Thursday, April 28, 2016

118: 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.