For months now, I have been struggling.
There are times when I think my brain would explode into tiny, unrecognizable pieces. There are moments when I want to smash my head against the nearest wall. There are instances when I long to shout at the top of my lungs. There are occasions when I feel like tearing my hair out. And, then, there are those split seconds when I am itching to throw in the towel.
But, I am an intelligent and responsible voter. And what most intelligent and responsible voters do is to study the choices laid before them.
So, that’s what I did.
Rodrigo Duterte is the country’s real-life Punisher. Tough-talking and foul-mouthed, he is able to endear himself with the disillusioned majority of Filipinos with his promise of getting rid of criminality within the first six months of his presidency.
Jejomar Binay is a leech in a vice-presidential suit. If King Midas has the unusual ability to turn everything he touches into gold, Binay has the uncanny talent to bleed dry any office he handles.
Grace Poe is the ambitious political newbie who once renounced her Filipino citizenship to fully embrace the country that coddled her and her family. Also, her campaign is said to be heavily funded by Danding Cojuangco.
Miriam Defensor Santiago is the feisty senator who has earned for herself the moniker The Iron Lady of Asia. Despite her choice of a running mate, some people consider her the best among the presidential aspirants for her meritorious academic, professional and moral background. I would have seriously considered supporting her bid, too, if she were not battling Stage IV Lung Cancer. But as it is, she was stuttering and trembling and could hardly stand during the last presidential debate — this, despite her earlier pronouncement that she has already beaten cancer.
That leaves me with only one choice. You.
AND I AM NOW TAKING A LONG, HARD LOOK AT THE REAL MAR ROXAS.
All the criticisms hurled at you by your critics, political opponents and their respective supporters are anchored on only three major issues: (1) You come from old money, (2) Your supposed incompetence and lack of compassion for the downtrodden, and (3) You happen to be part of the present administration’s Daang Matuwid platform.
Allow me, Sir, to dissect the said issues — carefully, thoroughly, one at a time.
True, you are a scion of the rich, prominent and powerful Roxas and Araneta clans. True, you went to the most exclusive schools, even earning your Economics degree at the prestigious Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, one of the top business schools in the world. True, you were the 4th richest member of President Aquino’s cabinet in 2014. And, it is also true that based on your SALN, you have the highest net worth among the five presidential candidates today.
But the circumstance of your birth cannot be helped. You were born rich and there’s nothing wrong with that. Neither is there something to be ashamed of about that.
When Mel Tiangco asked you in an interview, “Bakit gusto nyo pang maging presidente? You have everything.” Your response, “While I may have everything, my countrymen do not.”, could have easily been misconstrued as a line akin to what our traditional politicians deliver to elicit a favorable reaction from the electorate. But coming from you, that statement, laced with so much sincerity and conviction, was some sort of an affirmation – a vow even – that you made to yourself when you entered politics. You wanted to serve your fellow Filipinos while protecting the legacy of a good name and good governance that your father and grandfather left behind.
Over the years of your public service, you managed to prove that, instead of having your privileged upbringing as a hindrance, you used it as your motivation and inspiration in helping and reaching out to the less privileged.
Among your most notable pro-poor initiatives are the Cheaper Medicines Act (RA 9502) that reduces the maximum retail price of 22 essential medicines by up to 50%, the Tanggal Buwis Law (RA 9504) which exempts minimum wage earners from paying income taxes, the Amended RA 9994 that provides senior citizens with free maintenance medicines for diabetes & high blood, and the Salintubig Program through which water supply systems were provided to 445 municipalities all over the country.
There are many other moneyed politicians like you, Sir. But, unlike them, you did not use your position to protect your or your family’s interests. In all your 23 years in public service, your name has remained untainted by any allegation of corruption. So if I am to choose between a candidate who was born into poverty but is now faced with numerous corruption allegations AND a candidate who was born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth but has maintained his integrity while trying to break down the barrier between him and the people he serves — I will choose the latter. Hands down.
