MANILA, February 5, 2004 (STAR) CHASING THE WIND By Felipe B. Miranda - For better or worse, Filipinos equate democracy with elections more than any other constitutional process. When asked what they understand by democracy, most people say it has to do with being able to choose their own leaders. Whether elected officials turn out to be deserving of their public trust is not the defining issue. Whether public accountability governs the actions of those elected is also secondary. Filipinos believe that in simply being able to elect their authorities, the core meaning of democratic governance is fundamentally served.

This near-fanatical faith in elections may explain why the nation often bears with the numerous foibles, the incredible follies and even the occasional treason that elected officials commit. The people’s sense of responsibility for their electoral choices facilitates the idea that those who make their bed must lie in it. If their choice of authorities turn out to be less than fortunate, they must endure the consequences whether these be simple inconveniences or truly painful sufferings.

In 2004, one may pity the public trying to make sense of elections in this country. The candidates that people are forced to choose from hardly inspire confidence in their ability to steer a near-convalescent economy towards recognizable recovery. Hardly anyone among the political wannabes appears to have the ability to generate, coordinate and activate resources for re-establishing order or restoring legitimacy to a fractious polity and its feckless institutions. There is a dearth of candidates who indubitably stand on high moral grounds and therefore may credibly call on the people to drop their demoralizing cynicism and work together to rebuild a faltering nation.

Competence in national administration, willfulness in crisis resolution, charisma in popular mobilization and absolute faith in the necessity and timeliness of modernizing a tragically medievalized nation – these are the sine qua nons of a leadership that could change the Philippines irrevocably for the better. No political party, no sectoral group, no candidate now projects the synergy resulting from these four qualities working together.

Instead, the citizenry confronts candidates from a national administration with questionable credentials in economic and political management, candidates that identify with policies of increasingly huge deficits and swollen debts in public finance, divisiveness, impulsiveness, vacillation and murkiness in political governance and – in that critical area of principled leadership – much flipflopping and opportunism.

The opposition unfortunately appears bent on matching administration candidates handicap for handicap. In addition, its candidates would campaign with a principal whose candidacy would be launched even before he and his collaborators could figure out what political platform or program of governance might be pushed for given a nation in great distress, one possibly already in extremis.

The citizenry is not assisted here by a COMELEC that worries too much about the capability of a candidate to run a nationwide campaign but does not worry enough about one’s clear-mindedness and capability to run a nation should s/he be elected. A presidential wannabe unable to forge a program of governance before he files his candidacy really should not be taken seriously. Incidentally, no college or high school degree is needed to put together this project. All that is needed is an adequate understanding of the country’s national concerns, the alternative ways of dealing with them and the available resources that might be used. One also would need to be familiar with the effective workings of government and society’s other key institutions and, ultimately, since they must be involved in successfully managing any national concern, the nature of one’s people. Intelligence, of course, is a must for this project, but one must not mistake a high school or college degree — even a Ph.D. certified genuine by the National Archives — as truly indicative of the required intelligence. A distinction has to be drawn between real intelligence and plain smartness. (However, this is material for another column and this distinction will not be pursued now.)

There are actually very few legitimate candidates among those running for public office now, certainly not enough to comprise a critical mass that competent and responsible governance for a country as big and as distressed as the Philippines demands. A few of these people are among the fractionalized opposition, some of them unfairly hounded by bad publicity and unjustly processed by the political and judicial authorities. Such candidates are saddled by media with fearsome reputations that intimidate many Filipinos. They are regularly subjected to politicized investigations and repeated judicial trials that pass for due process in this country.

There are a few more legitimate candidates struggling within their determined coalition of hope, largely bereft of political and financial resources that could make their electoral campaigns more viable. Much disadvantaged when pitted against candidates who are materially and politically better endowed, they wage a truly uphill struggle. Often the target of political demolition, they are much ridiculed as minor players – as so many saling pusa – in a demanding political contest. The public has to be particularly astute and determined if these good candidates are to survive and overcome their unworthy opponents.

It is fairly easy for Filipino voters to give up on candidates who they feel they may waste their votes on. In a country where most people are losers most of the time, the temptation to identify with probable winners can be irresistible at times.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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