Will candidates govern as they campaign?

In American presidential campaigns, the voters are afforded the window from which they can peer through the configuration and the direction of an administration elected to serve in the next four to eight years. On our shores, however, we continue to struggle to make sense of the tone and character of governance by the next administration. Due to the absence of established and disciplined political parties accountable to voters and the public, what we are witnessing in the campaigns are evolving platforms delivered in piecemeal fashion.

Nevertheless, the bruising campaign in the last 60 days may have offered some insights into how each of the candidates will likely govern when elected to administer our state affairs.

Senator Poe’s campaign’s less-aggressive-more-positive tact is benefiting her and the recent opinion polls that place her on top spot affirm this approach. Although her campaign wobbles occasionally on some issues, it remains largely on-the-message. Her avoidance of personal attacks is reminiscent of the campaign similarly and consciously launched by then presidential candidate Gilberto Teodoro in the 2010 presidential election.

Despite the positive tone, though, the campaign of Grace Poe is fair game to criticism. Her platform and stance is neither here nor there. And while her camp has reasons for maintaining calculated ambiguity, the absence of a clear demarcation line that differentiates her from either Mr. Roxas or Vice President Binay is a fodder of her being a Malacanang stooge.

Notable in the race, too, is the tenacity of the Roxas campaign in explaining with difficulty why building on, improving, and expanding the gains of the second Aquino administration is the most realistic formula for the next six years. The difficulty is partly due to perceptions of incompetence among appointees in the administration who failed to deliver their mandates, putting the Roxas campaign on the defensive. As it stands today, no amount of reasoning by the administration can sway public perception against Daang Matuwid. Yet the Roxas campaign plods on as the opportunity of making people understand how the government can best respond to their needs is as important a goal of getting the LP standard bearer elected to serve them.

Senator Miriam Santiago’s campaign, on the other hand, is largely symbolic with no manifest intent of winning as her reliance on virtual campaign has not moved her rating beyond 3% in the more credible polls. From a logistical perspective, her army of Facebook volunteers is unlikely to deliver the winning votes despite her topping countless preference surveys in schools because our brand of politics, observes Prof. Henry E. Brady, pays premium to pounding flesh and demands a lot of energetic interactions between the representative and the represented, a reality that Vice President Binay is aware of and utilizes to his great advantage.

Gone also are the battalions of volunteers who pooled their resources to keep her campaign afloat. Then there is that perennial question of winnability, of which Sen. Santiago’s may have gone past its shelf life at this point in our politics as being knowledgeable in governance and law has become an option rather than an imperative for a good leader. Winnability aside, the rest of the elements are no longer there. Her tandem with Ferdinand Marcos Jr., in the eyes of many of her supporters, is Miriam’s own reductio ad absurdum.

Meanwhile, the Vice President’s campaign is trying to fill in the crevices and cracks left open by the failings of the administration. Like the proverbial “madiskarte” that he is known for, Binay’s masterful rework of the 4Ps, the administration’s flagship social protection program, yields him the 5Ps without breaking a sweat! But if there is one thing remarkable in the vice president’s campaign, it is that ability to poke at emotions of people who really deliver the votes. Like an old-timer in the jungle, Binay’s campaign knows where and how to source food without making the necessary trip to the lowland. After all, he’s a Boy Scout, whatever that means.

Finally, Mayor Duterte’s electrified campaign, fueled by a mixture of fanatical enthusiasm and protest against the status quo, has drawn thousands to his message of change premised not on a solid plan but solely on his vow to end criminality and the drug menace in six months and his prescription of federalism as a cure to the ills in government. But his parochial views on climate change and telecoms sector reform, among a host of national and global issues, are lamentably inoperable in a complex policy ecosystem that requires thinking beyond centralist planning that Duterte has become accustomed to following decades of ruling Davao City without opposition. There is also that gleaming contradiction drawn from his prescription of federalizing the Philippines in the face of untamed corporate greed that has the entire country in its fangs. The assumption goes that to break up a monopoly, it is necessary to divide its stronghold. Yet the American experience is an unfailing example of how a federal state can be drowned by deregulation and free enterprise. So if it’s not in the form of government, it must be in its strength.

With days into the homestretch, we may not have enough time to observe the campaigns of the five presidential candidates to get more from them. But there is an ample opportunity to reflect on the shared notion that the presidency is not just about brutish passion, charisma, and endless vulgarity. The presidency is a transforming leadership that works to restore trust in our institutions more than belief in our elected representatives to take care of us in their absence or death. It is rewarded only to someone who has the humility to exercise the tremendous powers of the office to facilitate and not dictate in the shaping of our national agenda and our collective aspirations. The presidential candidates owe it to the Filipino people to make the reassurance that this election and the presidency is all about us–the governed. It is never about them.

Published here: http://www.rappler.com/views/imho/128691-candidates-campaign-preview-governance