How can Filipinos hope to be a great people if they cannot even find a great president?

Exceptional. Normally, a race for the presidency involves a cast of exceptional people. These would be the men and women seen to be at the top of their respective games and, as such, worthy of the privilege to serve the Filipino people as their chief executive for the next six years. In a presidential race, among voters’ choices, one would reasonably expect to find the country’s pre-eminent thought leaders, statesmen, movers, shakers, and generally all-around nice people.


Sadly, however, things are not quite at that state of play in this year’s presidential elections in the Philippines. Instead of a search for exceptional men and women, Filipinos are looking for the one who is the least bad amongst the lot. Indeed, it is sad. Instead of exceptional virtue and qualifications, it is now down to just “basic decency” as the primary standard to which the current crop of presidential candidates need to measure up to. Rather than automatically meet the latter basic standard and reach for the earlier zenith, this year’s presidential candidates are reaching for the lower bar.

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It is not even as if these presidential aspirants are actually reaching for that low “basic decency” bar. Their efforts are better described as putting effort to be merely perceived to be meeting that “basic decency” standard. Mar Roxas is trying to be perceived to be a competent candidate. Grace Poe is trying to be perceived to be a loyal Filipino national. Rodrigo Duterte is trying to be perceived to be a results-driven crime fighter. And last, but not least, Jejomar Binay is trying to be pereceived to be an honest official.

The bigger point, however, is that politicians’ aspirations to meet a standard has become so slack that exceptionalism and excellence no longer form part of the effort. Filipino voters are happy enough with a politician who can claim that he or she will not steal from them — which implies that the main criteria for the Philippine presidency is simply that whoever gets chosen for the role is not a crook.

That’s really bad. Imagine trying to hire a nanny for your child and the only candidates you can choose from are a bunch of ex-convicts and elementary school dropouts!

To be fair, though, this is the Philippines we are talking about.

In Philippine politics, perception is everything while results are mere afterthoughts. Filipino politicians win elections on the back of a successful crafting of voter perception but go on to serve in government and enjoy total immunity from being routinely held to account for delivery of real results. That is a counter-productive habit that, when coupled with a penchant for being suckers for the colourful bells and whistles of big money election campaigns, always deals a fatal blow to the hopes of any real reforms ever taking hold in Philippine society and governance.

This, perhaps, is the reason why Filipinos now apply very low standards in the search for their next president, and why the quality of the crop of candidates lined up today reflects that degeneration in their collective standards. Filipinos have for so long been disensitised to mediocrity and criminality in governance that they have been conditioned en masse to simply latch on to the no-substance promises and slogans of their cartoon characters politicians without question. And so empty motherhood statements like “daang matuwid” strongly resonate in Philippine society while solidly-grounded discussions on pertinent issues are merely sidestepped.

The bottomline is that people from whom uncompromising excellence should be expected are able to successfully sell mediocrity on a cone for Filipinos to hungrily lap up. Being exceptional in the Philippines is no longer rewarded. Simply being not bad already gets Filipinos excited.

14 Replies to “How can Filipinos hope to be a great people if they cannot even find a great president?”

  1. Being exceptional in the Philippines is not only not rewarded, it is also punished. Often severely.

    Leadership is often associated with and exceptionality and excellence, and I think rightly so. Only the best should actually be leading their respective groups

    Filipinos have a distorted view of leadership; they do not see leaders as entities who are merely one part of a mutually beneficial, cooperative relationship, and will guide them towards meeting an objective or goal. Rather, they see leaders as people who will do all the work for them, and who are expected to tell them what to do.

    You can often hear this phrase when it comes to leadership in the Philippines: “O, bahala ka na diyan, ha!” (Hey, it’s up,to you from here!)

    On one hand, Filipino “leaders” will be exempt from criticism because The followers don’t want to be seen as ungrateful. Because they wish to take little to no part in meeting the goal, their participation and scrutiny if their leaders are often misinformed or uneducated.

    On the other hand, Filipino “leaders” will be blamed for everything simply because, in the eyes of the Filipino follower, they chose to take the responsibility upon themselves. Never mind if responsibilities were actually thrust upon the “leaders” because everyone else avoided them.

    Exceptionality, excellence, and leadership are simply too hard for Filipinos to grasp, much less work towards.

    1. Filipino voters don’t even know the difference between a legislator and an executive. You wonder then on what basis Filipinos vote their senators and House representatives into office. It is always based on an undifferentiated platforms with “anti-corruption” as primary themes. Ironic, considering corruption is the one thing that defines Da Pinoy Way.

      In the Philippines, everything is a scam. Perhaps there are pockets of instances when individual Pinoys do the right thing out of their own initiative (or, more likely, driven by hiya or out of our ingrained instinct for pakitang-taoism). But, when working together, the collective outcome is usually crooked or way off from the whole original point of an exercise. It seems as if Pinoys are at their worst when they come together.

    The Filipino must reaixe that who is elected to any office has no bearing on what can be done by the individual. Colectively speaking, if 200,000 people decided to go to one seat of government while another 200,000 went to the palais and demanded they all leave the country, NOW !!! or suffer the violence of the mob……

    the country could be changed, literally transformed, in less than 3 days time. BUT NO, no collective BALLS !!!