INCOMPETENCE AND LACK OF COMPASSION
Philippines is now the Call Center capital of the world. The country’s BPO industry is on track to meet its goal of 1.3 million jobs and $25 billion in revenues (8% of GDP) by the end of this year. The industry boom in the early 2000s is heavily credited to your initiatives during your tenure as the DTI secretary, earning you the title “Father of the Call Center Industry in the Philippines”.
You were also dubbed Mr. Palengke because of your various palengke-based programs that promoted consumer welfare and protection.
You know the issues that every ordinary Juan and Juana face on a daily basis, and you endeavour to address them. For education, you authored the Fair Education Act; for peace and order, you implemented the anti-crime strategy Oplan Lambat Sibat, you accomplished Isang Baril Bawat Isang Pulis, you launched the Project SAFE KAm in crime-prone areas in the NCR, and you modernized the Bureau of Fire Protection; for livelihood and economy, you promoted the development of SMEs through SULONG and the Magna Carta for Small Businesses, you established a Public Employment Service Office (PESO) in all municipalities, you protected the Filipino international seafarers by placing all the local maritime institutions under MARINA, and you spearheaded the creation of the Air Passenger Bill of Rights; and for local government empowerment, you enforced Bottom Up Budgeting (BUB) that provides budget for LGU-determined programs.
When the country was besieged by three tragedies in three consecutive months in 2013 — the Zamboanga armed conflict in September, the 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Cebu and Bohol in October, and the Supertyphoon Yolanda in Samar and Leyte in December —, you were always in the thick of things, serving as the government’s link to the victims. You were heavily criticized for your “slow” responses by people who were not even there. But, unaffected, you persisted in meeting the immediate needs of the victims.
You received the vindication you badly needed when no less than the United Nations lauded the government “for working closely with the international community to coordinate support and to avoid duplication of efforts” in the wake of Super Typhoon Haiyan, the world’s most powerful storm to ever make landfall.
THE DAANG MATUWID BANNER
PNoy may have committed some mistakes, he may have made some wrong decisions, and he may have occasional lapses in judgement (which I’m sure he’d be made answerable for once he steps down from office), but I believe that the President is squeaky clean and is genuinely concerned for the country. That should account for something.
Filipinos should also learn to give credit when and where credit is due.
Under PNoy’s administration and amid global uncertainties, the country continues to enjoy a robust economic growth. (For more information on this, click here.) The number of 4Ps recipients have ballooned from .79 million in 2010 to 4.39 million as of mid-2015, Philhealth coverage is now at 90% (with full coverage for all senior citizens), we have much improved revenue collections (thanks to Commissioner Henares!), and for the first time in history, a Supreme Court Chief Justice was impeached, a former President and three sitting Senators were put behind bars (in a manner of speaking) and a host of other big names investigated due to PDAF-related charges. (For a complete list of PDAF scam defendants, click here.)
Your running mate, Leni Robredo, said it best. “Hindi po perpekto ang ating gobyerno pero hindi po natin maikakaila na ang buhay po natin ngayon, labis na mas mabuti na kumpara noong anim na taong nakalipas.” On Daang Matuwid, she had this to say, “Ang mga pagkukulang ay pupunuan, ang mga pagkakamali ay isasaayos.”
Finally, Sir, I think that it would benefit our fellow Filipinos if they understand that it takes more than six years (a far cry from Mayor Duterte’s six months!) to completely rid the country of most of its ills. The important thing is that the foundation is already laid; the momentum is on our side. Rocking it will definitely have an adverse effect on our otherwise smooth-sailing development.
Also, not every change is good. Not every change promotes progress. Not every change brings out the best in us.
What we really need at this point is someone who would safeguard and nurture the country’s hard-earned gains. What we really need is continuity.
Be warned, though, Sir.
When you win, we will remain vigilant. We will watch your every move. We will be here to give you a pat on your back for a job well done, or a slap in the back of your head for every foolish act. So, don’t be an asshole, Sir, okay?
Huwag kang lilihis mula sa Daang Matuwid.
Lorelei B. Aquino (Mom On A Mission)