Back to The Future

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

The UNA and the Liberal Party announced their preliminary starting line-ups for next year’s Senatorial elections and it is the usual suspects of political names, now bolstered by their offspring. Next year’s Senate could have three families each with two members  comprising 25% of the votes, ten members whose parents/husband had previously served in the Senate, and upto two thirds of the body coming from long-time political families.

With over 90 million people to choose from, this must be a sad state of affairs.

When P-Noy was elected, the Filipino hoped this would be the start of change, a transition from the politics of power, money, fear, and exclusion that has characterized this country; to the politics of hope, inclusion, merit and ideals. We envisioned ours would finally be a nation of access, values and opportunity.

Such, seemingly, is not to be.

If the list of our future leaders is an indication, we are back to square one, to politics as an extension of money, to family dynasties, to political feudalism.

What happened to the promise unfurled in that sunny day of July 2010 in the plains of Luneta? Where and why did we slip back?

The task of mending a broken political culture was difficult to start with. At best it was the work of a generation but we had hoped the journey could commence. We never got going and we must ask ourselves why.

Here are some possible reasons:

P-Noy Got Waylaid On The Way To Camelot- The President had everything going for him at the outset, an unprecedented popularity, an overwhelming majority of the House, a willing Senate, and an economy on the upswing –the stuff Obama would kill for- yet he did not leverage these assets quickly enough. The administrative demands, the externalities, and an inexperienced Malacanang team, relegated the President to fighting often times petty battles rather than the bigger war of transforming the political culture of this country.

The Administration’s  “Daan Matuwid” Was Too Narrow A Base To Work With- The anti-corruption drive was instrumental in reviving business confidence and our national aspirations, but it was arguably too innocent and pure. Its strength was its weakness. The Private-Public Partnerships took time to launch because businessmen complained there was not enough room for slippages. The Government wanted to go from zero to hero without the friction costs. Yet the moral imperative must sometimes be balanced with the reality that quantum change rarely happens to perfection. Even successful department stores allow a percentage for pilferage.

Some have said the halo of integrity meant the Government would not dialogue even when persuasion rather than confrontation was a better option. Being right is not always enough, especially in politics. Sometimes one has still to sell one’s case.

There Is No Program To Institutionalize The Gains- Anti-corruption is a wonderful thing, but the philosophical buzz has to be converted into a permanent, working module for the bureaucracy. The President understands this, that honest Government must survive his term yet we cannot see that this has been internalized, that any of his gains will last beyond 2016.

The Economic Benefits Have Not Seeped Quickly Or Fairly Enough To The Masses- Our economy has done well enough but the benefits have been largely to big business and the wealthy. Recent surveys confirm this, that the Administration scores weakest on its handling of the economy, an irony given our credit standing, the stock market and property prices are at record highs. Juan de la Cruz was not invited to the party.

Our Judiciary Was Never On Board- Even as the Executive and Legislative branches forged ahead, the Judiciary was never in on the ride for change. The Ampatuans and corporate criminals continue to escape justice even as the average Filipino, daily, is denied it.

There Was No Grass Roots Movement, No Nurturing Of New Leaders- Permanent change must start at the bottom. Educated leaders come from educated voters. Preoccupied with high office, P-Noy neglected the very forces that got him there and that were his most valuable agents of change, the NGO’s, the youth and the intelligentsia. This yellow army was abandoned at the Presidential gate.

The nominees for elected positions next year tell us we are quickly retreating to the place many toiled so hard to exit in 2010.

Is there time and means enough to escape our past or are we doomed to its clutches? In the next issue we will look into this.

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About Leo Alejandrino

The blog is principally a commentary on Philippine politics and economics.
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