The Manila Times : We are asking the wrong questions!

News & Interviews
1 June 2021

By Fr. Ranhilio Callangan Aquino | The Manila Times

WILL it be Grace Poe or Jojo Binay perhaps, or Bongbong Marcos or Sara Duterte-Carpio or Isko Moreno? It bothers me tremendously that this early, we are asking the wrong question - one more time around. We should have learned. We should have matured but it does not look like it at all.

I think we should all be talking about what our country needs, the direction it should take, the difficult choices it must make. How do we reconfigure Philippine national life when this pandemic is over - or perhaps, more realistically, with a lingering pandemic? What do we do about the West Philippine Sea and about asserting rights that have been declared, by legal processes, to be ours? How do we deal with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front insurgents with whom we have had many stalled peace talks, who continue their marauding and prowling in the countryside? How do we address the glaring, embarrassing disparity between the stars garnered by elite universities in world-ranking systems? How should we keep incompetents out of public office?

We should be making up our minds about these questions and then require that political parties be more than seasonal tandems of convenience with hardly anything more than a common moniker to keep them together. This is, of course, not a new problem. It has often been remarked that the party system is virtually nonexistent in the Philippines. Now, of course, that triggers the hen-and-egg problem. Is it because parties are weak that politics is populist, or is it rather that parties are weak because we are populist in orientation?

If we think that parties are a good thing, and there are many reasons political scientists and theorists will advance, then we should be encouraging the formation of stable parties. But we really are not. Parties are registered but they are almost always immediately identified with whoever might be the dominant personality or the president of the party. And the parties that now exist advocate one thing, and one thing in common alone: their election to public office. This is a travesty of the party system and indeed one cause - or one indicator - of infantilism in public life.

In the draft Bayanihan Constitution that the committee of which I was part submitted under the leadership and the leading ideas of retired Chief Justice Reynato Puno, there were very clear exactions on political parties. As institutions of democracy, parties, we thought, ought to receive public support. So, tax deductions were offered to contributors to political parties and some kind of a "democracy fund" was envisioned, so that small and marginal parties that nevertheless offered a commendable platform could be helped by this fund. We were not going to allow candidates to switch parties after being elected into office, on pain of being booted out of it, on the theory that the people elected the candidate because of the program his party advanced.

But let us give the parties something to organize themselves about - and to mull over. And once more, the party machinery would be helpful in this respect. The nation is abuzz with issues, there is no lack of problems, no shortage in challenges. Let the think-tanks of the political parties come up first with a satisfactory identification of issues, and then let the members propose a party solution or a party approach. Those who have nothing to contribute to the discussion other than preening before television cameras or displaying pearly, white teeth should be shown the way out.

I think that we should not be looking for an alternative to Digong. We should be looking, if we are minded, for an alternative to the position he and his government have taken on vital national concerns, or perhaps the lack of any position. Of course, persons will still count, because someone can speak on a national issue with bravura but be slow to action, or worse, be totally clueless about going about solving it.

We are still asking the wrong questions, though, because in the main, we are eager to know who will be in the running without bothering so much with what one is running for!