OPINION: 2019 midterm elections: Crossroad of Philippine politics

Edmund S. Tayao

Posted at May 04 2019 06:58 AM | Updated as of May 04 2019 07:34 AM

Are we going to see a return of the same simplistic brands (if we can even consider it brands or just brand) of politics? Or we’ll continue the experimental path that started last elections? 

These are two important questions we need to ask, as this coming midterm election to me is a crossroad of Philippine politics. The choices we make will show if there can still be real change that we can hope to have in our politics and therefore have the kind of governance we deserve. 

By real change, we can only refer to systemic change that many have been pushing for, but has been hijacked a number of times by the group that has always benefited from the current system or lack thereof. Systemic change that has come by different names, the latest most popular one is “federalism”. To be really systemic a change however, it cannot just be a redrawing of power relations between the center and the periphery; it should essentially be changing the “rules of the game”. 

Quite interesting how some people, especially candidates and their supporters, find themselves calling on voters “not to choose corrupt officials” knowing fully well it is difficult to identify or choose candidates who are at the very least, least corrupt than many. I don’t know if it is their strategy; if it is, they should have calibrated it after a time it’s assessed and found to be ineffective. I even saw a blogger saying his piece led to the other group scrambling to answer or react. Some hubris! 

The very character of the dominant politics that ruled the country since 1986; the same politics that has become moribund in 2016. If only they did intelligent, if not smart politics, the past three years should have been an opportunity to re-structure, re-organize and or re-brand; anyway they have always claimed that theirs is “the intelligent and ‘principled’” politics, the elite brand of politics. The problem however is, they believed their own propaganda and assumed that many will always believe them.

Some would also say, “let’s vote for the most capable” and still we find the least capable candidates winning elections. One candidate was asked why he never participated in a debate, I don't remember anytime at all, this candidate engaged in a debate since the first attempt at a national position. This candidate’s answer was simple, “they are the ones who are good” and that it’s “not a competition for who’s good”. Wonder what elections are for then, if not (supposedly) a competition of good, capable people for the people’s support.

This is sadly the reality of our politics. Yes, many vote according what they think is right, but with the limited information out there, limited in the sense that all you know about a candidate is the background, often even fabricated; the result is very slow change, if any, in our politics, in the kind of leaders that we get to have. There is no such thing as “bobotante”, I have observed and said this so many times. We only have to make sense of the pattern of voting every after election since the first election in 1989, after the return of democracy. In the social media, you will most likely encounter so many saying, “who you vote for reflects you and or your family”, suggesting that there “clearly” is a “moral choice” that can be made. A leading official even says your vote is the kind of future you’d want. Yes, these are all true, but it does not necessarily mean this moral choice purportedly refers to a particular group or candidates running for office this elections. We have been convincing ourselves for the longest time that our politics is characterized by ideologies, but it started and remains to be mainly but a battle of personalities.

One pundit asked if we are seeing the end of liberalism, I’m not sure if this question has as its reference our politics or if it is more of the United States. This same question has been asked since Donald Trump was elected president, many say is a vote for intolerance and misplaced nationalism, therefore suggesting the end of liberalism. As always, many have the tendency to assume that because it is happening in the US, it must also be happening here in the country. I myself am guilty of this to a certain extent, which upon reflection maybe because local books on politics have not been as popular as foreign books. To ask the same question however assumes that there was indeed a tradition and politics of liberalism in the country. There may be some truth to this but only if we look into how much America has influenced our politics ever since.

In fact, we may be wrongly attributing liberalism to particular political personalities, which of course is consistent with personality-based politics we have. If we do, then the best way to approach it is through history; then we’ll have details, which will immediately question our predilection for principled politics, desperately attributed to particular political groups. In the first place, we can hardly even consider political groups we have as political parties, a political organization that espouses a particular set of programs in government.

I am voting for change. Since change cannot run for office, I am voting for candidates who most likely will support real, systemic change. Of course this is a gamble as is voting for those who shamelessly declare they are principled and that they know what they are talking about, that the programs and policies they are offering to solve prevailing problems are well thought of. I’d rather err however, on the side of systemic change. The group identified pushing for it may not see it outright, but if they do, they will realize it is in their best interest to really push a change in the rules of the game. Otherwise it’ll be déja vu all over again. Well at least we’ll probably have good “logical” speakers in government. Only that there’s all that there is, talk.

I am voting for change. I am voting for federalism. I am voting for a change in the rules of the game.

(The author is a professor of Modern Local Governance at the Ateneo School of Government. -- Eds)
 

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