So, yet again, we approach another seminal presidential election and there is much bubbling and foaming on the surface of the political scene. While the attention of the public has been focused on the turbulent surface of Philippine politics, few have appreciated the underlying reason behind that turbulence. For like the way rough rapids only occur in shallow sections of a river, the Philippines’ circus-like politics reveal again the vacuousness of its substance.
But what is filling the intellectual void of Philippine politics nowadays is a lot more disturbing. Vindictiveness and bloodlust has strengthened in the last several years as key political agendas.
Small surprise. At the underbelly of Philippine politics is a stark reality: Philippine society has all but depleted its well of collective social trust. Everything everyone and anyone does nowadays is suspect. But of course it is. If there was one thing that was achieved over the last several years, it is that everyone’s been outed as a crook. Perhaps, indeed, Philippine President Benigno Simeon ‘BS’ Aquino III deserves a bit of credit in that department. He has imprisoned his predecessor, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on charges of electoral fraud (and other alleged crimes yet to be revealed presumably), impeached no less than a Chief Justice, and was behind the imprisonment of three popular senators, Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, and Bong Revilla. Earth was scorched flat in the wake of all that. The President himself, in the process of his witch hunt has implicated his own Budget Secretary Florencio ‘Butch’ Abad (and, by command responsibility, he himself) in the vast pork barrel thievery scandal that erupted around the emergence of alleged ringleader Janet Lim Napoles.
Because of the unprecedented scope of the scandal and the wide public outrage that ensued, Philippine Congress has come to be regarded as the biggest criminal syndicate in the country, its members suspected of being motivated by the tens of millions of pesos allegedly appropriated by Malacanang to grease the decisions they made around the impeachment of former Chief Justice Renato Corona, the selective way with which they mounted “probes” on a variety of political personalities, and the manner with which they voted on critical bills and resolutions that effect deep impact on Philippine society as a whole.
Observers generally agree that President BS Aquino and trusted members of his Cabinet and inner circle of family and friends had inadvertently set themselves up for their own political persecution if the “wrong” character ascends power following the 2016 presidential elections. As such, the fight for the the coveted seat in Malacanang is increasingly becoming brutal. As if to further add insult to the injury the Senate suffers after being widely regarded by the Filipino public as a den of crooks, it is a convicted mutineer-turned-‘senator’, Antonio Trillanes IV who is currently mounting an ironically vicious campaign to demonise Vice President Jejomar Binay, currently the strongest contender for the 2016 presidential elections — going as far as the desperate measure of implicating the Vice President as his co-conspirator in the 2007 Manila Peninsula Siege that Trillanes led against then President Arroyo.
But groups loyal to President BS Aquino (who, interestingly enough, “pardoned” Trillanes’s act of treason in 2010) who have banded together to back Trillanes’s efforts to stop a Binay presidency are yet to present a credible challenger to Binay’s candidacy. Current Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Mar Roxas who, back in 2009, stepped back from his own candidacy to make way for Aquino’s is the most promising candidate of Binay’s future Opposition. Unfortunately this is a sad indictment of these groups’ ability to find qualified and winnable political talent among their ranks. Roxas, is an absolute political and administrative failure and an embarrassing public relations disaster. His presumed leadership role in disaster response management in the days preceding and subsequent to the havoc wrought by Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013 has turned Roxas into a global laughingstock. From the onset, Roxas’s hunger for the presidency has clearly been evident, and his over-eager efforts to look good before the cameras proved to be his ultimate downfall.
The Philippine mainstream media, and the country’s top traditional opinion-shapers have been quite busy making all of the above little issues look like they are monumental national concerns of deep consequence to the average Filipino. In reality, none of the above effect any significant impact on the lives of ordinary Filipinos. For one thing, the influence any one president has on the performance of the Philippine economy has long been debated and there is much agreement amongst economists that much of the economic “achievements” trumpeted by the Aquino administration (or any past administration, for that matter), represent mere correlations. Proving true causal links between presidents and economies is really no more than Mickey Mouse science despite such “analyses” being effective fodder for propping up investors’ confidence and serving as thickeners for PR strategy.
The real elephant in the crowded room of political chatter in the Philippines is thinking — or, more apporpriately, the lack of it. There are a lot of hard questions that will likely remain unanswered if we jump off from that piece of insight…
What does all of this noise mean?
What are the philosophies, ideologies, and doctrines of the competing parties in today’s politics?
Do any of these people and parties have a compelling vision for the Philippines to pitch to the Filipino voter?
Has a focus on ‘voter education’ achieved any real results?
Are the right arguments winning?
Have the real problems been identified and clearly framed in the national “debate”?
Indeed, in the answers to the above hard questions lies the key to real reform in Philippine society, governance, and culture. It is quite revealing that none of the above questions take important places in today’s political discourse. And if there is one thing that spells doom for the Philippines’ prospects of one day becoming a prosperous society, that would be it.
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