Resurrecting the golden years of Phil politics

Wednesday, 31 March 2010 00:00
The Manila Times

There was a time when the likes of Manuel L. Quezon, Sergio Osmeña Sr., Manuel Roxas, Camilo Osias, Quintin Paredes, Gil Puyat, Raul Mang-lapus, Ramon Magsaysay, Claro M. Recto, Lorenzo Tañada, Lorenzo Sumulong, Jose Diokno, Arturo Tolentino, Ninoy Aquino and Jovito Salonga loomed large in Philippine politics. These giants were men of unquestioned integrity and patriotism. They were the main reasons why politicians then were held in high esteem and why politics had drawn the best and the brightest among the youths.

Most of my contemporaries when we were young dreamt of being a mayor, congressman, senator and even president someday. It was easy to dream then. Election was peaceful and inexpensive. In my hometown, Lupao, Nueva Ecija, the losers conceded immediately and even went to the house of the winners to congratulate them. On the national level, I never heard of any election protest until in 1971 when there was a tight contest for the eighth senatorial slot between, if my memory serves me right, Manda Elizalde and Alejandro Almendras, both of the Nacionalista Party.

Most of the dreams of serving the people died when President Marcos declared martial law in 1972. For a moment, after the restoration of democracy in 1986, those youthful dreams were resurrected with bright graduates running for public office. But that was 24 years ago. Today, the best and the brightest among the youth shun politics, as if politics is a dreaded disease. One of my favorite senators, Edgardo J. Angara (SEJA), once said that “politics is no longer an inspiring field.” An examination of the official list of candidates for congressman and senator shows that a big number of the candidates belong to political dynasties. Chances are, most of them will get elected.

And that’s the problem. A popular name is a distinct advantage in an election campaign but it is no guarantee that quality service would be given to the public. SEJA commented that a number of elected officials have no basic grasp of good governance and public policy. If many of them have not prepared themselves for the office they won, then it is not at all surprising why politicians have fallen in the eyes of the people. And as long as political contests are decided by money and name recall, the best and the brightest—most of them anyway—will continue to lack any motivation in entering public service.

Of course, at the heart of the move to resurrect Philippine politics is the emergence of enlightened and well-informed voters. SEJA said that voting for the right people will be a great antidote to this general sense of desperation. However, this takes a long time. A more immediate solution is the enactment of political reform measures, like strengthening political parties and banning turncoatism. Political parties should not be mere vehicles for candidacy but rather, as instruments to gain power so that the principles that they stand for will be implemented. Unless political parties are strengthened, they will be predominated by chameleons and elections will remain personality oriented. Loyalty? Who was it who said: “If you want loyalty, buy a dog, not a politician?”

The weakness of our party system is demonstrated in the current campaign where a number of politicians have shifted allegiances. If only we have a law banning turncoatism, this would not have been possible.

Early in the 14th Congress, Sen. Dick Gordon, who was then chairman of the Senate Committee on Revision of Laws, vowed to pass the bills on political reform and against turncoatism filed by SEJA, Jinggoy Estrada, Kiko Pangilinan and Ping Lacson. When I later noticed that the bills were not moving at all, I asked Dick why. He replied that then Senate President Manny Villar had asked him to hold the bills in abeyance. Villar confirmed this to me in a subsequent interview. He said that the reform bills could wait until after the 2010 elections.

I understand the reason why Villar and other politicians are not so enthusiastic about political reforms that SEJA has been pushing since 2001. If these reforms were passed before the elections, no politicians could switch parties during a campaign and within a certain period after the elections. Under these circumstances, Lakas-Kampi will continue to dominate the political scene even if it does not capture Malacañang. On the other hand, keeping the reforms in check would enable the Nacionalista Party led by Villar to draw turncoats, as he is doing right now.

I said I understand the reason why the reform bills were tabled, but I do not appreciate it. The same reasoning might be used in the next Congress by a legislator aiming for the presidency. Then, political reforms would remain a pipe dream, and politics would continue to be shunned by the best and the brightest.

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