September 10, 2009

Tinimbang ngunit kulang*

The nine years of the Arroyo presidency has so debased traditional, many say reactionary, politics to an extent not seen since the Marcos Dictatorship that even a political lightweight like Sen. Noynoy Aquino III, with only his pedigree and nondescript, uncontroversial persona to recommend him, has been elevated as the new star in the Philippine political firmament with his declaration to run for president in the 2010 elections.

Mr. Aquino’s announcement has created a stir among local and foreign mass media with its potential to re-ignite the admiring throng of ordinary folk who came out in force for his mother’s burial a month ago and get their votes amidst a very crowded field of candidates all claiming to be in opposition to the hugely unpopular incumbent, Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Agene France Press gives an unflattering description of the latest presidential contender: “Prior to his mother's death, the bespectacled, balding Aquino was best known as a low-profile politician with no major legislative achievements after nine years in the House of Representatives and two in the Senate…(B)etter known as the former boyfriend of a broadcast journalist, Korina Sanchez, and the brother of TV celebrity, Kris Aquino.”

There was nothing new in Noynoy’s announcement of his candidacy. He reinforced the common perception that he is anointed largely by his parentage being the son of national hero and martyr Ninoy and the now iconic Cory and by the fact of the recent outpouring of adulation in the streets, in media and on the internet for the latter upon her death.

There is the questionable presumption that the outstanding leadership and character traits of Noynoy’s parents have somehow rubbed off or been passed on in the genes to the senator-son. Thus the non sequitur conclusion that he is in the best position to lead the fight for genuine democracy and social reforms in a country still mired in political and social crisis more than twenty-three years after the People Power uprising that toppled the Dictator Marcos and catapulted Cory Aquino to the presidency.

Even the argument that one cannot underestimate Noynoy the same way Cory was largely underestimated in ’86 does not hold water, because as Ninoy’s wife, Cory never had the same opportunity to display or wield legislative and governance skills that Noynoy has had for the last decade.

Noynoy was clearly capitalizing on the highlighted differences between his mother’s endearing personal and political character traits and the despicable ones of the current Malacañang occupant. Thus he harped, as expected, on the issues of top-level corruption, the lust for and abuse of power and the complete absence of integrity and honesty that has hounded Mrs. Arroyo.

Only when fielded questions by the media did we see glimmers of his stand on other issues but not the bare bones of his campaign platform even as his Liberal Party handlers make a big thing about his running to bring about “change” and “reforms”. Instead Noynoy deliberately parries questions on his platform by saying he intends to dwell on this later, not now.

His announcement of his candidacy was preceded by pointing out who he consulted: his beloved sisters, the religious advisers of his mother, young people including two five-year-olds he met in a store in Mindanao and other common folk. Note how he downplayed endorsements from political personalities and high society folks. This and his description of his presidential bid as a non-traditional campaign that will rely heavily on the people’s voluntary support including financial (“Piso-piso para kay Noynoy”) is vintage populist.

His folksy style - not stiff and with stabs of easy humor - helped to project an image of an honest, spontaneous person, not the calculating, crafty politician everyone abhors. He did not display the usual politician’s bombast nor was his cacique class background apparent in his maiden speech as presidential aspirant.

We can safely conclude at this point that Noynoy’s candidacy is clearly and overwhelmingly still in the traditional mold of being personality-oriented but the irony is that not even the leadership traits of the candidate himself is being heralded. Not surprising since up until today, his qualifications are at best lackluster.

If Noynoy wants to take a leaf from US presidential candidate Obama’s campaign tagline - “Change we can believe in” - he has to show much, much more. The Liberal Party, the main machinery Noynoy will be relying on to get his campaign off the ground, cannot just count on the latent potential of the Cory magic, on the afterglow generated by Sen. Mar Roxas’ giving way to Noynoy without a fuss, and on the ampaw rhetoric regarding change and reforms to fuel Noynoy’s presidential ambitions.

Clearly the yellow crowd is there. Erstwhile Mar for President supporters as well. The LP has consolidated with maverick Senator Francis Pangilinan highly visible and very talkative about campaigning for his party mate. Good government groups, new and old, established or of doubtful credentials were present. There were former “nat-dem” leftists now nudging elbows with the soc-dems. Anti-GMA groups that are most comfortable with each other such as Black and White, some high-profile member of the group of Former Senior Government Officials, known Corystas from among the business community were also seen.

The only “presidentiables” aside from Mr. Roxas who have given way to Noynoy are Governors Ed Panlileo and Grace Padaca who were not even serious contenders to begin with. Mayor Jejomar Binay is reportedly supporting Noynoy and is even willing to help broker a unification meeting with ousted President Joseph Estrada but the latter has declared that he is not backing down from his decision to regain the presidency.

The other conclusion we can readily come to is that the base of support for the Noynoy for President campaign remains narrow and limited in terms of the spectrum of social classes and political forces backing it.

Certainly, if Noynoy is to unite the people and the political opposition behind his candidacy, he cannot escape wooing the support of the mainstream Left, the national democrats. Unlike in 1986, they are not only well-engaged in electoral and parliamentary struggle. More important than their acknowledged political and electoral clout, it is the “nat-dems” who have consistently espoused a comprehensive and coherent program for genuine change. #

*Weighed and found wanting

Published in Business World
10-11 September 2009


At Friday, 11 September, 2009 , Blogger Kay said...

Dear Dr. Araullo,

I must say that I really appreciate your comments on Noynoy's announcement. While listening to Noynoy's announcement last Wednesday created elation in my little Filipino heart ;), you are right, in the end, what is happening is still reminiscent of personality-centered (rather than program-centered) politics. You also raised another good point: that, unlike Cory, Noynoy has had opportunities to display his leadership qualities and that his 'performance' (I don't like usuing this word, but this will do for now) in the past hasn't exactly been outstanding.

I also love the words you used in describing his style, especially your use of 'folksy style...with easy stabs of humor' and 'nor was his cacique background apparent'.

I must say, however, that Noynoy talked with two grade-five students (not two five-year-olds) and that his encounters with these two children are separate encounters (only one was at a music store).

These details aside, I am grateful to hear (I saw you on tv yesterday evening) and read about alternative and additional ways of looking at Noynoy's candidacy.

While I am slowly becoming a Noynoy supporter, in the end, you're right, he has yet to outline specific plans for our country. Until he does that, I will not be totally committed. My heart may flutter all it wants, but my mind needs to be captured too :).

Looking forward to reading your column regularly,
Krupskaya Medel Anonuevo

At Friday, 11 September, 2009 , Anonymous beatrixpg said...

Please never stop writing, Dr Araullo. I keep saying yours is a hand too rare in a "media" overrun by -bleep!- There are of course a few points on which I differ with you (ranging from faintly to strongly--but very few), but for the most part, I find your writings a crucial presence in the papers. However, why the Business World? You and Luis Teodoro even? Ironic? Or not so?

At Monday, 14 September, 2009 , Blogger Arttraveler said...

If Noynoy has been weighed and found wanting, am curious who the Left will be supporting for President? Could you enlighten us on who is uh... not wanting among the current Presidentiables?


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