Continuity, Reform or Departure

Dindo Manhit, Stratbase-ADRi President

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Image Source: The Philippine Star

With a few days before the national elections on 9 May 2016, the political heat has further intensified as the candidates vying for the highest position of the land compete neck and neck in wooing the majority of the Philippine electorate. In the 26-29 April 2016 ABS-CBN survey by Pulse Asia Research, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte remains the presidential frontrunner with 33% rating, followed by the administration’s standard bearer Mar Roxas (22%), Senator Grace Poe (21%), Vice President Jejomar Binay (17%), and Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago (2%).1 Meanwhile, in the 27 April-1 May 2016 nationwide survey conducted by The Standard Poll, Duterte retains his lead against other presidential candidates with 32%, followed by Poe (25%), Roxas (22%), Binay (15%), and Santiago (2%).2

Lastly, in the 01-03 May 2016 Social Weather Station (SWS) pre-election survey, Duterte is again at the forefront with 33% preference rating, followed by Poe (22%), Roxas (20%), Binay (13%), and Santiago (2%).3 Notwithstanding the results of the three latest surveys, the final outcome remains highly uncertain as a barrage of issues and controversies ranging from political to personal continues to surface in mainstream and social media in the final hopes of altering voters’ perception, and hence, preference.

Deconstructing the electoral phenomenon

Underlying all the hullabaloo and demagoguery that has come to define what some political analysts consider as the most polarizing presidential elections since 1992 are three competing narratives on and responses to the post-EDSA social, political and economic order:

On the one end of the spectrum, the yellow champions of “Daang Matuwid” program with Roxas at its helm paint a rosy picture of the status quo and claim that President Benigno Aquino’s good governance initiatives and critical structural reforms have successfully transformed the Philippines from being “the sick man of Asia” into “Asia’s rising tiger.”4 Roxas takes pride in the stellar achievements of the incumbent administration such as: improvement of the country’s competitive rankings (70th out of 178 countries as of 2016); credit rating upgrades from Fitch, Moody’s and S&P ratings; and reduction of debt-to-GDP ratio to 45.36% as of 2014, among others.5 Hence, he believes that the next administration must sustain the momentum that would ensure inclusive growth for all and unleash the potential of the Philippines as an economic tiger at par with its neighboring ASEAN countries.

In the middle of the spectrum rest the white vanguards of “Gobyernong May Puso” championed by Poe—the candidate who positions herself as the moderate political force seeking to advance the achievements of “Daang Matuwid” and correct the structural ills of the country left untouched by the Aquino’s program, but restraining herself from resorting to authoritarian rule. She hopes to concretize her vision of a progressive Philippines within the bounds of the present liberal democratic system through her 20-point agenda which ranges from education (i.e. maximization of digital technology for education, expansion of scholarship programs), agriculture (provision of more irrigation systems, mechanization) and infrastructure (increase of annual infrastructure budget to 7% of GDP, provision of support to the private sector in formulating an industrialization and IT plan), among others.6

On the other end of the spectrum lie the red zealots of Duterte’s “Tunay na Pagbabago” which talks of a country in crisis brought about by worsening criminality, corruption and illegal drug proliferation.7 Duterte criticizes the exclusivity and superficiality of Aquino’s “Daang Matuwid” as that which has benefited only a small segment of the political and business elite and has left out other segments of the population.8 He exposes the abstractness of GDP growth by juxtaposing it with the day-to-day suffering of Juan dela Cruz, from traffic jams and MRT mishaps in the metropolis to lack of farm-to-market roads and irrigation systems in the countryside. With these systemic problems in mind, he espouses an iron-fist solution that could include declaring a revolutionary government that would pave way for a federal (and socialist) system.9

From contestation for power to transformational leadership

The abovementioned surveys reveal that the final race to the presidency remains tight despite the biggest segment of voters seemingly tilting towards Duterte’s radical narrative. One may expect a drastic upsurge in the quantity and intensity of heated exchanges of accusations among the candidates and their cohorts, which is characteristic of Philippine traditional politics. Rather than being caught in the spectacle of personalities vying for power, however, it is imperative for us Filipinos, in our individual capacities, to critically reflect on whose narrative best reflects our social condition, whose platform of governance leads us closest to our goal of becoming a newly industrialized country (NIC), and whose foreign policy best advances our security and development interests in a world that is reeling from global economic slowdown, geopolitical rivalries, Islamist-inspired terrorism, and climate change. Only after we have finally transcended perceptions and emotions and carefully answered these fundamental questions are we able to choose the one person who can translate our collective aspiration into a lived reality.

Leadership expert and presidential biographer James MacGregor Burns introduces the concept of “transformational leadership”. According to Burns, transformational leadership manifests itself in a leader who is able to “inspire his or her followers to change expectations, perceptions, and motivations to work common goals.”10 What our country needs today is a transformational leader with strategic vision, sound security and development policies and strategies, substantial track record, and political will who can build strong institutions that will secure the gains of democracy and mobilize the entire people in building a unified, peaceful and prosperous nation.

09 May 2016 will go down in history as the critical moment when the Filipino people decided either for continuity, reform or departure. The choice is ours to make.

1 RG Cruz, “Duterte keeps lead in ABS-CBN survey”, ABS-CBN News, 04 May 2016, accessed 05 May 2016, http://news.abs-cbn.com/halalan2016/nation/05/03/16/duterte-keeps-lead-in-abs-cbn-survey.
2 “Duterte keeps lead in Laylo survey”, ABS-CBN News, 05 May 2016, accessed 05 May 2016, http://news.abs-cbn.com/halalan2016/nation/05/04/16/duterte-keeps-lead-in-laylo-survey.
3 “SWS: Duterte still top choice for president”, Rappler, 06 May 2016, accessed 06 May 2016, http://www.rappler.com/nation/politics/elections/2016/131950-sws-presidential-survey-may-1-3-duterte-leads.
4 Edith Regalado and Aurea Calica, “Philippines is Asia’s rising tiger”, Philstar Global, 06 February 2013, accessed 05 May 2016, http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2013/02/06/905371/philippines-asias-rising-tiger-world-bank.
5 Official Gazette, Achievements of the Aquino Administration 2010-2016, Philippine Government.
6 Camille Elemia, “Grace Poe’s promises and her 20-point agenda”, Rappler, 07 February 2016, accessed 05 May 2016, http://www.rappler.com/nation/politics/elections/2016/120936-grace-poe-20-point-agenda-campaign-promises.
7 Nestor Corrales, “Duterte willing to lose life, presidency to fulfil vow vs crime, drugs, corruption”, Inquirer.net, 09 February 2016, accessed 05 May 2016, http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/763333/duterte-willing-to-lose-life-presidency-to-fulfil-vow-vs-crime-drugs-corruption.
8 Trishia Billones, “Dissecting the Duterte phenomenon”, ABS-CBN News, 29 April 2016, accessed 05 May 2016, http://news.abs-cbn.com/halalan2016/focus/04/29/16/dissecting-the-duterte-phenomenon.
9 Nina Calleja, “Duterte eyes revolutionary government”, Inquirer.net, 27 August 2015, accessed 05 May 2016, http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/716664/duterte-eyes-revolutionary-government.
10 Kendra Cherry, 20 April 2016, “What is transformational leadership?”, VeryWell, 20 April 2016, accessed 05 May 2016, https://www.verywell.com/what-is-transformational-leadership-2795313.

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