Look at Jay Leno and David Letterman. Sniping rivals of late, they set aside the sourness and came together for a truly good joke. They even lassoed Oprah in. After the acrimony of the past weeks, it was good to see America's two biggest comics in one frame, the gesture making them suddenly much bigger than all their petty back-and-forth yapping.
Why not a public-service ad that gets Gibo, Manny and Noynoy--the three major candidates, so sue me, Dick Gordon--to agree on some things, but done in a hip, light, humorous way? Let's face it, at this point it'll be a fight between Villar (with his money), Teodoro (with his machinery) and Aquino (with his, uh, moral suasion). I'd like to see them in a bright, engaging commercial (none of that grim, sappy flag-waving, please--there are other ways to convey patriotism) where they pledge to:
1) not cheat their way to the presidency;
2) respect the outcome and work with the victor;
3) conduct a high-minded campaign;
4) clean the country afterwards of their election paraphernalia;
5) do all these simply because, like the rest of us, we love our country enough.
A pipe dream? Maybe. But among the impressions I got during the Inquirer presidential debate last Monday, where I had a front-seat view (literally--I was seated on the very first row, right side facing the stage, eyeball to eyeball with Manny Villar) was how sensible and reasonable these three candidates could be. Obviously they have big egos--it takes a particularly capacious one to aspire for the highest office in the land--but they also didn't strike me as the type scared to laugh at himself from time to time, or take things a bit less seriously.
Villar impressed me with his poise. In the face of Jamby's verbal cannonade, he kept his cool and maintained a blank expression. At one point he did break out into a sort of relieved, blissful smile while looking at someone in the audience. I discreetly turned around; it was his daughter Camille he was smiling at. I found the scene oddly touching--a father seeking solace in his daughter's non-verbal encouragement.
Gibo was cool, crisp, nuanced in his answers. On a personal level, there is much to like about this urbane, articulate man. If these were ordinary times, I'd be excited about him; the albatross of GMA, however, weighs him down, diminishes him. I wish someone had asked him how the Maguindanao-Ampatuan tinderbox had escaped his supposedly able tenure at the Defense Department. It was no oversight, of course; he was working for the murderous clan's biggest benefactor-cum-beneficiary.
I've posted this question on Facebook: If Gibo is so smart, as his ads tout him to be, how come the best he could come up with for VP is Edu Manzano? That is no idle question; it's a deal-breaker in my book. His first major presidential decision is a dud--a reckless, feckless and cynical one, the equivalent of John McCain choosing that yahoo in heels, Sarah Palin, to be his running mate for an America prostrate with two wars, a recession and a polarized body politic.
If Gibo says it was the party that chose Edu for him, too bad. What does that make him but a patsy of GMA and his minions? If he does say Edu is his personal choice and the best VP candidate in his estimation, too bad as well; his judgment needs to be called into question.
Think about it: In case something happened to President Gilbert Teodoro, would you entrust the country to Vice President Edu Manzano? A country, by the way, fraying at the seams with tremendous poverty, an endless insurgency, bouts of lawlessness and violence, rampaging hunger and joblessness and a contracting economy, a paralyzing sense of cynicism and corruption that threatens to make the country a failed state. We're in deep shit. Seriously now, would you put this country in the hands of Edu Manzano?
More crucially, with his choice, what does Gibo take us for? On top of being a deeply irresponsible decision, I say it's a supremely cynical move because the only reason going for Edu is his potential ability to tap into the mythical pull of show-biz on the masa vote. Edu as a celebrity will bring in his Tinseltown friends and the crowds will come. By this, Gibo and his camp are treating the elections as a game, nothing more. They'd sacrifice the long-term welfare of the country for short-term political gain. Which makes him more of the same kind of politician we've suffered for so long. But then, what can you expect with Ronnie Puno as your chief election strategist?
It's distressing that, until now, much of the media hasn't raised this issue with Teodoro. Or with Edu himself. Can you recall anything the guy has said lately about the major issues facing the country? Me neither. Make no mistake: The choice of VP is a crucial one, especially in light of recent history. Or have we forgotten that a big reason why GMA has been able to cling to her post despite the deluge of scandals and anomalies surrounding her reign is--there is no feasible replacement for her? The administration's sycophants themselves tried to scare us: Sinong gusto niyo, si Noli? Bahala kayo.
