[OPINION] The Political Denouement 1

[OPINION] The Political Denouement

Edmund Tayao

Posted at Dec 07 2021 01:00 AM

Twist and turns, much like an elaborate roller coaster ride, finally reaches a denouement. A denouement, not an end as it is more of an outcome or a resolution of a series of ambiguous circumstances. What can you expect in the first place, from the kind of politics we have? One that we can no longer call a “system”; politics in the Philippines is so unlike in other countries where it is an exercise that is closely tied to programs and policies advocated by different groups; it is plain and simple a partisan activity, simply winning elections and remaining popular, thus depending so much on personalities.

It has always been about personalities before, the only difference now is that it has reached its most basic, crudest state. At least, there was a veneer of political processes before, as political leaders endeavored to follow or mimic commonly practiced procedures in Western democracies. This time, that veneer is no more; the bottom line of the country’s kind of politics seems to have been quietly agreed by politicians to be in full display, or circumstances naturally subsided to its basic state, that is, plain and simple, to win elections. There may be discussions on issues during election campaigns, but do not expect these to go beyond lip service. The positions propounded by candidates, their vantage points on prevailing problems of the country, at best, will sound sophisticated, but if one makes sense of it, it doesn’t amount to anything more than general, even nebulous, statements.

Or course, we are not saying that our political leaders don’t know anything or do not care about getting things done. There is simply no incentive for them to act accordingly, not until it’s clear that it will be a popular position. Getting things done is therefore dependent primarily on what the people say or what is perceived or made to be what the people say or want. This could be assumed to be what democracy is; but in the words of the most reflective of earliest democrats, this is not democracy but rather a mobocracy or ochlocracy. It is, at best, a populist democracy. As such, it doesn’t really get things done; at most, it is able to get to palliative measures, mainly to keep the people in line and/or in order. It would be difficult however to expect it to incline political leaders to consider long-term, more difficult to formulate and decide kind of solutions.

There is then no surprise that we will see the kind of political gimmicks we are seeing now: presidential candidates running without a vice-presidential candidate or vice versa who has been earlier determined and announced and belongs to the same political party. No tandem has a complete senatorial slate as used to be in previous elections, and there was a flurry of substitutions. It is not the latter, allowing substitutions, that is to blame for the personalistic politics we have however; it is but one of the components of personality politics. Substitution is, in fact, also allowed in other countries’ elections but it doesn’t make them anywhere near the kind of personality politics like ours. The unbridled use of substitutions is incontrovertibly because of personality politics, it is not the cause of it.

If we go by this analysis, it is an oversimplification to amend our election laws just to prohibit substitution. In one discussion, there was even a suggestion to legislate something that will control the use of emojis in social media. These suggestions will not address, not even result to a dent on the now overly personalistic Philippine politics. Truth is, these ideas are consistent with the palliative measures we have all been accustomed to considering all the time, also an effect of the prevailing kind of politics we have. A system must be put in place, one that is not only a copy of working democratic systems in other countries.

These systems are, of course, best to serve as reference, but we have to formulate a system that will fit our unique context. In fact, if we are to look at all working democracies around the world, each is a model of its own, precisely because their system is designed according to their circumstances, according to their history. We can learn from working democracies by understanding and pinpointing key specific features in their systems and pick up what may be applicable to our case. The overarching design may be made to be the same or similar to other working models, but the specific elements should be germane to our conditions.

Still, I'm just hoping all these will not just be a matter of discussions and/or proposals in the near future but will be seriously acted on by our leaders, together with the people. Otherwise, the kind of politics we see now can only degenerate further. Everything that we are seeing now are all due to the kind of politics we have: the lack of a system that only leads to the asinine fixation on the person or personality, with an almost complete disregard of the need to offer concrete solutions to the country’s problems.

The withdrawal from the presidential race of Senator Bong Go will not and cannot be seen as ending the series of political maneuvers. We can only expect more gimmicks to come from different political groups as the election day comes. Employing drama and different tricks is not the monopoly of one group, including the recent crazy resort to substitutions. Political gimmickry has always been there, only that the gimmicks were different, more of drama and outright accusations of wrongdoings. If you are a new contender, and you have to fight against established names, it is but expected to consider all options to have a chance of winning. It's no different in the case of established contenders as they started the same way.

Go's withdrawal of his candidacy simply marks the end of the phase of positioning in this election period, similar to the opening phase in a game of chess. This time, we can consider the leading characters to be ready to put to action their strategy to win the elections. If before we were still guessing who will really run for office, now we already know who really are going to be on the list. We don’t know yet if former Senator Bongbong Marcos will not be disqualified, but it is undeniable that he has now been proven to be among the serious, even strong, contenders.

Meanwhile, don’t count the other candidates out. The numbers of Senator Ping Lacson and Vice President Leni Robredo are picking up, not at the same pace but improving. Senator Manny Pacquiao and Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, on the other hand, have to catch up. We still have 5 months to go anyway so there is so much more that could happen. At this juncture, the candidates should already be assessing their campaign, moving forward. Do they do more of negative campaigning? More of fake news and personal attacks? Or perhaps focusing more on switching to a campaign of substance, offering concrete solutions to prevailing issues, even responding to enduring problems on governance. We can again only look at the latest legitimate surveys, ask what do leading candidates have in common? Then we can answer if advancing solutions to problems count a lot more than just resorting to intrigues and gimmicks.

These latest numbers also tell us that there’s no determining where the support Senator Go enjoys will transfer to with his withdrawal. There’s no reason to think the announced withdrawal is a trick as it will only further erode whatever support he still enjoys. Even the administration’s popularity will likely be affected if he reneges and announces he has again changed his mind. Meanwhile, his votes will transfer to any of those remaining in the race, most likely, it will be divided among them. The out-and-out opposition, on the other hand, will get the least but could still attract some. Even if say, the administration endorses a candidate, he/she would not likely get all the support the administration still possesses.

For the nth time, and we probably have to continue telling everyone, that the coming elections is crucial, perhaps a lot more than the previous presidential elections. We have to recover from the devastation wrought by the pandemic. Note the 9.4% contraction of the country’s economy last year. This last quarter, we posted more than 7% GDP growth but it is not enough to get us back to pre-pandemic conditions. The next president will have to have concrete plans to get us back on track and adapt to the new conditions. It is foolhardy to just wait for the pandemic to end. In fact, even if assuming it is to end soon, the many changes it has resulted to are likely to stay.

Hopefully, even if we are already supporting a candidate now, we’d continue to weigh on issues and be open to changing minds come election day. There are not much choices to begin with, so we will have to be really discerning in the coming days as many issues are sure to come out and that the candidates have to respond accordingly.

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Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.