WHAT does it take to be president of this country? Why would a Mindanaoan, the first from the island, be seen in a very different light? Is it because we have often been used to looking at our country through the lens of Luzon? We are reminded of Gramsci's center-periphery model, a "spatial metaphor, which describes and attempts to explain the structural relationship between the advanced or metropolitan 'center' and less developed 'periphery'" either within a particular country or as applied in economic development." Then, there is also the "hegemonic culture" that propagates its own values and norms so that they become the "common sense" values of all and thus maintain the status quo.
This article was originally published in The Manila Times on October 5, 2021
President Rodrigo Duterte, being from Mindanao, is an outlier. He is an anti-establishment figure. His ways are that of a hillbilly as a critic once labeled the country's 16th president. A hillbilly is a person from a backwoods area, and yet, Davao City is the largest city in the country in terms of land area, the third most populous city and a key economic corridor in Mindanao. But Mindanao is not Luzon in the scheme of things,
and that cultural bias has led to the intelligentsia's collective smirk over Duterte's words, actions, manner of dressing and his ways. And yet, his five years have been a veritable display of political will in governance. That it can be done in five years is a welcome development. So, are voters better off today than in 2016 is a question that we should ask ourselves come May 2022.
As the incumbent president rides into the sunset, why would a sitting vice president seriously consider the presidency because of a Marcos? What is the reason for running? After 34 years since EDSA? Who stood to profit from EDSA? Or an owner of a closed media organization because of the lapse of its franchise bankrolls everyone and anyone running for elected position for a single cause: securing a congressional franchise. Are the oligarchs of this country acknowledging they can buy the presidency? Are they saying that the 19th Congress can readily be gamed now in exchange for a franchise?
When presidential candidates are measured against the current occupant, would voters see through things clearly? Of the options and decisions we need to make for the future of generations of Filipinos, a nation reeling from the pandemic and the need to see that continuity is essential rather than starting at zero. Or can we hold them up against an "idealized version" and see how they do? To be fair, we should match their promises with their skills in order to determine how they plan to achieve these promises knowing that as president, one has to work with Congress, move the bureaucracy and sustain gains in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world.
And that is where a candidate's campaign and the presidency have similarities. "Both tasks require a candidate to perform well under pressure, communicate effectively, and build a team that trusts you and can function with little sleep and lots of stress." And as a noted political adviser once said, "the crucible of the campaign uncovers the hidden personal qualities that you can't list on a résumé." The term he used was, "it's a magnetic resonance imaging for the soul."
Campaigns are not just mind games. Campaigns are designed with careful definition of strategies and tactics. Campaigns are measured and calibrated. Exit points are identified, crafted and not just propaganda-driven. If you pay attention closely to how a campaign is put together and rolled out, you will learn that campaigns reward fighters and disciplined individuals. Governing requires cooperation, compromise and negotiation. Campaigns focus on one opponent, but a president, even if he wants to go on the attack, never has just one jaw to swing at. That is why the noted comedian, Dolphy kept asking, "what happens if I win?"
When voters evaluate a candidate's character, they tend to be Manichean: candidates are only one thing or its opposite. A "candidate is either a leader or a ponderous professor, a man of the people or an elitist, the real deal or a phony. One-dimensional characterizations make for easy political attacks and self-satisfaction" among those who simply want to affirm their existing ideologies. It is the laziness underpinning much of mainstream media, but it misses the "essential paradox of the presidency: presidents move between both ends of a spectrum."
Malleability is a necessary quality in a president. Some would say, "constancy has a nice romantic ring to it, but does anyone want a leader who sets a course and then refuses to change it no matter what?" It's more fruitful to look into flexibility, compare them with cases when presidents changed positions, and then decide which candidate acted out of a lack of conviction and which was simply light on his feet.
How will they see problems? How would they put together solutions? How would they make decisions? When we talk of how, it is not just from plain job interviews or positions on hot button issues. We need to focus more on the character of candidates, which may get us closer to understanding how they would operate in office. But voters often decide based on silly grounds: pedigrees, popularity which ensures name recall, singing and dancing, gaffes, taking active roles in mudslinging and much more. Who would have thought that the last to file in 2016 was capable of doing much?
And then to oligarchs bankrolling campaigns, what if we approached presidential campaigns the way a large corporation approaches its search for a new chief executive? The purpose of the campaign would be to test for the skills and attributes actually required for the job. "Companies such as McDonald's and Target do this even at the junior levels. Applicants are asked questions like 'Tell us about a conflict at work you helped resolve' and 'What's the biggest obstacle you overcame'?" The qualities employers are seeking are the same ones voters should be looking for in presidential candidates: initiative, experience, creativity and problem solving.
How do we test and determine if presidential candidates have political skill, management ability, persuasiveness and temperament? We all agree that a president should be a leader but what does it mean to be a leader? The word leadership in presidential politics "only distracts or obscures." What a president's critics really mean when they say he "isn't leading" is that he hasn't announced that he is supporting their plan. Challengers vow to show leadership, but that amounts to little more than saying they'll magically pass the vast programs they're promising. Why don't we ask the "how" question? Because presidential candidates want us to assume that a leader can get everything done. Let us not look for our white horse. The wise citizen doesn't give the right answers, they pose the right questions.
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