First of all, Filipino voters do not appreciate debates. They appreciate dance and singing numbers and seeing politicians mouth off the latest trending catchphrases. But when it comes to things that require thinking, guess what: Nosebleed!
Indeed, if there is a national “debate” of consequence, it is happening only within a small clique of “politically passionate” social media “activists”. Within that clique resounds the chatter of opinion and “analyses” on the latest indignation fads. But even then, what dominates those discussions still falls short of the intelligence needed to get the most out of “democracy”. Rather, underneath the veneer of “educated” opinion on the posturing of the who’s who of candidates in the next election lies nothing more than vacuous banter on who is voting for who or who is running with who. What is missing is quite stark: the whats. Who is voting for what idea. Which politician stands for what position on an issue.
The most popular presidential candidate of the moment (or so the opinion polls say) is Grace Poe who, like the incumbent President Benigno Simeon ‘BS’ Aquino III, is a reluctant candidate. The reluctance of a presidential candidate alone indicates that becoming president was only a recent notion to said candidate after having been thrust into the limelight by handlers hungry for a “winnable” one. That’s all Filipinos seemingly deserve — reluctant politicians.
One can almost imagine what would be going on in the mind of a reluctant presidentiable:
What the hell am I gonna do as president?
Not to worry. Just win this election and we’ll sort out the details when you get to Malacanang.
In the case of the late Dolphy, King of Philippine Comedy, it was the other way around. “It is easy to run for President,” he once quipped when asked about the idea of him entering politics. “But what if I win?”
Pity Mar Roxas then. His is the anti-thesis of the way Dolphy thought. Roxas’s mind is full of ideas of what sort of president he plans to be when he is given the privilege to rule. But the bigger question in his mind is “What if am not given the chance to run??”
Fortunately for Roxas, he was given the chance in this election (after having that chance seized from him back in 2009 by now President BS Aquino). This was not an easy decision for President BS Aquino to make. It took years for him to make up his mind on who to endorse as his successor. But lucky for Mar, he went on to become the grudging Liberal Party choice. Funny that. The reluctant ones get unreserved endorsements from their handlers while the exceedingly keen ones get no more than a grudging nod from their sponsors. Just the same, now all Roxas needs to do is win the election.
Over the last several paragraphs above is described the general landscape of the Philippine national “debate” today. It’s nothing about what’s going to happen over the next six years after 2016. It’s about the next few months in the lead up to the 2016 elections in May of that year. After that? What else: bahala na (come what may).
And therein lies the trouble with the idea of holding a presidential debate. Very few Filipinos can think that far ahead, nor do they even care about what the years 2016 through 2022 will be all about. Never mind that there is a big ugly military superpower breathing down the nation’s hapless assets on the West Philippine Sea, or that 2016 and the subsequent couple of years will be El Niño years, or that traffic in Metro Manila will surely get from bad to worse within even just the next six months and continue on at an exponential rate of degeneration following those. That’s just too much info for so little brainspace. The fact that Filipinos would consider an inexperienced showbiz child, a discredited Vice President, and a lame duck pwede na yan admin bet is demonstration enough of a wholesale society-wide failure of imagination.
Filipinos, quite simply, fail to imagine a prosperous future for themselves.
If Filipinos could exercise a bit of world-class imagineering of their future, they would straightaway see that the present crop of presidential candidates simply do not measure up to the standard required to execute to strategic vision. There is no strategy nor vision to begin with. Ask any of these politicians and all you will get is loud headscratching; perhaps a few motherhood statements at best that pander to the sort of populist ideas Filipinos have long been addicted to.
Presidential debate? There’s just nothing to work with — because there is no future Filipinos are up to imagining for themselves. With no such imagined future, there is nothing to which presidents are measured up to.
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