Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Day After

So this is what it feels like the day after to back the wrong horse, in a manner of speaking. Somewhat deflated, somewhat stunned, but surprisingly, but moving quickly through the five stages to acceptance of the situation. A far cry from the mix of emotions last night when the tallies came in and I was feeling somewhat depressed, nauseous even.

'Backing the wrong horse' is mere levity, of course. I chose Mar Roxas and campaigned for him because I thought he would have made the better president. It was also a moral choice because, for all his shortcomings, he did not campaign on a platform of killing and hate. That is a choice that I will not regret making six months down the line and longer. I stand by that choice.

But it seems that the nation has spoken. At 15 million votes, the president-elect Duterte has a lead of 6 million over the runners up. That's roughly 38% of all votes, as strong a mandate as any president can hope to receive. That's a great deal of political capital to begin with. We should all hope he does not squander it. (Incidentally, Aquino and Estrada got a marginally higher percentages, as did Arroyo under dubious circumstances.)

Now we wait for the policies and programs Duterte will put in place and for the people he will choose to push them forward. A good deal of my apprehensions have been from the lack of clarity of his plans. He has made many promises, how many of them he will fulfill -- how many of them we are even supposed to take seriously -- we will have to see.

And certainly vigilance. Remember: this is the man who promised his term would be 'bloody' among many other alternately absurd and horrifying claims. Even fifteen million votes cannot turn wrong to right.

Regardless, this is a historic moment and something to consider. For the first time we will have a president from Mindanao. When Barack Obama was elected president, even his political rivals rejoiced in the recognition that the United States had their first black president. Something similar has just happened here.

As for President Aquino and his Daang Matuwid administration? I think there's no better parting gift to pass on to the nation and to his successors than a peaceful, clean, honest, efficient, and incontestable elections, with the highest turnout in recent memory. We should thank them for their service.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Warning Signs

Six months ago, I didn’t think I would care so much about the elections and its outcome. Now I am emotionally and intellectually invested, and I spend spare moments checking the news and mulling the possibilities. I’ve done something I never thought I’d do, which is to campaign for a candidate – and the administration candidate at that.

And now it’s all down to the wire. In less than five days time (as I write), it will be election day. Unlike a survey where the results will simply be fodder for news and propaganda, the outcome of this will decide the direction of the country for the next six years, and perhaps longer. Unlike before where we could simply wave it of as, “Parehas lang na sila”, there are palpable differences. We could change where we are headed, the problem is that not all change is for the better.

On one hand, I’m thinking about all the challenges that the country will be facing. The global political situation is shifting, towards what configuration we don’t know. The United States, whoever wins in November, looks like it will be more preoccupied with its own domestic matters with the War On Terror changing focus to reflect this policy. Closer to home, China’s will continue its territorial expansion and economic co-optation, either through military show of force or business alliances. The threat of ISIS continues to loom globally but will exert pressure on the Middle East and Europe, through terror, war, and refugee crises. These are just the obvious challenges.

And there are other looming challenges, as well, without easy political solutions. Global warming remains a pressing concern. Changes in climate, when they don’t create havoc through typhoons and floods, will adversely affect agricultural output through drought. Yet to fuel economic growth, we are going to need to increase energy output but without sufficient contribution from renewables, we will continue our dependence on coal and oil, in turn affecting climate again. In the future, even drinkable water could be a cause for conflict.
Where does this leave the Philippines? It depends on how we act. International alliances will be key, though it will be tricky to navigate between our shared and conflicting interests, hence the need for diplomacy at the same time bolstering our military. Research, investment, and policies in renewable energy, clean water, and efficient agriculture will be key. It’s already a cliché to say it but we’ll need to have jobs ready for when OCWs return home owing to volatile situations abroad.

The point of all this being: to get us through the next six years, we are going to need a president and a cabinet that are just as attuned to external matters as they are to internal matters. It’s almost like the biblical story of Joseph the Dreamer. We have had our seven years of plenty – the Aquino administration has done a creditable job of growing the GDP at an average of 6% and our economic ranking has gone up 7 slots – thanks in part to a period of global stability. But tougher times are coming. What will happen when we encounter the seven years of want?

All the more reason that a presidency of the survey-leading candidate scares me. Never mind the sideshow of corruption allegations, reprehensible jokes, and cult-like devotion. His primary platform is the one-note tune of peace and order because “look at Davao.” He has no clearly articulated policy on international relations or on the economy and he has no agenda on research and development. And yet many buy into his campaign because “he can get things done” (but whether the thing to be done is right or not, well…) and because “he is tough on crime.” But these are issues of enforcement, more proper to running local government than a country. Perhaps it might be a suitable message if we are in a period of stability, but we are not. Focusing on crime while the bigger global situation teeters on the brink is like rearranging deck chairs on a sinking ship.

Contrary to the claim that this candidate will be a strong president, I submit that he will actually be a weak one. His plan of action hinges on action movie fantasy shootouts with criminals and dissenters – how credible and how palatable is that? That leaves him susceptible to advisers, but who exactly are these advisers? These have never been made clear either, though the past weeks have surfaced some disturbing inklings. Prominent Mindanao businessmen, surely, so we trade one set of oligarchs for another? Former GMA generals and cabinet members, so we actually turn back the clock six years for a continuation of the in-your-face graft and corruption of her term? The CPP-NDF, with whose leadership he has maintained close links? These are strange bedfellows, you can practically hear the knives sharpening on whetstones. (Or perhaps they have come to their own accommodation, a twisted form of federalism: “inyo ang NCR, sa kanila ang Visayas at Luzon, at amin ang Mindanao”.)

