Looking for a champion

Vantage Point | BusinessWorld

Manny Pacquiao has every right to aspire for the Presidency, for which post he could run by 2022 when he turns 43. Currently 34 years old, Pacquiao will qualify as a candidate for the post in 2019, when, according to the most sanguine predictions (or most pessimistic, depending upon one’s preferences), Jejomar Binay, having been elected in 2016, would be in the middle of his term as the 16th President of the Republic.

That’s to start the count with Emilio Aguinaldo, who was President of the First Philippine Republic, and to include in the list Manuel Quezon, who was President during the Commonwealth Period; Jose P. Laurel, who was President under Japanese auspices during World War II; and Sergio Osmeña, who was interim President in the restored Commonwealth.

Under the current Constitution, no qualifications other than being a natural born Filipino, a registered voter able to read and write, and a resident of the Philippines 10 years before the election, on the day of which he must be 40 years of age, are required for anyone to run for the Presidency.

In addition to the usual lawyers and career politicians, the Philippines has had a housewife, a general, and an actor and college drop-out among other heads of state. Although far from leading the country to a new era of prosperity, justice and peace, both the housewife and the general turned out to be not half as bad as the prophets of doom were predicting ‚ which, in a country of traditionally low expectations and a preference for the lesser evil, was thought to be better than the malevolent rule of the last lawyer and career politician to hold the post.

One could argue that anyone would have fared better compared to Marcos — but that was until Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo stumbled on the post. The jury is still out on whether or not her nine-year watch outdid Marcos’s 21 years in terms of corruption, human rights violations, and the destruction of practically every Philippine institution.

In the extremely centralized and essentially feudal system of governance in these islands, the President, who in addition to being head of state is also commander-in-chief of the armed forces, is powerful enough to decide the fate and future of the Filipino millions and of the country they call home.

The reality of Presidential power and prerogatives, in addition to his or her presumed status as lord and master of all he or she surveys, is among the more convincing arguments raised by political scientists against the claim that the three branches of government are coequal (the President rather than Congress has virtual control of the purse, and what’s more can bring his powers of persuasion to bear enough on Congress to cause the impeachment of Chief Justices), and that the Philippines is a democracy.

As a result, much of how the country is governed, how it is developing if at all, and consequently, how life has turned out for the Filipino millions and how it’s likely to be for those yet to be born, is mostly the handiwork of its Presidents.

The conflicting commitments of Corazon Aquino’s transitional administration — to the restoration of democracy on the one hand, and on the other, the preservation of elite interests — created a contradiction between the full exercise of democratic rights and the unchanged and unchanging focus of the unreformed police and military on the use of state coercion to preserve those interests, for example. The same contradiction persisted in the Fidel Ramos administration, which fused into one combination a seeming faith in the democratic ideal of debate and choice (its congressional allies repealed the Anti-Subversion Law), while, practically in the same breath, strengthening the coercive powers of the State lodged in the police and the military.

The consequence is a supposed State commitment to change while its coercive apparatus resists any indications of it; a declared democratic polity characterized by rigged elections, repression and continuing human rights violations including extrajudicial killings; a State devoted in words to progress and modernity while protective of a feudal land tenancy system in practice; and a proclaimed independent entity that again and again has voluntarily put itself at the mercy of the supposed benevolence and goodwill of another power.

Marcos and Arroyo did attempt to resolve the contradiction — in favor of where elite interests lie, which meant, for the former, erecting on the ruins of “the show window of democracy in Asia” a civilian-military dictatorship, and for the latter, dismissing, without even the decency of a proclamation, the Bill of Rights as an unnecessary formality. Both also pandered to the country’s former colonizer to assure themselves that they would remain in power, but eventually had to surrender to the demands for accountability of an outraged people.

The question of the decades since 1946 has remained the same in the present: when will the contradiction between democracy and repression, independence and subservience, real development and its illusion be resolved in favor of the interests of the Filipino people who, for over a century since 1896, have been waiting for someone to champion their aspirations for authentic democracy, independence and social transformation?

What’s since been obvious is that a new type of leadership is central to the resolution of that conflict in favor of the Filipino millions. But what has been happening is hardly what is needed, but changes in individuals rather than types. Whether lawyer or housewife, former general, actor, or playboy, the individuals who have assumed the Presidency of this Republic have either been from the same class that has had a monopoly of power over the political system since Commonwealth days, or their surrogates.

Although of common origins, Manny Pacquiao has morphed into a pillar of the same class as his former betters, many of whom, for political expediency, have attached themselves to him like barnacles.

Unless something near-miraculous occurs between now and 2022, and he becomes a people’s champion in more than a boxing sense, a Pacquiao presidency is unlikely to lead to the resolution of the fundamental conflict in Philippine governance in favor of the poor and powerless. We’ve had lawyers, landlords, an actor, a general, a housewife, and a playboy for President. They’ve hardly made a difference in the lives of millions of Filipinos. Why not a boxer?

Comments, blogs and other columns: www.luisteodoro.com, and www.cmfr-phil.org

Luis V. Teodoro is on Facebook and Twitter (@luisteodoro)
Published in Business World
1 August 2013

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