Alma Moreno is a figure from childhood. In grade school while doing my homework in the living room, I would see her dancing onstage dressed in the then-famous “tangga”. She would be lifted by her group of dancers in a supposedly alluring number. Moreno, whose real name is Vanessa, was “loveliness” personified.
Later on she receded into the background as younger actors and dancers became more famous. She became involved in numerous relationships and then in local politics, and then everybody, except perhaps her constituents in Parañaque, seemed to have forgotten about her.
Now Her Loveliness is making a comeback—and not in any possible flattering way. Going viral in the past few days is a video of her interview with Karen Davila of the ABS-CBN News Channel. Davila interviews various political personalities in her daily morning show and that morning it was Moreno, who is running for the Senate under the United Nationalist Alliance of Vice President Jejomar Binay, who was placed on the hot seat.
Moreno used to be the subject of jokes years ago for her imperfect grammar, but at least the 1980s was free from the cruelty of social media. Today, the painful-to-watch conversation between the two women gets played and replayed with each share and view.
Remember how you would feel while watching the question-and-answer portion of a beauty contest, where the candidate gave answers that made you cringe—and then flip the channel altogether? The Headstart interview is akin to that.
Of course, this is different. You don’t hit the pause button because this is not just another beauty going for the crown. This is a person who wants us to bring her to the Senate, craft our laws, undertake investigations in aid of legislation.
And so no matter how painful and disturbing it is, we watch.
It’s not really her “experience as a legislation” that should bring us to tears. This is no place for snobbery. Some of us happened to be raised in English-speaking households so the language comes like second nature. Some attended good schools that taught us the rules and taught them well. Some make a living out of decent grammar.
For some, it is not an issue. That’s all right, too, so long as one makes oneself understood and makes no misrepresentation or affectations.
What is sad about the interview is what it tells us about how politicians (not) think.
First, there seems to be no regard for the specific skill sets and attributes for each position. “Kailangan pa ba sagutin yan?” Moreno told her interviewer on national television, while she was being asked about her reservations on the Reproductive Health Law.
With these five words, Moreno revealed so much of herself. Yes, she has had some experience as a local executive and local legislator. Yes, she may be popular among fellow councilors and may have touched base with the people in the grassroots. To be a senator, however, requires different competencies altogether. Aside from making laws, senators at the very least would have to be familiar with existing laws so that they would know what the gaps are and how to address them.
Moreno tells us she wants to be senator, but she could not even expound satisfactorily on discrimination, women’s issues, the Bangsamoro Basic Law, political dynasties, and tax reform. She chided her interviewer because “pinapahirapan mo ako (you are making my life difficult)” Whoever said the lives of public servants should be easy?
There is also the notion of clamor, real or imagined. According to Moreno, many people have been egging her to run for higher office, perhaps because she has established herself among her peers. People do feel flattered when others tell them they should seek a higher elective position. Perhaps they feel important? But what good would “udyok” do—why listen to others when the person being urged to run is not sure he or she can take on the job in the first place? We have had enough reluctant candidates who were “prevailed upon” to run by others even if they did not want to. Look at how they behaved or performed in office afterwards.
Moreno said she had sought guidance from God in deciding to run for the Senate. She asked for a sign. Her multiple sclerosis never once surfaced in all the time she was going around various provinces getting the people’s pulse. And now she has the support of the opposition coalition. She took all these to be a “yes” from heaven. But the interview should be a big sign for us all.
This is not to put somebody down for her lack of knowledge or bad grammar. I can just imagine how Ms. Moreno and her family must be feeling now that she has become a laughingstock in social media. I am sure she means well—but everybody means well, at some point.
This is, instead, to express outrage at how low we have set our expectations from our public officials. It is not enough that they mean well, or come from prominent families, or was once popular moviestars or sports heroes.
They must look within themselves and recognize whether their skills and inclinations match the positions they aspire for. Humility is leadership.
And if there is a mismatch—woe to those who give them the jobs anyway, and then complain. Nothing lovely about that at all.