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Underwhelming

Publication Date : 11-02-2013

 

Three years after an energised electorate voted overwhelmingly for change, the Philippines is heading toward a different kind of vote: A pre-2010 kind of election, with candidacies and issues that scream, “Business as usual.”

We have argued since the 2010 count was complete that the mandate of the winner was larger than the plurality (43 per cent) of votes received; that in fact there was a massive majority for the anticorruption platform on which Senator Benigno Aquino III and other presidential candidates ran. That must, to a considerable extent, explain President Aquino’s continuing popularity and high ratings.

There was an end-of-an-era feel to the 2010 vote, which gave the electorate clear choices. We cannot say the same of the 2013 election, the national campaign period of which officially begins tomorrow. The issues brought to the fore in 2010 have been muddled; there are no clear choices between the main political alliances; there is a palpable lack of political idealism.

The Aquino administration bears a big part of the blame, for putting together a Senate slate based largely on winning prospects, rather than demonstrated performance and commitment to a common agenda. How explain the presence of an exhausted politician of limited ability but considerable wealth like Jamby Madrigal on the Liberal Party (LP) coalition’s consolidated slate? Or a callow Bam Aquino?

That the slate carries the names of five reelectionist senators and two former senators, only one of whom is a Liberal of long standing, speaks of the unforgiving arithmetic that went into the selection. That some of the LP’s own promising politicians were not included in the slate—a ready Lorenzo Ta?ada III and a reluctant Joseph Abaya, to name only two—is further proof of the kind of calculation that was done.

The United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) is a coalition of traditional politicians established with the 2016 presidential election in mind; for now, it says it shares President Aquino’s vision for the country. In their interpretation, however, that vision relies heavily on the worst of dynastic politics: sons and daughters without accomplishments of their own being groomed to continue their fathers’ political careers.

Hence, a lacklustre congressman, Jack Enrile, is being pushed as a replacement for Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile. Hence, an obscure nonpolitician, Nancy Binay, being recommended on the strength of being Vice President Jejomar Binay’s daughter.

There is a token relative of the president’s in the UNA lineup too, but former Tarlac Governor Margarita Cojuangco’s very presence reinforces the sense that nothing much differentiates the two main slates. She has said that because there was no more room for her in the LP lineup, she moved to the more obliging UNA.

Even the very idea of common candidates is a letdown, after the election of 2010. In 2007, Senators Loren Legarda and Francis Escudero topped the Senate race; this year, both the LP coalition and UNA claim them, as well as Fernando Poe Jr.’s daughter Grace Poe Llamanzares, as common candidates.

Even though the LP coalition has insisted that the three candidates campaign exclusively with the LP and its allies, the mere fact that the main slates have three candidates in common confirms the perception that, at least as far as the Senate candidates go, we are back to business as usual.

Our disappointment with the basic choice of candidates for the Senate is sharpened by the realisation that the reforms the Aquino administration has started to put in place have not yet taken firm root.

There is real justification, to take one example, for the international praise that has been directed at the anticorruption initiatives of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), but we have a long way to go before even the most optimistic officials at the DBM can assure us that there won’t be any possibility of backsliding.

The landmark Reproductive Health Law, to take another example, is a genuine achievement, but there is no guarantee that the law will be adequately funded in years to come. That will be a matter to be decided by the senators, party-list representatives and congresspersons of the 16th Congress.

The fate of reform hangs in the balance. If only the main political coalitions had kept that in mind.

 

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