April 08, 2010


So far what voters and the rest of the people are being told by leading presidential candidates in the current campaign are their claims or offer of themselves as most capable of bringing about the change that everyone is calling for. Unfortunately none of them have seriously explained how or even what change other than superficial and peripheral they intend to bring about.

Hundreds of millions of pesos are being spent on advertisements with catchy one-liners, motherhood statements and empty slogans. Far from presenting platforms for change, these ads are the stuff of the same old traditional political campaign and indicate that instituting real change is farthest from the minds of these leading contenders for the highest political office in the land.

In contrast, how much have the candidates spent for disseminating their full platforms and discussing these with the electorate? Doesn’t this stinginess indicate as well the candidates’ cavalier attitude towards the electorate; that is, their lack of respect for the people’s ability to discern substance from packaging; platitudes from concrete policy statements and proposed programs; track record from image makeovers?

Even the unusually plentiful forums, debates, one-on-one interviews, etc. where candidates are pitted against each other or made to face public scrutiny (which are otherwise a welcome development, doubtless spurred on by the strong clamor for change) have failed over-all in focusing on platforms or what changes the candidates will institute and how if elected. Instead what we see clearly from these forums is just how shallow, hollow and misdirected are the analyses and solutions being offered to address deeply-rooted and long-running social problems.

Let’s take a sampling from the two top-rated “presidentiables” in the ubiquitous surveys.

Sen. Noynoy Aquino has maintained his lead since he threw his hat into the ring but surveys show this lead has gone down significantly and even plateaued. Apart from harping on and turning his parents’ political legacies into unearned political capital, Noynoy has stuck to a single, simple message “Kung walang korap, walang mahirap.” His analysis of Philippine society’s complex and seemingly intractable ills is reducible to corruption as the root of all evil including societal “division” and “alienation” and the alleged “paralysis” of the people’s “moral faculties”.

Comparing the message projected in his ads to his written out but hardly disseminated platform, one sees that indeed, there is not much to project as the platform itself suffers from the same dearth of substance. Even as he decries the incumbent Arroyo regime’s inability to offer “lasting solutions for the many problems of the country” his own articulation of what he sees these solutions to be is sorely lacking and even trivialized.

On the economy, an area where good intentions including pledges not to steal from government coffers, are plainly not enough to qualify as a program of government, Mr. Aquino’s prescriptions do not include land reform and reviving and strengthening domestic production whether it be in agriculture (for food requirements of a burgeoning population) or in local industry (for generating more quality and secure jobs and accumulating social capital rather than relying solely on foreign debt and investments).

He is mum about what he intends to do with the failed policies of liberalization, deregulation and privatization that Cory Aquino’s presidency persisted in pursuing when she took over from the dictator Marcos. The neo-liberal policy framework prescribed by multilateral financial institutions such as the IMF and World Bank and implemented blindly and consistently by governments since Marcos’ time underlies much of the poverty and economic backwardness we see around us and not so much corruption per se.

In the area of resolving decades-old armed conflicts between government and revolutionary movements led by the CPP-NPA-NDF and the MILF, Mr. Aquino is content to relegate the matter as a “peace and order” concern.

He criticizes the current “disjointed, short-sighted Mindanao policy” to address “decades of neglect of the Moro and other peoples of Mindanao” and proposes a “broadly-supported just peace” but avoids going into any substantiation of what that entails. Mr. Aquino’s failure to even mention what all previous governments have considered the number one armed threat to government - that of the communist-led armed struggle in the countryside - much less how he intends to deal with it, is a major sin of omission.

Sen. Manny VIllar for his part promises to all and sundry that he will liberate the poor from poverty. He unabashedly presents himself as the poster boy of success, an example of what it purportedly takes to climb out of poverty through “sipag at tyaga”. Some quarters have questioned whether Mr. Villar was ever really as impoverished as he says he was (albeit it is clear he was not born into a clan of hacienderos and old rich like the Aquino-Roxas tandem).

Villar's platform, on the other hand provides more substance, significantly zeroing in on poverty and social injustice as the two most serious problems that need to be addressed in order to achieve real change. The platform attempts to present solutions to landlessness, economic stagnation, foreign intervention and control, environmental destruction, human rights violations, etc. It advocates agrarian reform, development of domestic manufacturing industries, environmental protection, protection of human rights, and an independent foreign policy. But it falls short of spelling out the concrete measures needed to carry these out. For example, Villar appears to play it safe by being deliberately vague on the Visiting Forces Agreement with the US and on the neoliberal economic policies that have wreaked havoc on the economy and on our lives, calling only for a review of these.

Unfortunately, Villar's ads so far have overstressed poverty while only scantily dealing with the problem of social injustice. Overall he has not been able to project the analyses and solutions that are laid down on his platform. And he still needs to spell out more clearly his position on certain crucial issues. Until he does, Villar would be vulnerable to skeptics' view that his platform is really just a scrap of paper.

Meanwhile the justification for the entry of progressives Satur Ocampo and Liza Maza as guest candidates in the Villar ticket rested on the acceptability of Villar’s platform to the Left party lists and their supporters. This alliance suffers even as Villar keeps that platform under wraps.

With only a month left before the people troop to the polls and cast their ballots, hope for a more intelligent and substantial campaign dims. There appears no attempt on the part of the candidates to raise the level of the campaign and break away from the old circus atmosphere.

But it is not too late for the people who earnestly, almost desperately, cry out for tunay na pagbabago to demand nothing less. #

*Published in Business World
9-10 April 2010


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