— Rappler (@rapplerdotcom) May 14, 2013
In the Japanese martial art of Jujitsu one gains victory not by superior strength, but by using the force of one’s opponent against him. This is what the leader of the “friendly” opposition Vice President Jojo Binay did to the administration in the 2013 senatorial elections.
Having defeated President Aquino’s heir apparent Secretary Mar Roxas in the 2010 vice presidential derby, Binay’s unrivalled popularity while in office and his links to two of the most revered names in Philippine politics (Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and ex-president Joseph Estrada) made “winnability” foremost in Team PNoy’s mind in considering candidates for its 2013 senate slate.
Having experienced the “tyranny of numbers” in the lead up to the impeachment trial of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona and in the subsequent push to have a number of its reform measures passed, the administration was not going to risk losing a majority of senate seats this time around. This caused the administration to take a “win at all costs” approach.
Its first move was to mend fences with its former rivals in the 2010 election. The entry of the Nacionalista Party’s standard bearers into the tent of Team PNoy spelled an about face for both parties. Senator Alan Peter Cayetano had started the TOPAK meme which maligned the president’s mental capacities. Senator Loren Legarda had called on him to undergo a psychiatric evaluation during the campaign. All that was swept under the rug as far as the administration was concerned.
After framing the contest between Messrs Aquino and Villar back in 2010 as one of “light v darkness”, the Villar’s were all of a sudden admitted among the “chosen ones” who would travel down the “Righteous Path” alongside the president. Not to worry, the administration said, since such a coalition was based on platforms, not personalities. Except that they avoided at every turn to define what that platform was.
When asked to identify the top 5 legislative proposals Team PNoy would push for if elected, its spokesman, Rep Miro Quimbo could only identify 4. “Let me get back to you on that” was his candid response. Unfortunately even the priorities he outlined didn’t figure in any formal policy document or in most of the endorsed candidates’ platforms.
When asked why there was no shared policy platform across Team PNoy, the undersecretary for strategy and communications, Manolo Quezon replied that midterms weren’t about policies but a referendum on the president. You either believe in him and his “chosen ones” or you don’t. So there you have it. The election was framed as a clash of personalities and their proxies, not as a contest of ideas, policies and visions for the country. Here’s what he said…
@thecusponline But I am not so sure if a policy-driven approach is fully compatible with human behavior.
— Manuel L. Quezon III (@mlq3) May 12, 2013
Consequently, the voters simply did what they have always done when faced with no real alternatives but the same old dynasties and incumbents: they went with those that connected with them on a deep emotional level, those with whom they felt a sense of shared destiny.
Due to the economic make-up of our electorate, that meant electing Nancy Binay even if she had no prior experience working in an official capacity in government. It also meant catapulting Grace Poe to pole position based on the memory of her deceased father and the playful use of her surname as an expression of respect.
Both these candidates scored high on our “trapo scale” dubbed the “pander-o-meter” based on an analysis of their personal platforms. Of course their policies were never scrutinised by the media. Neither did the intelligentsia perform its role in critically assessing the promises of each candidate (the absence of party-wide platforms made this task a lot more difficult than it should have been).
Health care reform, a key plank in Ms Binay’s platform was not given the kind of treatment it needed. She was never challenged on the feasibility of her proposals to provide free nutrition and medicine particularly to nursing mothers. In the case of Grace Poe, nobody noticed that her campaign was anchored on a coulda shoulda woulda basis committing her to nothing specific and nothing firm.
The candidates were allowed to promise the sun, moon and stars all the while pandering to the emotional pleasure zones of the electorate without the voice of reason being given an honest hearing. Social media was co-opted to suit the candidates’ purposes. There was no one calling them out on the false hopes and expectations that they were building.
Finally, in assessing the aftermath of Election 2013, what we will find is that although Team PNoy garnered a clear majority of seats that were up for grabs, it comes out the weaker party.
Sure, it now can boast of having a majority in both chambers of congress, but the political calculus facing its adherents will be daunting. Will they really pursue the tough and unpopular reforms that are needed to bring the country forward, especially now that the electoral bankability of the BInay dynasty remains utterly unassailable?
Secondly, the president does not have a clear, viable heir-apparent to challenge the Jojo Binay-Jinggoy Estrada machinery and name recall in 2016. Secretary Mar Roxas has not accepted his party’s draft to run perhaps due to his failure to define a narrative for his candidacy.
Only one of the Liberal Party’s three senatorial candidates is likely to win in this election, in large part due to the fact that he shares the same name as the president. Bam Aquino will be too young to contest the presidential elections in 2016 being a year shy of the minimum age requirement, repeating the fate of his late-uncle.
So that leaves the administration with a mere three years to cement its legacy before handing over the reins to its successor who is likely to come from the opposition. For failing to define its agenda and properly vet its allies prior to the elections, the administration now suffers the problem of having no clear mandate to implement whatever reforms it outlines afterwards.
The same thing happened following the 1986 people power uprising. Rather than develop a new breed of politicos based on principles and a common reform agenda, the revolutionary government of Cory Aquino accommodated and resuscitated the clans who ruled the country in the pre-Martial Law era allowing the children of its revolution to die in the ditches defending their cause.
Joseph Estrada once said that her government’s biggest mistake was letting guys like him back in (clever guy he truly is!). Only those like Jejomar Binay who were willing to “play by the rules” of the jungle survived.
Instead of taking the hard, difficult path of building a constituency for reform through principled, policy-driven politics and developing a new breed of politicians from inside its base, the second Aquino administration opted to go down the quick and easy path to success, just like the first.
For those that thought 2010 marked the beginning of an era of new politics, think again. The years 2010-16 might simply be an interlude, a case of trapo interrupted, where the country enjoyed a momentary respite from the worst forms of populist, predatory politics at the top, before old habits kicked in once again.
Image: courtesy of Rappler.com