TEODORO BENIGNO: FPJ, LACSON, KABAYAN, GMA: THE FINAL FOLLY?

MANILA, December 31, 2003  (STAR) HERE'S THE SCORE by Teodoro C. Benigno - We would have wanted this yearend column to send sparks of optimism, of good tidings to squelch the perception that we are a nation headed for the scrap-heap in the near future. But the news Tuesday was just too much. Even this aging journalist who has been at the ringside of Philippine history for more than 50 years grimaced in sheer shame at the gall and audacity of it all.

Sacré bleu! Noli de Castro, suddenly a strutting Kabayan on horseback, announced he had accepted the President’s offer to be her running mate. And with a straight face, he "would be of service in unifying our nation and help uplift the lives of our countrymen". Yoh!

Earlier during the day, a drop-haired Ping Lacson, beaming like a sacristan with a chalice in hand, held up his certificate of presidential candidacy (COC) at the Comelec. Any day now, Fernando Poe Jr., the unchallenged king of Philippine movies, bolts up his 30-year residence in Screenland to formally launch his own presidential candidacy. So will Raul Roco. So will President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, now abroad in the land, blitzing here and there for her own legitimate six-year term after pledging end 2002 she would head for the sunset and swear off politics forever.

I’m sorry I cannot say anything good or positive for this bunch.

With possibly the exception of Roco, it is the sorriest presidential pack I have ever seen. This could be the final folly of our so-called democracy, a so-called stab at unification and national greatness when actually it is a Ship of Fools with only greed, power and money in mind. I kid you not. All you have to do, dear readers, is look around. And smell. Not within living memory have we witnessed a Philippines in such disarray and decay. In a metaphorical sense, we are now the boat people of Asia, fleeing the nation by hordes – about 3,000 a day.

Where do we Filipinos actually stand this last day of 2003?

The truth – as we have repeatedly stated – is that we have been misgoverned for more than 50 years since the end of World War II. But let’s lift a half-page from Barbara Tuchman, America’s most eminent historian. In her classic The March of Folly, she lists four kinds of misgovernment. They are primo, tyranny or oppression. We’ve had that under the 20-year dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. Secundo, excessive ambition. No, we were never an imperialist nation, seeking colonial conquests abroad. Tertio, incompetence or decadence. Incompetents our governments have been Decadent, you bet your life. Quarto, folly or perversity. This means, according to Tuchman," "the pursuit of policy contrary to the self-interest of the constituency or state involved." Got it?

FPJ, Ping Lacson, Noli de Castro, GMA.

What do you dear readers feel? A revulsion. A sudden sickness in the pit of your stomach. Your hands balling up in fists as you spit out invective after invective. These are not Renaissance men or women, the type that would hoist the nation to higher ground, educate the citizenry, give them a vision, and a cluster of rainbows to guide their way to great destiny.

GMA, I am sorry to say because I sort of like her personally, has worn out her welcome. She has slipped and sprawled on so many banana peels. And only her paid propagandists and political marionettes remain to recite their lines on how great a president she is, how creative, how dynamic, how resourceful. Oh boy! The statistical truth is that she has precipitously gone down in presidential surveys. And so? And so the Palace had to lure (buy? and at what price?) Noli de Castro in the hope the phenomenally popular Kabayan can pull in the votes and refloat GMA’s fast faltering even failing presidential bid.

FPJ? Yes, Da King is likeable, decent, a hefty chunk of a man, no swagger, no braggadocio, very honest maybe, a model husband. But dammit, we need a president, not the Philippine cutout of John Wayne. Not a panday with lightning fists. We need a president who has brains, good and even great brains. We need a president who has a grasp of what leadership is, what the issues are, who can educate and enlighten the citizenry, who can lead us up the mountain with courage, and sing the song of freedom the way our national heroes did from Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio to Ninoy Aquino, Exequiel Javier and Jose Diokno.

FPJ is a pathetic high school dropout. And that tells the whole story.

Ping Lacson? The guy was a policeman with still a policeman’s mentality. The Kuratong Beleleng massacre remains an albatross around his neck, as were the murders of publicist Bubby Dacer and his driver Alex Corbito, and earlier Edgar Bentain. And also the stain of drugs. His exposé of Jose Pidal was welcome but out of taste. When his tart tongue landed mischievously on Victoria Toh, allegedly First Gentleman Mike Arroyo’s inamorata, he had crossed the line.

Noli de Castro? Man, you gotta be daft to recognize a national leader in him, a potential president, a Sir Galahad with a golden message. Kabayan is nothing of the kind. That is why until now he has uttered nothing in the Senate that is memorable, that goes up better than cigarette smoke, that can lift the heart and nourish the soul. What Kabayan has is a voice. It is a broadcaster’s crisp and meticulously parsed voice in Tagalog. And at that, most of the time he reads a script. He soared to fame on his signature sally "Magandang Gabi Bayan!" And that’s that.

I know I have not been kind. I should have been magnanimous.

But all my life, I have called a spade a spade. And I’m not going to change now simply because the New Year dawns. In fact, I am scared, yes really, scared to death. If this is the political (better still, presidential) baggage we shall carry to the year 2004, then beware. This is what Barbara Tuchman describes as "the rejection of reason, the prime characteristic of folly."

Which also brings us to Plato who said wisely and for all the ages that when desire disagrees with the judgment of reason, there is a disease of the soul. "And when the soul (the Filipino soul?) is opposed to knowledge, or opinion or reason which are her natural laws, that I call folly." Power, said Tacitus, "is the most flagrant of all passions".

Aha, now we are touching core. Power is exercised best, rather most wantonly, by government. In our context, that explains the scramble of FPJ, Ping Lacson, GMA, Noli de Castro, for the ultimate power the republic can bestow in the presidential elections 2004. In her turn, Barbara Tuchman states: "Government remains the paramount area of folly because it is there that men seek power over others — only to lose it over themselves."

So folly it is.

And we must understand it this way as we head for the New Year and after that the May 10 presidential elections. The wreckage around us is immense. The two-party system (Nacionalista and Liberal) which sustained the nation until Mr. Marcos declared martial law in 1972 has long gone. The multi-party system which replaced it after EDSA in 1986 has proven to be a big bust and a bigger joke.

What we have today are individual pretenders to power under the mask of a party system (Lakas, Laban, PDP, PMAP) that are in reality only schools of political fish gathering around presidential candidates. To be sure, some of these candidates boast of huge war chests, and a formidable ground network to boot. The real political parties are powerfully muscled by singular political platforms and philosophies and precise economic programs. Like Tory and Labor in Britain. Or the Democrats and Republicans in the US. Or Gaullist and Socialist in France.

We should alter course. But the elite, the illustrados who have governed our country for decades refuse to do so. And why should they? Why give up pelf and power? It is time, as Tuchman says, "to cut our losses, to recognize error, to alter course."

Is folly in the nature of man?

Most of the time, it is. But there were great ages, great deeds and great men. Pericles of ancient Greece was such a man. And in more contemporary times, alongside tyrants Hitler and Mussolini, the world had Winston Churchill, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Charles de Gaulle, David Ben-Gurion. And to make it more contemporary, we had Lee Kuan Yew, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, Margaret Thatcher, Nelson Mandela, Deng Xiao Peng.

What do we really need in the Philippines today?

We need, as Montaigne said, men of moral courage, character, resolution and valor "not that which is sharpened by ambition but that which wisdom and reason may implant in a well-ordered soul." And so we head for the year 2004 with a pack of crummy cripples as our presidential candidates, and God have mercy.

Happy New Year to you all!


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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