Many of us looked at her constitutional successor, an earnest man but a lightweight leader, swallowed hard and opted to live with GMA. By then she was a known quantity--ruthless, corrupt, brazen, but also (and this I give her) hardworking and hands-on as no other politician has been. Noli De Castro, with his inexperience, seemed a worse option. Thus, the lack of any viable alternative to her, along with our disdain for one more uprising that would then dash our hopes again, allowed the woman in Malacanang to serve out her term with increasing impunity, from the "Hello Garci" stolen elections to the ZTE scandal to the Lozada kidnapping to the Maguindanao massacre. What price we had to pay for a careless choice in the last elections.
As for Noynoy--frankly, he was rather disappointing in the debate. He had clear, workable ideas, but evinced no force of personality to convey them. Conrado de Quiros is right: Aquino's strength is in the symbolic weight of his presidential run. He is the torch-bearer of the only political legacy in modern Philippine history that succeeded in inspiring millions of Filipinos to abandon their indifference and hopelessness and work together for a cause. Has there been anything like the Cory phenomenon and the EDSA revolt, before or after?
To people who sniff that Noynoy offers nothing more than inspiration, I would argue the opposite: Inspiration is essential--in fact, it's the one element that's been lacking in our tacky, noisy, perpetually banal political discourse. After Cory (in the bloom of the yellow tide), we've not found a leader galvanizing enough and charismatic enough to make us forget our petty, parochial concerns and make us work for something much bigger than ourselves.
Noynoy, as chief steward of that legacy, has the potential to step into that role. My test for this is simple: Have all the candidates say on TV, direct to the camera, that they wouldn't steal a single cent from the public till while in office. Who do you think will come off as most credible?
Noynoy will, not only because he himself seems an upright, honorable man, but also because he is the son of Ninoy and Cory Aquino. Say what you will about Cory and her much-dismissed presidency, but you knew she was a decent woman who didn't plunder her office or cling to power beyond her term. That is a record her son would not soil; one cannot imagine Noynoy besmirching it. That is the heart of his appeal--and the seed of a campaign hoisted on inspiration.
Noynoy's candidacy should not primarily be about policy, but about leading by example. It should be about restoring the primacy of CHARACTER in leadership--more than competence or technocratic skills. GMA is, by any technical definition, a competent president. Look where it's gotten us. When Villar and Gordon ganged up on Aquino in an earlier forum, he riposted with exactly the right response. He had been a principled oppositionist to the long and blighted rule of GMA. But where was Villar when all the presidential crimes and misdemeanors were gripping the country? Where was the leadership he needed to provide?
In other words, as much as competence is important in governance, the current state of the country demands something more: character.
It is a test of character to stand up for what is right, even if it cast you out of official favor, cut off your pipeline to the powers-that-be, or threatened your place in the socio-political pecking order. Villar's spine was nowhere to be found at the moment it was needed, when GMA's misdeeds called for denunciation--but the act itself was most inconvenient, not to mention dangerous, for an ambitious politician averse to rocking the boat and thereby capsizing his long-planned presidential run. Gibo should be asked the question as well: What were you doing serving--enabling--the most despised, scandal-plagued administration in recent memory?
But all this is for naught, if Noynoy fails to step outside of himself and become a leader with gravitas. A naturally diffident man, like his mother was at the start of her campaign for president againt Marcos in 1986, he came off in the debate as tepid, underwhelming--bored, in fact, the way he looked at his watch a number of times. A no-no in debates, that; the first President Bush was adjudged the loser in his face-off with Bill Clinton the moment he looked at his watch, signaling his impatience.
Noynoy needs to engage more. I don't mean becoming as ebullient and show-biz-perky as Kris, only that to inspire others, he needs to look inspired himself. Otherwise, Villar--with his brilliantly conceived ads (getting the elusive Dolphy to endorse him was a masterstroke)--will define the debate with his rags-to-riches story (never mind the question of how he made his riches, or how he intends to recover the millions he has spent on his ads--businessman kamo siya, di ba?) and carry the inspirational banner all the way to Malacanang.