Filipinos hope 2010 polls will bring change

by Marites Danguilan Vitug,

Posted at Dec 26 2009 08:49 PM | Updated as of Dec 28 2009 09:07 PM

New leader to balance  present with  past

MANILA, Philippines – In the aftermath of Ondoy’s devastation and amid the continuing fallout from the global economic decline, a vast majority of Filipinos—86%, according to a Pulse Asia survey—are entering 2010 with hope, much more than those who said they were optimistic about 2009.  

It is not far-fetched to conclude that most Filipinos are looking forward to change next year, with the looming presidential elections as the main event in our national lives. But it’s not just in Malacanang where the public wants to see change.
In an October survey of Pulse Asia, all of the country’s top officials suffered in their approval ratings. In fact, the disapproval ratings of Vice President Noli de Castro, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, House Speaker Prospero Nograles and Chief Justice Reynato Puno increased, with De Castro registering the highest climb (+11%), followed by Nograles (+9%), President Arroyo (+8%), Puno(+6), and Enrile (+5).

This apparent wholesale dissatisfaction with the top echelons of government may reflect a desire for a new set of leaders. While there are individual reasons that explain the dislike for each official, the association with President Arroyo seems to be a common thread.
Still, despite the jitters about glitches in automated elections that could delay a turnover, it is widely expected that President Arroyo will step down after nine years in office—the longest term ever served by a president after Ferdinand Marcos—and give way to a new leader. She will be the second, and very likely the last, president to be installed in office by a people power rebellion. From 2010 onwards, the country will see itself through the normal, single six-year terms of presidents. 

People power fatigue has, years ago, crept into the populace, and the military has been focused on fighting two insurgencies, a criminal-terrorist group, and keeping order in politically volatile places. 

Rule of law

Next year, a keystone of our democracy will be tested once again when cases will be filed against President Arroyo for human rights violations and graft and corruption.  The new leader will thus address the tricky question of how to deal with the sins of the past. Leaders often balance between focusing on the present and looking back at the past.

Will the next president be resolute in upholding the rule of law when dealing with mistakes and excesses of Arroyo and her family?

In other countries, the long arm of the law has caught up with leaders who have committed crimes. There appears to be no safe place for their kind.

Peru is a stunning example because it was its own Supreme Court that went after a former president. This trial is so important because international tribunals, the New York Times wrote, are “unlikely to have the cleansing or educational power of a country’s own judicial system affirming the primacy of law.”
In a landmark human-rights case, a Peruvian Supreme Court three-member panel in April 2009 sentenced former President Alberto Fujimori to 25 years in prison for his involvement in a military death squad during a conflict with guerrillas in the 1990s. The verdict came after more than a year of trial that was broadcast on national television.

What happened in Peru hits close to home. It tells us that our own legal systems—led by the Supreme Court—can take on the powerful. This may be a big reason that President Arroyo has packed the Court. She would have appointed all 15 of the justices by the time she leaves office in June 2010. 
Political parties

Our system of political parties, another keystone of our democracy, is an area crying out for change. The party system continues to deteriorate for as long as politics is personality-centered, politicians who switch parties are not sanctioned, and campaign-finance laws are toothless. As we’ve already seen, party-shifting has taken on a new dimension, with the phenomenon of politicians “guesting” as candidates of other parties. 

Loren Legarda leads the pack of “guest candidates”: she has not left the Nationalist People’s Coalition but is running with the Nacionalista Party as its vice-presidential bet. More “guest candidates” populate the senatorial slates with polar opposites Satur Ocampo and Liza Maza of Bayan Muna and the dictator’s son, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., running together under the NP banner.

It is unclear on what principles the guests and their hosts agree. But as transients, guests can say good-bye anytime, and their hosts can boot them out anytime as well. The blurred lines between parties have disappeared such that party-hopping has become completely painless.  


Will change come from a most unexpected place? 

A warm sliver of hope arises out of Mindanao, with the recent renewal of talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The participation of other countries—Japan, United Kingdom, Turkey—and international NGOs such as the Asia Foundation and Conciliation Resources may give a boost to the talks and help both sides strike a political deal to end the Muslim insurgency.

But beyond that, much more intensive reforms are needed to fix the military and tame armed civilians who have become the private militia of powerful politicians. Moreover, the self-interested politics that defined the relations between Manila and Maguindanao has got to go. 

After all, the dark events that jolted us did not come from rebels who have been fighting for decades but from political allies of Malacanang, buoyed by government largesse and firepower, who feared an end to their domination of Maguindanao.