With less than 50 days before election day, the camps of the 5 presidential candidates are now on overdrive. And if the second presidential debate in Cebu City was any measure, it is easy to surmise who the losers and the gainers were.
However, we don’t settle for the easy stuff of referencing post-debate online polls to assign winning and losing bets, because what’s at stake is not only our personal preferences but the nation’s fate as well in the next 6 years. It is in this light that we need to disturb our collective mind with both the basic and complex questions that ought to confront not just every voter but more appropriately, the 5 presidential candidates who have offered to lead us. But lead us where?
Except perhaps for one, the 4 presidential candidates have drafts of what read and sound like a platform of government ready for the prying public to go over, section by section. These are important documents in the campaign for they inform voters on the kind of administration they can expect from a candidate.
Some camps are able to attract the best legal minds into their core team of campaign advisors, including some of the country’s top economists, whose thinking is reflected in those drafts. Other camps are not as lucky, populated by people perceived by the public as recycled has-beens who have been around too long but have never added value in political discourse and in actual governance.
While having the right team lends credibility to a campaign, the painful truth remains: the ability to govern, to lead, first and foremost, is a direct function of the winning candidate.
Traditionally, candidates surround themselves with the best expert advisers, yet the decision to act on their advice rests solely with the candidate. This is the simpler way of explaining what leadership is and should be. This is true in the presidency, or any important office for that matter.
While in this hypothetical instance, the role of advisors is underscored, if not overly emphasized in the case of amateur candidates, the president’s ability to decide is more critical. During the campaign, a candidate can flip-flop on important issues in as many times as fuel prices fluctuate. But after the winner is proclaimed, there is no more room for high school-type experiments on decision-making – not when we decide to remove constitutional barriers to attract more foreign investments, and certainly not when our sovereignty is being challenged by a regional giant.
Before we cast our sacred vote for any of them, there is an urgent need to probe further and deeper into each of the candidate’s innate abilities beyond acquired skills, foresight beyond sloganeering, vision beyond verbosity, and spontaneous responses and unguarded actuations beyond staged affection and token charity.
These qualities are equally important, if not supremely important, than the candidates’ track record and experience in previous positions for it is more convenient to pander to what is pragmatic and doable than to pursue a course of action that is morally discernible and sustainable.
The demands above are difficult, if not entirely impossible, for most of the candidates to meet. For some, meeting these would mean losing; most of them would rather play to the gallery than tell people they came to listen to them with the wrong expectation. (Lest we forget, we, as voters, are confronted with the following dilemma: If my candidate wins, can she or he govern? If my candidate can govern, can she or he win?)
Winning should not be so difficult especially for candidates who consistently lead in opinion polls and who have a better grasp of the pulse on the ground. But governing is. The “win first, govern later” is just a convenient strategy for political managers who preside the rise or demise of their principals’ candidacy and who get paid regardless of the result. We know the strategy is not necessarily the right one; not even a good one.
Campaigns and elections are not about strategists, although they or the strategies they employ have a bearing on the success or failure of their candidate. It’s about the candidate and her or his party, or lack of it, and what they can all bring to enlighten political discourse and to push for broader reforms when they assume power.
When then Vice President Joseph Estrada launched his presidential bid in 1997, the fate of his presidency and the nation’s as well was already sealed – at least for the duration of his term, which was interrupted, thankfully, by the people disillusioned by his misrule.
To Mr Estrada, it was all about winning everyone – the masses, his movie fans, local political kingpins, religious organizations, and some say even the so-called Binondo central bank that allegedly financed partly his bid. His campaign, bearing the singular message,”Erap para sa mahirap (Erap for the poor),” so endeared him to voters they sent him to Malacañang with more than 10 million votes. It was winning at all cost.
‘Winning is about losing’
The winning part, many forget or refuse to acknowledge, should start way before favorable opinion polls and hefty campaign contributions come trickling in; the winning is to be found in the clear language and agreement on what the candidate and the voter can work on together and be held accountable for later on.
Winning is not derived on promises, nearly all of which are written in thin air. Nor is winning guaranteed by that piece of paper filled with sophisticated language in climate change adaptation and renewable energy generation, among other beautifully sounding programs and strategies but which leaves everyone perplexed as to how these will be funded.
Winning is about losing the accustomed comfort of being praised all the time for brilliance, composure, elegance, humility, simplicity, bravery, and preparedness in exchange for taking all the manure for being slow but tenacious in sticking to what is right and good for everyone.
In the Cebu leg of the debates, Mayor Duterte forcefully told the audience that anyone seeking to be president should be willing to kill and get killed; otherwise, she or he is not up to the office. In fact, the good mayor is adamant about ending crimes and the drug menace within the first 6 months of his presidency. But anyone seeking to be president should also be willing to lose the claim that long experience in governance is enough to bring the country to where it should be headed, as well as the illusion that youthfulness and inexperience bring energy and new perspective to managing the affairs of the state.
Unless we all agree that the Philippines is one humongous barangay located somewhere in the South China Sea, then everyone can start running and winning the position of the president at all cost. Unfortunately, the presidency is greater than what is demanded of it.