The Manila Times - May 13 election is a battle for the nation’s future

By Yen Makabenta | The Manila Times

First word
DON’T be deceived by the lack of drama and intensity in the ongoing election campaign. The May 13 midterm election is more consequential than many of us realize.

It will be far-reaching in its impact, and more significant than the media’s superficial portrayal of issues. It could shape the politics of 2022, when the nation elects a new president to succeed Rodrigo Duterte.

When the stakes and costs of the midterms are weighed and reckoned, we will see it for what it is: a battle for the future of the nation.

The administration and its allies and the opposition coalition offer the nation two competing visions of that future. In less than two weeks, the national electorate must decide which vision accords with their hopes for the future, for themselves and for national life.

Two competing visions
Peter Vail, the professor of management and creator of the theory of ’high-performing systems,’ has described in clear terms the lofty concept of vision in a famous essay titled, “Visionary Leadership.”

He said: “We define vision as an expression that does not merely describe why an organization exists and what products and services it intends to deliver.

“A vision is a portrayal of an organization’s intended activities and character in vivid terms that capture the organization’s human meaning and value.“

The essential leadership act is to give people a sense of common purpose.

He cites as one example of effective visioning Bell System’s articulation of its purpose at the time of its founding as AT& T: “We will build a telephone system so that anyone, anywhere in the world, can talk with anyone else, cheaply, quickly, and satisfactorily.”

A political party or coalition needs to have a much pithy eloquence in its visioning to capture minds during an election. They need to learn from the way corporate organizations shape their visions in the world today.

The objective and the vision of President Duterte and his administration in the May elections is to obtain a majority of seats in Congress, so they can have the support of clear majorities in the House and the Senate, as well as majorities in local government units across the country.

Through these majorities, DU30 will strive to realize his vision of modernization of infrastructure throughout the archipelago, and the achievement of growth that will propel the country to middle-class status.

Opposition’s vision
At the other end, the opposition coalition led by the Liberal Party aspires to win a sufficient number of seats in both houses of Congress that will enable it to mold a strong minority. Through this, they plan to critique, influence or even obstruct legislation vital to President Duterte’s program.

They have denounced the administration’s conduct of the war on drugs. They have raised an alarm about the administration‘s deals with China. They have warned of the danger of the country’s falling into a debt trap. They are fomenting anti-Chinese feeling in the country at a time when many believe good relations with China will be salutary for the achievement of DU30’s ambitious economic vision.

The administration offers the nation a vision of rapid growth and development.

The opposition warns of pitfalls in the march to development and proposes curbs in programs and agreements.

It is a classic choice before the nation: support for the Duterte program of development and national strengthening or support for the opposition’s counsel of more cautious development policies and programs.

On the web, the Liberal Party talks of a return to the policies of the Daang Matuwid program of former President Benigno Aquino 3rd. They dream of wearing yellow again.

Vision of the public interest
It helps in crystalizing the elections by remembering that we are electing nearly the ramparts of an entire government across the entire archipelago.

Except for the presidency, 12 Senate seats, and the composition of the barangay councils, nearly all elective positions in the country are at stake in the May balloting.

In summary, the following elective positions will be contested:
– 12 seats in the Senate

– All seats in the House of Representatives

– All provincial-level elected positions in the provinces

– All city-level elected positions in the cities

– All municipal-level elected positions in the municipalities.

The Filipino voter will grapple on election day with the lengthiest election ballot in the world.

And yet Filipinos turn out in great numbers in every national election.

In short, the stakes in the coming midterm elections are high.

Control of the House of Representatives and the Senate is at stake. Because of its potential impact on President Duterte’s economic program, this is a most important election.

On the local government level, the elections will determine local leadership that will have the potential to bring their constituencies to the hearth fire of development. They could end the shameful tie of local governments to the drug lords.

Holding Duterte accountable
In an important way, the May elections offers the electorate also a chance to render their judgment of the administration of President Duterte.

It has been a tense three years of governance under DU30, which has been highlighted by some policy successes, by flirtations with one-man rule, by his freewheeling and foul-mouthed public speaking, and by his constant baiting of the Catholic Church.

The balloting is an opportunity for the people to hold Duterte and the administration accountable for the state of the nation today.

Is there basis for thinking that the nation will benefit from the next three years under DU30, if he gets a supportive Congress?

Or will the nation fare better with Otso Diretso politicians in Congress? Will local communities benefit with Liberals and their allies holding nearly 50 percent of local government executive positions?

In our system of government, legislative enactment of a president’s program can be undermined by a determined minority. Strong minorities are a formula for obstructionism and policy irresolution.

A ‘false choice’ election
I am tempted to apply the term “false choice” to the decision that is posed to the Filipino electorate in May.

There is ostensibly a choice, because there are a great number of candidates, and a great number of political parties. But in fact, there is no demarcation or polarization of policy positions between the parties and candidates.

The administration and the parties in nominal coalition with it have not spelled out a clear political message or policy position before the electorate that can serve as a basis for choosing. With Hugpo and PDP Laban vying for primacy, the administration liner is fractured.

The opposition and the parties cobbled together to form Otso Diretso have not shaped a coherent political message and program for the election.

In truth, I believe we are faced here with candidates whose sole position and primary aim is just to get elected to Congress and get into the public payroll.

Whether they are running for the Senate or the House, the primary aim is to get into the Congress payroll, and secure a chance to come by the lucrative salaries and opportunities for pork barrel.

President Duterte, whose name is not on the ballot, has a clear message and program for the people to endorse or reject in the elections. The candidates, administration-backed and opposition alike, do not. They are strictly running for themselves.