Published on December 25, 2007
The news from the provinces was late but bracing. On Dec. 15, the Man from Subic and the Woman from Cebu met–unexpectedly–at the launch of a new ship. They ended up launching another, decidedly more vulnerable, vessel: a trial balloon.
As trial balloons go, however, this was a blimp. "Sen. Richard Gordon and Cebu Gov. Gwen Garcia have stoked rumors of a potential administration-backed tandem in the 2010 polls after both politicians flirted with the idea of running together," Inquirer reporter Gil Cabacungan Jr. began his front-page story the other day.
To hear the principals speak, the idea was spur-of-the-moment. "That came out spontaneously," Gordon told me. "I nearly fell out of my seat."
A modest Garcia downplayed the form without denying the substance. "That’s all there is to it, really," she said in a text message. "A teaser."
But spontaneous or not, there was definitely something combustible in the idea. Two capable executives (Subic Bay remains a template of development), two proven vote-getters (Garcia’s margin in the last election was almost half a million votes, about twice the number of Pampanga voters who elected Among Ed Panlilio).
"We have the same political philosophy," Gordon noted. "It’s always ‘Can do.’ It’s always ‘Nothing is impossible.’ It’s always ‘Depend on your own.’"
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he hails from Luzon and can ignite a crowd, while Garcia speaks Visayan and sings like a star.
* * *
To be sure, the latest poll of 2010-bound presidential candidates I’ve seen (it’s several months old) puts Gordon in the single digit, with Sen. Loren Legarda far and away the survey leader. And I’m not even sure if Garcia is on the list of possible vice-presidential candidates.
But current talk about the presidential race centers on the presumptive (or maybe even presumptuous) candidacies of Senators Manny Villar and Mar Roxas. They did not fare all that well in that survey I saw either, but the taken-for-granted viability of their candidacies is primarily financial. Villar is back in the ranks of the country’s dollar billionaires, while Roxas is heir to an old-rich fortune. (Roxas, however, has a real party to back him up, unlike Villar, whose revived Nacionalista won’t function without him.)
My point: It’s early in the game, and it’s still anybody’s race. What the Gordon-Garcia "teaser" does is to de-privilege money as a factor of competitiveness. That might redefine the way the game is played.
* * *
In late November, when I attempted an analysis of the limits of public outrage before a receptive Rotary Club of Manila, I depended on anecdotal evidence and plain instinct to reach, not a conclusion, but a premise. I assumed, for purposes of presentation, that more and more Filipinos had come to share the perception that "corruption is [now] at its worst."
At that time, I did not know about the controversial Osmeña riders to the October 2007 Pulse Asia survey, which plumbed public perception about corrupt presidents. The results, however, provided my seat-of-the-pants scenario-building with statistical proof. A plurality of voting-age Filipinos now rank Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as more corrupt than Ferdinand Marcos. (I have an idea about why this is so: The public’s perception has to do with the reported cash gift-giving right in Malacañang, something which helps explain Palace antipathy toward the priest-governor who revealed it, Among Ed.)
Also in late November, the Inquirer hosted its third Briefing for CEOs and diplomats, with Randy David as featured analyst. The topic was stark, and reflected what the Inquirer opinion editors felt was the true state of the nation: some place "Between hope and despair." Randy drew a vivid picture of a Philippines in transition.
It was clear to me, listening to the engaging discussion, that when the subject was long-term prospects for a nation that was in the throes of modernization, hope was almost palpable. But when attention was brought back to the present day, the pendulum swung the other way, closer to despair.
No use denying it: This is where we are. The toxins that pollute Philippine politics and which President Arroyo acknowledged in her Rizal Day 2002 announcement have not only persisted; they have gained in toxicity. Even the good news on the economic front, such as they are, have been politicized.
How do we negotiate the crooked passage from despair to hope?
The Pope’s newest encyclical may sound like an unlikely source of advice, but Benedict XVI is a first-class theologian with a gift for illuminating the role of the laity in the modern world. I think he may have something to say about escaping the political poison in the air. (Besides, Malacañang will come around to "Spe Salvi" one of these days, in its continuing attempt to manage its relations with the Catholic bishops; best to get a head start.)
Hope, the Pope says, does not lie in human institutions alone. "The right state of human affairs, the moral well-being of the world can never be guaranteed simply through structures alone, however good they are." It does not lie in the world either. Because man is truly free, "the kingdom of good will never be definitively established in this world. Anyone who promises the better world that is guaranteed to last for ever is making a false promise; he is overlooking human freedom. Freedom must constantly be won over for the cause of good."
Some may find this unceasing task of winning over human freedom for the cause of good, of always starting over, a cause for despair, but in fact this is the Christian’s true source of hope. "A good man," the Roman writer Martial wrote, "is always a beginner."