The making of a presidential candidate

What makes a person think he or she should be president of the Philippines?  This question fascinates me because the way it is answered tells a lot about that person’s political values, or ideas of what is acceptable in politics.

Three probable candidates cite the surveys.  They say they will run because “the people” want them to run.  Another reluctant candidate admits he is just responding to the prodding of close friends and influential associates who have all offered to support his candidacy. At least two politicians want the presidency because, having occupied important positions in government, they assume they ought to be in the political line of succession.  Still others cite their long record of public service, or their supposed achievements as technocrats as attested to by local and international magazines.

We have a more or less clear idea here of what our leading politicians think the presidency is all about.  They either think it’s about sheer popularity, or familiarity with government, or political seniority, or technical competence, or simple “winnability”.   We seldom hear of presidentiables providing a warrant for their ambition by referring to a long process of leadership selection.

Genuine leaders emerge from the unceasing contest of strength and intellect in the national life.  They are leaders because their active engagement in public life has allowed them to define a clear and consistent view of the present course of the nation and its future directions.  They are leaders because they have managed to develop a real constituency for the ideas they champion.

Elections do not make leaders.  They only serve as a confirmation process for leaders who have already asserted and proved themselves in the daily battles and debates over crucial issues.

Anointment by the incumbent, surveys, or endorsements by the media, or by a group of moneyed backers likewise do not make leaders.  They may thrust some individuals to public attention, and give them the illusion of self-importance, but they do not confer upon them the kind of mettle which a leader exemplifies and hones through long struggle.

A leader inspires confidence, optimism, pride, and a readiness to contribute to the realization of common purposes.  The original meaning of “charisma” is lost when we describe as “charismatic” individuals who are simply popular.  “Charisma” means a gift of grace, a set of qualities highly valued and relied upon by the community.

Unfortunately, the word has been appropriated by all kinds of adventurers – charlatans who peddle instant prosperity, cultists who mesmerize people with their utopias, and politicians and their imagemakers who cynically prey upon the ignorance of citizens.   Today, the making of a leader is perceived to be no different from the launching of a new product.  The thin line that separates illusion from reality is bridged by the clever deployment of words and images.

“Simulation” is how Nietzsche once called it – “the means by which the weaker, less robust individuals preserve themselves, since they are denied the chance of waging the struggle for existence with horns or the fangs of beasts of prey…. deception, flattery, lying and cheating, talking behind the back, posing, living in borrowed splendor, being masked, the disguise of convention, acting a role before others and before oneself – in short the constant fluttering  around the single flame of vanity…”

What is interesting, if it were not so tragic, is how the free media abet this wholesale mendacity.  Instead of offering a different vocabulary by which to evaluate the self-promoting language of the politically ambitious, they often allow themselves to become its purveyors.  It is bad enough that anyone should think this early of selling newspapers or gaining a broadcast audience by filling the air with names for the 1998 presidential election.  It is worse when media fail to remind the public of what it should be looking for.

It is premature, some people may say, to be talking of issues.  But how else, if we wish to be in control of our fate,  should we be choosing our leaders if not by their appreciation of issues?  I believe that for anyone to presume that he/she could be the president of our country is also to believe that he/she may have imaginative answers to 10 crucial questions of our time.

First, the issue of revenue-generation.  How do you perceive the role of taxation in relation to borrowing, privatization, and other schemes now being employed?  Second, the issue of social services.  Which services, and to what extent, should the state assume as its main responsibility and priority?  Third, what is your strategy for sustained economic development.  Fourth, what is your approach for ending mass poverty?  Fifth, what is your vision for Philippine education? Sixth, how do you intend to end corruption?  Seventh, how will you fight crime and raise the quality of the justice system?  Eighth, how will you make decentralization and local initiative work in our country? Ninth, how will you ensure the further democratization of our society? And finally, how will you stop the further degradation of the environment?

I raise these issues here as an open questionnaire for those who think of themselves as serious contenders for the presidency.  As soon as I hear from them or read their vision, I shall use this column to describe and examine their position and record on this broad range of issues in the interest of political literacy.


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