  3. Your point is amply illustrated by the accompanying picture. I couldn’t expect the voters that live in that house to choose wisely, (perhaps ‘intelligently’ is the better word given that even the meaning of ‘wisely’ has long since been corrupted). But that’s the kicker.. a poorly informed electorate can not be expected to demand a better field of aspirants. What’s more remarkable,(terrifying really), is that this malaise feeds on itself and just gets bigger incrementally. At each election cycle of ‘every-other-year’, the country sinks a few notches lower, until the whole country is one whole ‘ignoramus’. (Are we there yet?)
    I guess that we, in this.. and other similar ‘blog-sites’.. just have to keep on speaking about our concerns to everyone who cares to listen. Maybe, like a pebble tossed in a puddle of water, our message would radiate and reach an ever widening circle of poorly informed voters.

  4. Grace Poe is right. to be a great country, all candidates for the coming elections should go for a drug test. but why is Drilon against it???

  5. Since that clueless housewife,Cory Aquino, was placed by the U.S./C.I.A., in the seat of the Presidency. The successive Presidents were buffoons, celebrities, and mentally retarded, like the son, Benigno Aquino III.

    You don’t have to excel in anything. You don’t have to do anything extraordinary . You don’t have to be highly educated; or well informed, to become President of the Philippines; in our present political standards. These standards are the ones needed to elect a good President.

    Look at the barely educated Pacquiao, running for Senator. He is an absentee Congressman. Now, he wants to become a Senator. He did not even finished Grade VI level. Look at Alma Moreno, A show biz celebrity, running for Senator. She is just a high school graduate. Or, that Sotto guy, who is a Senator. He is just a show biz clown. What did he do in his term as Senator? Collect Pork Barrel Funds? Receive Pork Barrel Bribery to impeach SJ Corona?

    We don’t need celebrities in politics.They are too many of them, already…and the country remains , a basket case of Asia…We need good, well informed, educated people, who can do things for our country. Who have programs to solve our country’s problems. And, who has the will to lead people; and manage the deteriorating Philippine economy.

    1. We really have a very low self-esteem. Even the all-important Philippine Constitutions, two of which, (out of five since 1898), were drafted after 1985, amply signify this fact. In these ‘hallowed’ documents, the requirements for one to aspire for the Presidency, were to: 1) be a natural born citizen; 2) be at least 40 years old; 3) know how to read and write; and 4) have no criminal conviction. There was no requirement addressing a Presidential candidate’s ‘educational attainment’. Going by these criteria, all these candidates now are ‘over-qualified’. We should be overjoyed.
      I am, of course, being facetious.Seriously now.. we should review the present constitution, with a view to amending this particular weakness; and, while we are at it, tack on provisions aimed at overhauling, (not just ‘tweaking’) the present educational system as well as the currently operating Colleges and Universities. We do have so many ‘learning institutions’; it is hard to comprehend the fact that there seems to be a direct relationship between their numbers, and the numbers of functional illiterates… some of whom have found their way into the Senate and the House of Representatives.

      1. The 1987 constitution itself reads like it was put together by a 12-year-old as a “what I would do if I wuz the president” school project. Constraining the country to the output of mediocre minds is a terrible mistake. Get the education system fixed first. Write a Constitution when there are people smart enough to write a proper one.

  6. Bring back the royal families instead. The country may be better off being a series of kingdoms, rajahnates, principalities, and sultanates like it once was.

  7. When Marcos was ousted and found out he was hiding enormous wealth in various banks in the world, his enemies assumed that his plundering was THE CAUSE of our poverty. From then on, corruption was thought to be THE ONLY reason for our poverty, thus our development strategy was for the most part anchored on anti-corruption measure. You see this in our procurement laws and other pertinent laws, the unintended effect of which is strangle the process to the point of virtual paralysis in government. It extends to the rest including the Presidency such that the highest qualification is that one is not corrupt. When you hire a driver what do look for?:he is a good driver. When you look for a carpenter, who do you look for? A good carpenter. When you vote for a President, what qualification do you look for: he is not corrupt?

    1. There you go. It is quite ironic that Filipinos’ notion of building a nation involves nothing more than “preventing corruption”. True growth and progress involves a sustained effort to build on top of the normal. Unfortunately Filipinos already find monumental challenge in merely achieving the normal.

    2. Also this which is an excerpt from a previous article on the relationship between trust and corruption:

      Jaime Licauco in an Inquirer article dated 22 May 2001 went as far as saying that: “A nation whose policies and rules are based on the assumption that everybody is a cheat and liar unless proven otherwise cannot long endure. Take a close look at our bureaucracy and its rules. It is burdened by elaborate and often unnecessary checks and balances so that nothing ever gets done in the process.”

      1. That quote hits the nail on the head. The tragedy is that those ridiculous rules don’t even work. As you said above, everything is a scam: partly because the huge bureaucratic ball-and-chain clamped to the leg of legitimate economic activity simply encourages more of the same. The logic runs thus: why bother engaging with the authorities if their default assumption is that you are a criminal, and that their main mode of operation is to impose extra work, extra costs, fines, and demands for bribes?

        Since the State offers only persecution in return for compliance, it makes sense that the man in the street would turn to underground activities, criminality, or begging. It’s a perfectly rational choice.

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