4/28/2016
You're not as loved as you think

Despite the copious amounts of noise, and the fact that it had wreaked havoc on my mindset, I have tried to make sense of just who the current crop of presidential aspirants appeal to.

Mar Roxas appeals to those who believe the country has gotten better under Noynoy Aquino. From my perspective, that's mostly made up of members of the business community, alongside those who have worked with government in one way or another and have seen the changes, however incremental. Chances are, a significant chunk of those people are managers and executives working in big companies.

Again, let's be fair - there are changes for the good. I am one of those people who have worked with government in the past few years. Well, not so much work as attend talks with government figures, attend consultations, attend meetings. Perhaps it's also down to the fact that, before 2010, I haven't had a good idea of how government works exactly. Yes, it's a complicated machine, I've long known that; from the outside, however, it's made to look like this one creature than can grant your wishes, but takes so long to do it because it's decided it deserves a manicure every single day.

Yes, the economy is growing. Yes, there is more confidence among investors. Yes, infrastructure projects are finally underway, even if the government made the mistake of slowing down on spending in its first three years, either to study everything that came before, or for fear of being perceived as just as corrupt as their heavily-demonized predecessor.

Of course, there are caveats. Noynoy's "I have integrity" stance may have accelerated the economy, but in reality he really just built on what Gloria Arroyo started, on what Joseph Estrada started, on what Fidel Ramos started. There really is no such thing as a fresh start when continuity is snapped and another person assumes the presidency. Yes, one can hope that what was begun is continued despite a change in mandate, but the reality is, plans are made, and these plans do not often run for just six years. (The shift towards the a twelve-year basic education system is an exception; it's a good idea, but I have the feeling transition period ran for just six years out of fears this will be undone.)

Also, it's not like Noynoy got off scot-free. His almost six years in power still saw him tagged in controversies, but of a different kind. Financial corruption is the worst accusation you can throw at a politician; he mostly got accusations of incompetence, vindictiveness and a tendency to protect his friends. That last bit, I'd call corruption too, but that definition wouldn't stick, really. The administration would always say they're much better than what came before, and most people believe that. They have the numbers to prove it, they say: the highest approval rating of any president in his last year, compared to all post-Marcos presidents, Cory Aquino included. Noynoy is loved, they say.

Loved? I wouldn't say so. Noynoy, you're not as loved as you think.

If you were indeed loved, Mar Roxas would be a strong contender for the national polls. No - he's still languishing. His platform may be the simplest to understand - ang sinimulan ni Noynoy, itutuloy ko - but that isn't selling well with most. Sure, it's sells, but mostly it sells to those who were already sitting comfortably in the first place. The strategy of attracting private industry bigwigs to the Philippines to invest - and for its rewards to go down to the lower classes later - may be a valid one, but for most Filipinos, that's just more claptrap aimed at making the rich richer and the poor poorer - and that brings us to the other four candidates for president.

Grace Poe portrays herself as an alternative to Mar Roxas. You can, she says, believe in the so-called "daang matuwid", but it can be done better. Essentially, she's for continuity, but done better - continuity that benefits the poor the same way it does the rich. Her platform is filled with rhetoric about "people-centric" governance, so much so that it risks meaning nothing.

But even that isn't doing her well in the polls. Granted, there are qualms over her inexperience, and there's the issue of her eligibility to run for president in the first place. But do you remember when she seemed like the one person who will save the Philippines? Some people certainly think that way, still. For one, business leaders believe they have little reason to panic if Grace is elected. (I've heard murmurs that she has a strong economic team.) Those people, though, they're just not on my social media feeds.

Miriam Defensor Santiago? Surprisingly people are concerned that she will die halfway through her term. Surprisingly, it's their one reason why they won't vote for her. At least that says something about their views on continuity. But a good chunk of my friends are veering towards her. Never mind if she dies, they argue. It's not a wasted vote. She may not have campaigned a lot like her rivals, but her legislative experience and her knowledge of the constitution make her appealing, especially to young voters.

I still think Miriam is running not to win but to raise issues, to define the agenda, to force her rivals to make positions on issues that they would otherwise not make public. Sadly, she hasn't succeeded on that. Her platform suggests that one of those issues involve amending the constitution - not just the economic provisions, as Grace Poe wants, but also some involving the structure of government. She wants to explore regional representation in the Senate (just like Congress is right now) and the idea of stripping the president of the power to choose members of the Supreme Court. But then, it seems, she got too sick to even raise those points, and now the agenda is in a completely different place.

That brings us to Rodrigo Duterte. As I write this he is the frontrunner. As I write this, my social media feeds are filled with screams of support for him. He's the only guy who can bring real change, they say. And those people aren't (just) the disenfranchised poor who were left behind by the reforms of Noynoy's term. These are the people in the middle class, upper and lower. These are the people whose commute to work takes two hours and many transfers. These are the people who are looking to start a family, or have just started one. These are the people who say they have worked hard, and believe they are continually screwed over, repeatedly.

Duterte appeals to those who have held out for the supposed change that Noynoy Aquino will bring, and got nothing out of it. These are the cynical folks who suspended their belief for a few years, then said, screw it, Noynoy did nothing! By that logic, why vote for Mar? He's all for continuity, and continuity means we'll be screwed over again and again. Why not someone with an iron fist, someone who will start a revolution?

It is Duterte who has ended up setting the agenda during this campaign season, albeit not through his platform, however thin that may be. Everything he says is predicated on the belief that when peace and order is achieved - within three to six months, even - the rest will follow. Even his pitch to business leaders revolves around that, and that's got them uneasy, not just because of his very macho mindset. Business leaders are looking for support, and Duterte only has (fast) eradication of crime and corruption to offer.

But to his supporters, that is enough. This isn't to suggest that they're simple minded, no. This is to suggest that Noynoy's strategy, while valid, has taken so long it's made them yearn for something more all over again. If things are better, why am I still not safe on the streets? He can blame the media all he wants, but it's still his failing, too.

I may be one of those haters Noynoy likes to denigrate, but I'll say that his time in office has led to some necessary reforms in government. Of course, it's not all perfect, and that's where the problem lies: Noynoy's insistence that everything is going perfectly has taken a hit on him, and in effect, on Mar, too. I think people would have been more patient if he acknowledged that mistakes were made and efforts will be done to turn them around. Instead, we saw him whine when pressed on the Disbursement Acceleration Plan. Instead, we saw him complain when the media (who is also not perfect, I must add) reports something that goes against his narrative. Instead, we saw him insist that everything is going well, when the people see heavy traffic and broken down trains and years-long waits for motor license plates.

If only he had leveled with us.

If only Mar did the same, too. If he acknowledged that things could be better, maybe he would be in a better position than he is right now.

Instead, we're here, trying to cover our ears, and failing, as people insist the system is very broken and only this guy or that guy can come to save us.

And that's just where I am - in Metro Manila, online. I have no idea what's happening in the provinces. This is why I think Jejomar Binay still has a good chance of winning. He's long had grassroots support. His platform is designed to be as easily-digestible for the masses as possible: gagawing kong maginhawa ang buhay mo. Sure, the subtext is walang kailangang baguhin sa sistema. Sure, the subtext of that subtext is may posibilidad na kumita ako ng kaunti. But ultimately that's what we all want - to feel comfort and convenience. What that translates to depends on whether they're in it for the long term or want everything now, now, yesterday, now.

And your responses...

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