These are all warning signs, we would do well to heed them. Come election day, the leader we choose will be for keeps for the next six years.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Minority Report

Last March and April, Ateneo de Davao conducted a pre-election survey in-campus and in all three districts of Davao City. Not surprisingly, Rodrigo Duterte caught the lion’s share of presumptive votes among the sample population. Some 87.5% of eligible voters said they would choose him as their president. The next largest group, at 6%, were the undecideds, leaving all the other candidates with single percentage points.

In a city where there is a clear majority of opinion, let me then be the one to put out a minority report. I will not vote for Rodrigo Duterte. I think he is a foolish and dangerous choice for president. He does not represent the best future for the country. I could be wrong in my assessment of the man, and if the survey predictions hold true and he does take the presidency, I will certainly hope that I am wrong, else it will be a long and chaotic six years ahead.

The selling point for Duterte rests on his perceived toughness, his authenticity, and his effectiveness as mayor. But you will have to counterbalance that against his statements and his behavior during this campaign period. Duterte has been long on the promises but short on the specifics. He has held the spotlight and, supported by a Greek chorus on social media, he has delivered the entertainment. But take his statements at face value and what do you get?

He will clean up the country of crime and corruption in three to six months. It will be bloody. But he also cannot promise to get rid of it entirely. If he fails to meet the deadline, he will resign as president. On the dispute with China, he will negotiate with them, and if they will not listen, he will jetski alone to the islands and there plant the Philippine flag. Americans and Australians meddling with Philippine politics? Well, let them cut diplomatic ties if they want! He will double the salaries of the army and law enforcers and they will be immune from human rights violation lawsuits.. He will sign a pardon for himself for the killings he will commit. Traffic? He will Stop It, just...Stop It.

Is this the man we should entrust the presidency to? Is this the man we want to represent us on the international stage? If we expect him to deliver something else, what? What demonstrable and practical plan can we glean from all that he has said thus far?

And yet for all these bizarre statements seemingly aimed at pleasing the masa crowd, Duterte’s strongest base of support actually comes from Class A, B, and C! Indeed, the plethora of DU30 campaign materials here in Davao City – baller bands, vanity plates, stickers, magnets, t-shirts, all professionally done, I might add – have come from the deep pockets of well-heeled supporters. Why is this?

The only explanation I can think of is that, to a large segment of the middle class, Duterte is the anti-Aquino. Impatient with the slow progress of promises delivered six years ago, frustrated by continued corruption and worsening traffic, fearful of terrorism and lawlessness, angry at the lack of president’s lack of empathy, this middle class is turning to Duterte as a repudiation of Benigno Aquino and Daang Matuwid. No other candidate goes to the opposite end of the spectrum as Duterte: not Grace Poe, not Jejomar Binay, not Miriam Defensor Santiago, and certainly not Mar Roxas.

And really, this is what this election boils down to: Rodrigo Duterte vs. Mar Roxas. Duterte knows this. Duterte may talk tough about Binay’s corruption, he may rail against Poe’s citizenship, (never against Miriam, because that would be like kicking a puppy) but the sharpest and most sustained attacks have been against Roxas. Never mind that Roxas is third or fourth in the surveys, always the barbs aimed at bringing Roxas down. Why? Because Roxas equates to Aquino.

The Aquino government has had many serious missteps, in my opinion the most serious being the Mamasapano debacle. But the danger with choosing a candidate like Duterte out of spite is that we risk reversing all the gains that the country has achieved over these six years.

Financially, the stock market index has doubled over the last six years and our credit rating has improved. We are in the midst of a construction boom. The jobs available in the country continue to grow. The ombudsman has gone after high-profile violators, including known allies of the Aquino administration. The 4Ps have kept many impoverished families afloat, improved nutrition for their children, and sent them to school. After many false starts, we will finally see implementation of K-12, politically unpopular but a necessary adjustment in our education system. We have taken a stand and are holding our own against a major superpower, engaging them through the international community rather than through military confrontation. Are we going to risk throwing all that away, just for the sake of “change”?

And there’s the BBL. Truth be told, I was never a fan of the BBL and early on I was hoping deep down that it would fail. Over this past year, my opinion of it has changed. We have seen a cessation of hostilities from the MILF and we have greater political engagement from Muslim Filipinos. While the peace we seek is still far off, we are seeing glimmers of it not just in Davao but from the rest of Mindanao.

I bring up the BBL because it was a truly bold move from the Aquino administration. After the failure of the MOA-AD, it took an act of sheer political will to push it through, despite strong opposition even from administration allies. That it went as far as it did (though not as far as originally intended) showed a lot of good will from the government.

The Aquino administration has not been perfect, but it is patently unfair to say of it, as it is often accused of, “Walang ginawa!” This is an easy and lazy charge to make it, but it is also just plain slander.

I have seen enough good in the past six years that I want to see a continuance of its programs and its policies. There is enough clarity of vision as to where we are headed, though we may fumble along the way, that I want to see where it leads. It’s fashionable and easy to carp about what government is doing wrong, but this time I won’t take that route. I won’t be the sneering cynic.

I watched the last presidential debates on April 24. I watched it in its entirety. I did not take it through the filter of newspapers, television, op-eds, or -- God forbid -- social media. I thought Mar Roxas acquitted himself well. He was well-prepared, he was specific, his proposed solutions were practical. He may not have had the folksy charm of Duterte or Binay, but he showed more empathy than Aquino. He addressed each interpellator as a person instead of launching into his plans. He was the only candidate to talk of job creation, and he was the only one to talk about keeping families together. Mar Roxas has been consistent in his message of continuing the present government’s programs and policies. I will not be embarrassed to see him represent the country in the international stage.

That’s why I’m going to vote for Mar Roxas and for his partner Leni Robredo. I hope you will, too.