Published on May 19, 2009
Fortune favors, not only the bold, but the foresighted. The decision of Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan to contest the vice-presidency next year is no mere concession to survey realities; it is, in Ricoeurian terms, a consent to necessity. In other words, I don’t see it as a grudging acceptance but rather a welcome embrace of his present limits. It is also the most politically savvy strategy for taking Malacañang—not in 2010, but in 2016.
In the post-Marcos era, every elected vice president except for Salvador “Doy” Laurel has done very well politically: Joseph “Erap” Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo succeeded the presidents they had served, and Emmanuel “Noli” de Castro, if surveys alone are the gauge, is poised to succeed to the highest office in 2010. Barring a Doy-like descent into self-destruction, therefore, the next vice president should be in prime position to contest the 2016 election.
To be sure, I still think it probable (and I think there is growing consensus on this) that De Castro will give way to the presidential ambition of his good friend Sen. Manuel Villar; like senators, the vice president can run for a second six-year term. That would pit him against Pangilinan—and Pangilinan’s celebrity wife.
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Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero enjoys a reputation for political eloquence, and as I have written before on other occasions, his “mellifluous monotone” can prove highly effective. But as his answers at the recent ABS-CBN-sponsored “leadership forum” at the Ateneo de Manila University showed, he also uses it in Orwellian fashion. That is to say, he sometimes uses his gift of gab to conceal thought, not to reveal it.
One example: To the question about personal heroes (Which historical person living or dead do you most admire?), Escudero said, None. His answer (in mellifluously monotonous Filipino, and readily available on his website) started in this wise: “Ilang ulit nang tinanong sa akin yan, matagal ko nang pinag-isipan ngunit wala akong maisip ni-isa.” My translation: “I’ve been asked that many times and have thought about it a long time, but I can’t think of anyone.” He went on to say: “Dahil para sa akin walang iisang kumakatawan at nagtataglay nang lahat ng katangiang kapupuri-puri [Because for me, there is no one who embodies and symbolizes all that is worthy of praise.]”
This is passing strange. The question was not Who is perfect? but Who do you look up to?
Escudero proceeded to state that perhaps what we ought to do is to choose what is admirable in our historical figures (“mga magagandang ginawa ng mga personalidad sa kasaysayan”) and avoid their mistakes. But that was the point of the question, wasn’t it? Give the Filipino people an idea of who you consider admirable. Escudero then wrapped up his two-minute answer with an appeal to imagination: Imagine a person with all these qualities, he said. “Iyon siguro, hindi man totoong tao, ang dapat natin tingalain [Maybe that is the one, though not a real person, we should all look up to.]”
Pure drivel. I think in avoiding the true question, Escudero is betraying the anxiety of influence. As I’ve written before (the first time, I think, was in 2005), Escudero strikes me as the acceptable face of the Marcos restoration. Here’s a thought in search of a consensus. Perhaps Escudero declined to answer the real question because the people may not be ready to hear him profess any admiration for the late dictator.
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Yesterday, Amina Rasul read a provocative paper on Islam and pluralism at a forum sponsored by the Adenauer foundation and her own Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy. The idea of pluralism is vital to democratic practice; as Rasul made a point of emphasizing, it cannot be limited to “tolerance.” It must embrace “meaningful dialogue.”
The political philosopher John Rawls suggested a useful framework for thinking pluralism through. He made a distinction between “political conception” and “comprehensive doctrine”—the first is practical and partial (like, say, the urgency of peace negotiations), the second capable of granting absolute meaning (like, say, a religion). In a pluralistic democracy, the basis of stability lies in different comprehensive doctrines giving sanction, through what Rawls calls an “overlapping consensus,” to key political conceptions.
He wrote: “in a well-ordered society the political conception is affirmed by what we refer to as a reasonable overlapping consensus. By this we mean that the political conception is supported by the reasonable though opposing religious, philosophical and moral doctrines that gain a significant body of adherents and endure over time from one generation to the next.”
In other words, Catholics and Muslims can support the same policy, even though they may use different criteria set by “reasonable though opposing” world-views. That is the promise of pluralism.
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The flap over comedienne Candy Pangilinan’s sleep-deprived slur (in Baguio City, she joked that “hindi ako Igorot, tao po ako!”) has the micro-blogging world all a-Twitter. A Facebook link, for instance, led me to Dan Mariano’s Manila Times column, where he shares a blogger’s useful research showing that Carlos P. Romulo had insulted the Igorot nation in almost similar terms.
My real interest here, however, is to note a kind of consensus: “comedy” in Philippine “live entertainment” often involves, quite literally, insulting the audience; even as personally humble a practitioner of the art as Bert “Tawa” Marcelo assumed a comedic persona who felt free to insult members of the audience—for missing teeth, kinky hair, spinsterhood. The routines of today’s noontime variety shows still include this ritual condescension, this talking-down-to.