Benjie Oliveros | The Presidential Derby and the Senate


MANILA — The official campaign period for the position of president has yet to begin (it starts Feb. 9) and yet one could already feel the campaign heating up. The people are already barraged with television ads disguised as infomercials and the proliferation of posters — minus the “vote for…” of course, lest the candidate be charged with electioneering. There are the presidential debates hosted by the big television networks, the constant playing of campaign jingles on the radio, and the tit-for-tat in newspapers. Name recall is the name of the game. No matter how vague the messages are, the objective of the candidates is maximum exposure.

However, the best example of how the presidential derby should not be played could be seen in the Senate. Perhaps the reason why the Senate hearings, specifically those pertaining to the C-5 extension, have stooped to such a low level of politicking is that all the leading presidential candidates are represented there: Manny Villar, Noynoy Aquino, and Erap Estrada, who is represented by his son Jinggoy Estrada. Dick Gordon and Jamby Madrigal are likewise senators and presidential aspirants, albeit highly unlikely to win.

The senators have been using every dirty trick in the book — mudslinging, insults, maneuverings, railroading and filibustering. And these have spilled to the tit-for-tat in the media.

As for Gilbert Teodoro, well, there are enough administration senators to push for his interests. The only thing the administration senators have to do is to let the opposition senators fight it out until they have destroyed each other. This is perhaps why the Lower House, which is dominated by the administration, is not joining the fray. Instead, majority of the honorable representatives made it a habit to absent themselves until the last session.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile is a different matter altogether. He is the one person who would benefit most if there would be a failure of elections. The senate president is third in the line of succession, and since the Filipino people would not tolerate an Arroyo holdover, Enrile stands to benefit from it. This is why Enrile is jealously guarding his position and has been viciously hitting back at those who he thinks have been working for his replacement: Senators Manny Villar and Edgardo Angara. Enrile is far from being a fair and objective senate president, he is an aspiring president-in-waiting.

With the way the Senate has been acting, the presidential election campaign has turned into a true derby, in the Filipino sense of the word, a race and a cockfight.

Why can’t the presidential elections be contested on the basis of track record and platforms? Why does it have to be slugged out through dirty politicking, media visibility, and showbiz antics?

It is because not even one among the presidential candidates has a track record of genuinely working for the majority of the Filipino people.

On the other hand, all the leading candidates have skeletons in their closets: Villar has his C-5 extension issue; Noynoy has the Hacienda Luisita land problem; Estrada was ousted because of his ostentatious display of wealth, which came from dubious sources; Teodoro, who is far down the surveys but is the administration bet, has to answer for the extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and other human rights violations committed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines while he was defense secretary. Added to this, the recent testimony of Toto Mangungudatu revealed that Teodoro tried to dissuade the former from running for governor against the Ampatuans with the veiled threat that violence would befall on him if he does not heed his advice.

Elucidation of platforms could have somehow made up for the lack in substantial track record of serving the interests of the majority. However, platforms of government are hardly being discussed by the candidates. At most, they have been expressing motherhood statements and vague promises. The most the people could get from presidential debates are the candidates’ position on issues being fed by the host. Thus, if one listens carefully, you would notice that they all express essentially the same answers.

For example, in one forum, when the candidates were asked how they would prevent the Maguindanao massacre from happening, they all answered that they would dismantle private armies without delving deep into the roots of the problem and elaborating on how they intend to address this. Private armies and warlordism are a result of the monopoly of big tracts of land by a few families who use force — private armies — to protect their land from the multitude of landless peasants. But not one among them discussed how they would dismantle the political, military, and economic power of big landlords — through a genuine agrarian reform program.

In another forum, when the candidates were asked whether they would prosecute the Arroyos for the numerous corruption and human rights violation cases that it is involved in, they all answered that they would let justice, meaning the courts, take its course. Well, this had been the same track followed by all post-martial law administrations. It has been almost two and a half decades since the Marcos dictatorship has been ousted and the Marcos family has not been made to answer for its crimes against the Filipino people. On the contrary, they are back in politics.

The Senate, which had its finest moments when it blocked the railroading designs of the administration-dominated Lower House, is now revealing its worst form because the May 2010 elections are just around the corner and the Senate has always been a jumping board for those who would want to become president. Sad as it is, the disappointing state of the Senate and the sorry state of the election campaign, and the election itself, is merely a reflection of the dismal and backward state of Philippine society. (

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