An ABS-CBN News Channel program on Oct. 30 showed long lines of new-voter registrants in many Commission on Elections (Comelec) registration centers in cities across the country. Despite the 4 million new voters reported by the Comelec, many new voters who were not successful in registering were asking for still another extension of the registration period. And this was not because they were last-minute applicants.
Upon being interviewed, one said that it was the fourth time he had gone back to register, waiting in line for hours but not making the cut-off number every time. Apparently this was not uncommon, because others said that they had waited in line several times for up to eight hours but many still missed the cut.
When asked why she was very persistent in trying to register, one lady replied that it was high time for change and she wanted a better future for her children. This is a common theme among voters who are given the opportunity to express themselves as we approach our national election in May next year.
Another dramatic indication of this desire for change is the surprisingly early and sustained citizen involvement, reflected in the sudden flurry of political discourse immediately after the final-day filing of the certificates of candidacy of the presidential candidates. Since then, social media has been flooded with impassioned text messages, analytical commentaries, inspirational songs, political symbols, and even recruitment and volunteerism for political advocacy groups.
The question is, who of the six “serious” presidential aspirants (at least five, if one of them is merely a stand-in or a temporary proxy for a prospective replacement) will truly provide the change that the Filipino people are ardently hoping and praying for?
For starters, what are the major elements in the present situation our countrymen find themselves mired in that they want to change? Here are the festering issues:
•Their significantly degraded economic condition and present struggle to eke out a living (worsened by the government’s pathetic overall response to the COVID pandemic);
•The deadly war on drugs, which has already claimed thousands of Filipino lives in extrajudicial killings (EJKs), by some estimates more than half the death toll numbers of the pandemic;
• The continuous disrespect and disregard for the Constitution and existing laws in pursuit of political or personal agendas, and the accompanying assault on citizens’ rights;
•The controversial Anti-Terrorism Law, which, as expected, is proving problematic due to indiscriminate “Red-tagging” and abuse of suspects;
•The subservient attitude toward China and the lack of firm response to its illegal incursions into Philippine territory; and
•Taking the limelight lately, the unchecked corruption in many areas and levels of government, (aggravated by the incumbent’s obstructive stance against official efforts to uncover specific instances of big-time corruption).
So, what kind of a leader should we look for who can truly be the game changer? Sometime ago, I wrote a piece about an organization called People’s Choice Movement, a group of Christian organizations (Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical) whose aim is to guide voters in their choice of political leaders based on Christian principles and values. I will not go into the details of their very stringent evaluation and rating system, but the three main categories on which they base specific criteria have proven very helpful—character, competence and commitment.
Here I will focus mainly on character, and will apply it by selecting specific traits which will enable a prospective leader to effect the changes that Filipinos want.
First and foremost is integrity. Integrity is a larger concept than honesty. It literally means wholeness, where a person’s actions conform to his/her principles and beliefs. As a public servant, he/she should not condone corruption and must have a clean record for honesty, especially in public service. He/she must not engage in any form of cheating (e.g., vote buying and giving other illegal perks) to get elected. Most importantly, he/she must speak the truth without prevarication or evasion.
Character is also reflected in actions consistent with a candidate’s avowed adherence to democratic governance. He/she should: respect and strengthen our democratic institutions; follow the Constitution and existing laws; defend citizens’ basic human rights (e.g., must not condone and must speak against EJKs, must not justify authoritarian and dictatorial practices, past or present); hold past and present public officials who have committed crimes accountable under the law; be resolute in defending our country’s territorial rights against illegal incursions by any country.
The problem is that most of the present presidential candidates have avoided directly addressing some or all of the major issues cited earlier. Perhaps out of political convenience or plain diffidence toward the present administration, or simply because they are its obvious allies, they are not taking a position on these political and social ills which our people want to be rid of. Thus, they give the impression that their term will merely be a variation of the present regime, if not its outright continuation. In effect, they are not addressing the people’s desire for real change, focusing merely on the usual “benefits” they will bring to the table.
In any democracy, especially when the citizens are not satisfied with the national situation, there has to be a true opposition which will articulate its different approach to realize the changes people need and want. This calls for clearly identifying the ills the people are unhappy about, even if it displeases the incumbent administration.
So, where do the present aspirants for our country’s highest position stand on the specific issues mentioned? We hope to hear from them, but are not likely to for the most part, judging from their track record as former or present allies of the ruling power.
To put it bluntly, if we Filipinos want real change, the highest leader we are looking for today should be the antithesis of the one we presently have. Not a clone. Not a variant. Not even a silent enabler. That leaves us only with the last (wo)man standing. —CONTRIBUTED INQ