Thursday, April 2, 2015

There is Always Someone

(published 15 September 2014, MST)

“Is there nobody else?”
This question pertains to one thing. With the 2016 elections fast approaching, there does not seem to be any presidential candidate especially palatable to the people. The familiar names all carry their respective baggage.
For example, the Secretary of the Interior and Local Government, the supposed presidential bet of the ruling Liberal Party, is not so sure he will even be endorsed by the President.
In the eyes of many, the secretary has been given numerous opportunities to show his brand of leadership. When he was at the helm of the Transportation Department, he said he would begin improving the Ninoy Aquino International Airport—something local and foreign travelers have often criticized. Nothing happened.
When he moved to his present department, he was besieged by one crisis after another. In September last year, government forces clashed with the Moro National Liberation Front in Zamboaga City, and the national government was not able to assist all civilians trapped in the crossfire. To date, many remain in evacation centers and dozens have died of disease.
Two months later, typhoon Yolanda came and ravaged the central Philippines, killing thousands and displacing millions. The DILG is the agency in charge of Disaster Preparedness, under the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Plan. There was also that well-publicized tiff with local chief executives who were not politically aligned with the administration.
To date, the secretary remains to lag behind the others in poll surveys, asking who would likely win in case elections were held today.
But the frontrunner in these surveys, the Vice President, is himself facing rough times. In the Senate, there have been various hearings conducted regarding supposed anomalies in the city of Makati, which has been under his family’s rule for decades.
The stories told by former associates paint a picture of an administration so corrupt that it would resort to trapping a businessman inside an elevator just so he would physically miss the deadline for submission of bid documents.
Denials issued by the Vice President’s family members have not been satisfactory, either.
The third person is the President himself, who has been vacillating between being eager to end his term and giving in to the clamor of his bosses, real or imagined, for more of the same.
The general belief, however, is that seeking a second term is an admission of failure when in fact six years is supposed to have been a long-enough time to do what a good leader is supposed to do. The thinking that nobody else can deliver the good is also erroneous, if not dangerous.
And after four years of the President blaming everybody but himself and his people, making excuses, being rude to a co-equal branch of government, resulting directly or indirectly in many of the ills we are experiencing today, do we really want more of the same?
Amid all these, the people are worried that the 2016 presidential polls would be a matter of picking the “least evil” among the unremarkable, underwhelming options.
That is, until a new crop of names emerged.
First is a neophyte senator whom everybody doubted in the beginning because her only claim to fame was the famous late adoptive father.  Over the past few months, however, this senator has asking insightful questions during Senate investigations and advocating transparency in government. Her riding the MRT—falling in line during rush hour and squeezing herself into the sea of Friday commuters without fanfare—did much to improve the public’s perception of her, too.
Another name that is emerging is that of the widow of the late Secretary of Interior and Local Government and mayor of Naga City. This widow, now a member of the House of Representatives, is said to employ the same style of people-based “tsinelas” leadership that her husband was famous for. And yes, she also takes public transportation when she goes home to her constituents.
There will be other names, we are sure.
What would be crucial is the way we the people should think about these new names. We may again fall into the trap of glorifying these people, seeing them as instruments of real change, champion of the masses, or The Next Big Thing in Philippine politics.
This how we have invited trouble for ourselves for the past several decades. We dwell too much on personalities, believing that our leaders should have qualities or histories or pedigrees that are fit for the movies. We forget they are also humans like us, fallible at times.
And as we always realize, the honeymoon does not quite last. Too soon, we often feel shortchanged and disillusioned. And then we complain yet again—and look for new ones we could pin our hopes on.
These are good starting points —finding names that stand out, or personalities that seem to fit the mold of a good, charismatic leader. But the presidency is so much more than a popularity contest where the one who speaks the wittiest, folksiest lines wins.
This is a rather tedious job the bulk of which is performed behind closed doors and away from the glare of media. So let’s not just scan the horizon. Let’s look and look hard, for someone who will not be a champion, a larger-than-life hero, but someone we can work with.

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