Earlier today, Senator Grace Poe took the MRT without fuss, without bodyguards, just like an ordinary citizen would. The lines were long, as they typically were. The senator, whether it was a calculated political move, or not, did what others could not. Perhaps, it was easier for her to brave the lines, to ride the carriage of the masses. Perhaps, it was a fact-finding mission to better frame herself ahead of a hearing on the MRT at the Senate. So she get praised for rubbing elbows with mere mortals. She gets praised for sympathizing with pain.
President Aquino did the same when he first took office. He banned the wang wang, and chose to stop at all intersections. He took to eat at sidewalk vendors while visiting the United States— in stark contrast to the opulent dinners by the previous regime. Along the way, people forget this side of the President. People forget this side of the story.
Jesse Robredo too is fondly remembered as being a simple man. He rode public transport home. He took no airs, and was a humble man. What a nation would ours be with a man like Robredo at the helm?
The lesson of the Aquino presidency is lost to many. The simple lesson it brings is that what kind of man we elect on top sets the tone, and sets the direction. The policies come less so. They, much to many’s dismay come into second place to the quality of the leader’s moral fiber. It is what it is, for now, at least until the nation is more cosmopolitan than provincial.
Many critics will disagree, of course, with Aquino’s style of reform. Corruption of course is far from eradicated. We have many weaknesses that are only now coming to light. Many of the changes are in the form of layers, but many expect the reform agenda to be loud, and big. My expectation of Aquino’s agenda has been grounded, and well formed from the beginning. So I understand where he and his men come from. With Mr. Aquino, I knew from the get go— by intuition— this was the guy who would drive us forward, however imperfect, into the next tier.
I sympathize with many of Aquino’s critics because I find myself in the position that they are in now, at least, when considering a hypothetical Ms. Poe as president. Without doubt, Senator Poe is doing all the right things I have come to expect of a President of the Philippines. She is perhaps the kind of leader I’d like to see on top of the food chain. Better than the Binays’ who have shown such fervent desire for being the top dog, but none of the humility.
Grace Poe seems to make populist choices from the get go. She seems to do what Mr. Estrada should have done. I liked her championing the Freedom of Information bill. Didn’t really like that she didn’t add much substance to the bill. It seemed to me something that needs more beef (but I have settled on the idea that that is but a pipe dream). Her taking up the MRT route is another that suggest she has taken a populist stance, certainly, but the difference is, Ms. Poe seems have a tad more substance than Mr. Estrada does. (If anyone needs a reminder of the Estrada Presidency he needs to look no farther than what’s happening in Manila now).
So this is where my intuition kicks in. It kicks in to push hard on the breaks. I have never been a fan of populist positions. Well, populist in the sense that the policy panders to people, and that’s it. [Mr. Aquino’s policy also seems to favor people first, but very little pandering.]
The MRT is a broken system, of course. It is obvious. What isn’t is the systematic understanding of the problem. Many of its problems stem from its conception, and exasperated by pandering to the people needlessly such as a subsidy driven by political choices. Many of the problems of the MRT originate from the fact that this ought to have been a locally executed project— by the governments of Metro Manila, and in a sane, and rational world the Senate of the Philippines shouldn’t be operating on solving. This is a local matter that should have been initiated, and as problems arose, repaired locally.
Metro Manila is not the Philippines.
Such concept eludes many, and unlikely to change anytime soon.
While it is admirable that Ms. Poe rode the MRT, with certainly good, and great intentions to help solve a problem, I hope it would lead to the untying of a problem of epic proportion without pandering to the public.