As I write this, this campaign season’s second Republican Debate held in Cleveland, Ohio is in full swing in the United States. The Philippines may fancy itself a poster child of American-styled “democracy”. But when it comes to putting their politicians under the right sort of scrutiny, Filipinos are nowhere up to par with their American idols.
This is something incumbent President Benigno Simeon ‘BS’ Aquino III should have done early if he wanted his Liberal Party minions to remain in power and press on with their so-called Daang Matuwid (“straight path”) “platform”.
Consider how such a practice could enliven Philippine politics more — enliven, that is, down the right path rather than down the same brain-dead bobotante path that has long characterised the Philippine National “Debate”. In one go, it serves both purposes — put on a show for the public and force the candidates to cough up their ideas and vision.
The US Republican Party debate (simply known in social media circles as the #GOPdebate) makes a loud mark on US electioneering this year thanks to the huge presence of the party’s leading candidate, property magnate and television celebrity Donald Trump.
This is pure showbiz, with the American public treated to the tribulations of competing candidates hungry for a shot at the presidency. It is the ultimate reality show, which puts the flamboyant Trump clearly within his element. As the man possessing the popularity to to beat down in the race to bag the Republican nomination, Trump will likely have served as every GOP candidate’s practice dummy in their respective efforts to prepare for these debates.
The trouble with facing off with Trump is that he is unencumbered by political correctness. He’s become iconic in this race for his pointed views about sensitive topics like immigration, proposing, among other things, that a wall be built along the US border with Mexico to stem the flow of “violent” criminals crossing it into American soil. More importantly, he remains consistent in character exhibiting the same blunt just business approach to dealing with his challenges and challengers. Famous for his iconic (again) “You’re fired!” line in the hit reality show The Apprentice, one could easily imagine him applying the same no-nonsense approach to governing an entire nation.
Funny enough, Trump’s situation mirrors the plight of the Philippines’ own top-polling but, so-far, undecided presidentiable Senator Grace Poe. Both are weighing the possibility of running as independents — Trump, if he fails to secure a Republican nomination, and Poe, now that she was not considered (after extensive talks with President BS Aquino) for the spot as standard bearer of the Liberal Party (LP).
The GOP and the LP are also both beset by fragmentation and an erosion in the credibility of their core ideologies. In the case of the GOP, Trump has increasingly appealed to party hardliners who had long lamented the decline in the “realness” of party leadership, so Trump’s unabashed in-your-face grabbing of divisive issues by the horns comes across as a return to comfy orthodoxy. The LP is also facing the challenge of ensuring that the “straight path” dogma introduced by BS Aquino gets carried onto the next term where the “reforms” supposedly designed to steer Philippine governance down that path bear fruit.
The bottom line, however, is that a debate styled this way — a-la reality TV — has proven (in America, at least) to be (1) a good way to engage a jaded electorate and (2) forcing candidates to elevate the discourse to an appropriate level where issues and ideas rule. Such debates effectively hit two birds with one stone. It’s an approach long overdue in the Philippines where the political “debate” has long languished in a morass of anti-intellectual and populist drivel.
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