filipino people’s problems. The man bombed the hell out of Mindanao and justified it by saying that because of the all-out war (which caused the dislocation of thousands of Muslim civilians including children and elderly people), peace came to the region. According to him, the Philippines never had it as good as when it was under his governance.
In the midst of all this, there has been no comprehensive discussion on the PLATFORMS carried by the presidentiables. Despite the existence, availability and accessibility of these said platforms on their respective websites (and said platforms have already been printed in brief in their flyers and other campaign paraphernalia), the public is largely being made to gauge the candidates based on either one or two of the following but hardly all of these considerations: 1) the public image of the candidates; 2) how their soundbites and campaign slogans resonate; 3) how they conduct themselves during their sorties (they threw candies, they distributed shirts and sun visors with such sincere smiles..); 4) the showbiz personalities they have enlisted, and their trackrecord; (Noynoy has had a blah record as congressman and senator, but he’s Ninoy and Cory’s son, isn’t he? Gibo Teodoro voted against the Human Security Act (HSA) when he was in congress, but once he became the secretary of national defense, he became one of its main implementers and defenders); and 5) how they answered during the debates and the fora they attended (Was he quick and witty? Was he boring and did he speak haltingly? Did he lose his temper? Did he sound intelligent?)
The presidentiables all project themselves as anti-corruption and anti-poverty; but there’s nothing unusual or ordinary about that because since the Philippines become a quote-unquote democracy and elections became the means to determine leadership, candidates have always promoted themselves as clean and honest and fighters for the poor. The implications and nature of their stands on the actual lives and welfare of Filipinos and the nation’s immediate future, however, have not been seriously considered.
The nitty-gritty and the real meat of the respective platforms of the presidential candidates reveal that for the most part, the Philippines will not make much positive headway no matter who wins. The only difference is how limited or wide the democratic space will be; the extent of how civil, political and human rights will be respected or violated; and how neglected or protected/abused or supported the two major and most important sectors of workers and farmers will be.
The list Pagbabago! and IBON released is long, and they include the stands of Estrada, Nicanor Perlas III, Eddie Villanueva, Jamby Madrigal, Dick Gordon and John Carlos de los Reyes. For the purpose of brevity however, am focusing only on the three candidates who stand most to win.
Consider this: Noynoy Aquino favors US military presence and supports a review of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) for the purpose of continuing it. He voted ‘Yes’ to the RVAT law (RA 9337) and the Sin Taxes Law (RA 9334), two regressive taxation measures that added the already heavy economic burdens of the poor. He sponsored the Productivity Incentives Act granting annual incentives to private sector workers; but as part owner of Hacienda Luisita, he tolerated unfair labor practices and cruelly low wages for the workers. He has no clear stand on the peace talks. He also voted against the playing the ‘Garci tapes’ in 2004, and lauded Macapagal-Arroyo’s infamous ‘I am sorry’ speech.
Gibo Teodoro fully supports continuing RP-US military relations; will continue automatic debt servicing and when he was still a congressman, he consistently lobbied to increase the budget for the military and to increase recruitment for the AFP. He was in charge of imlementing Oplan Bantay Laya II and during the period he was defense secretary, there were 320 cases of EJKs and 43 cases of enforced disappearances. He believes that mining should be seriously pursued because it presents the biggest ‘potential’ for the economy. Needless to say, he is not a human rights advocate.
Manny Villar believes that job creation is based on attracting foreign investors into the country. He has said that the peace process should continue, but also thinks that peace can be attained by strengthening and modernizing the AFP. He counts uphoding human rights as a top priority, but also said that HR violations can be addressed by strengthening the leadership of the AFP and the PNP (give them human rights trainings and a sound background on civil rights) and responding to the needs of the military.
Among the three, Manny Villar’s platform is the most promising. Promising meaning, well, he appears to carry most pro-people agenda. This is not, however, to say, that he 100% supports genuine agrarian reform or is against globalization. He is by training a businessman, and while he says he is all for a legislated wage hike, he also expressed a preference for the regional wage boards to determine wage standards. His platform includes promoting the rights of indigenous people and migrant dwellers in upland ecosystems, and has stated that effective land distribution and thoroughgoing land reform is important to address landlessness (I wonder if he will give up a large chunk of his sudivisions and other land property for farmers).
All in all, the most that can be said is that Manny Villar does not appear completely closed or deaf to the demands of the marginalized sectors. He is willing to listen, and he has proven this by asking Satur Ocampo and Liza Maza as guest candidates in his slate.
Given all this, the rather disheartening conclusions of IBON and Pagbabago!, is there hope after the May 10 polls?
Of course. And this is what all Filipinos must realize, recognize and uphold.
The elections is nothing but a political exercise, and it’s actually the least reliable expressions of democracy especially in the Philippines where a presidential candidate and incumbent president herself was caught on tape asking guarantees that she will benefit from rigging operations.
Given then this nature of the elections, supporters of the presidential candidates should not make personal enemies of each other and inset set higher standards for themselves and where they offer their loyalties: not to individual candidates, but hopefully to worthy causes, especially those affecting the workers and the farmers and their rights. The class war still exists, believe it or not, and the sooner you choose your allegiance, the better.
We have very limited choices when it comes to our elected leaders, and this alone proves how weak democracy really is in the Philippines.
Those who have wealth can run for public office regardless of their lack of experience, the backwardness of their political agenda (ex: some would say that counting God as their main adviser isn’t very sound: if the man makes terrible errors of judgment and the country pays, will God get the blame?) and the utter reactionary and militarist character of their stands (buy more guns and bullets! Yes to foreign interference!).
Those who genuinely represent the interest of the poor and the oppressed have very little hope of winning: they have a greater chance of being abducted or killed by the military.
The very system of governance — run by individuals who belong to the ruling classes of landlords and big business interests — is, by extension, very unsound and can never be relied on to be responsive to the needs of the constituency, majority of whom are still mired in unspeakable poverty and want.
Elections in the Philippines is still a long way from being venues of the true sentiments of the people. Thankfully, however, we already have options on how we can exercise our will; how we can deliver our verdict against corruption, against impunity, against abuse of power and authority: the parliament of the streets and the social movement which finds its strength in the collective and organized actions of the oppressed sectors.
So go out and vote on May 10, 2010, but don’t stop there: true democracy is still a long and difficult work in progress.