Numbers Don’t Lie

In two weeks, the Philippine electorate will cast its vote for 12 senators, the entire cast of the House of Representatives as well as all provincial, city and municipal officials. For those unhappy with the status quo, this is your chance to elect better leaders. After all, the laws and policies put in motion in the next three years will have a ripple effect that will traverse generations. This is why we all need to be circumspect about our selection.

Given what is at stake, this is no time to speak in innuendos or ambiguities. So with your permission, I will be blunt.

To vote according to party lines is neither circumspect nor wise. If anything, it is an indication that one has drank too much of the proverbial cool aide spewed out by a particular political party. We must understand that this election is not about hate for the Aquinos or love for the Dutertes, or vice versa. It is about choosing worthy public servants with the abilities to push the nation forward. Put in another way, this election is about choosing the best and brightest — those with talents and virtues that can be harnessed to build a stronger nation. It is NOT about perpetuating any particular party in power. That would be an incredibly myopic view to take.

The tale has been told many times before. There was a time in history, between our independence in 1946 and the mid-seventies, when the Philippines was among the most advanced nations in Asia. We led the region in most development indexes, be it gross national product, level of infrastructure development, sophistication of human capital (skills, education and literacy), judicial independence, level of development of our manufacturing industries and agriculture, sophistication of corporate governance and the banking system, among many others.

The glory days of the Philippines was due to responsible, competent and selfless governance from leaders, mostly senators, who had the intelligence, foresight and sense of patriotism befitting true statesmen. They were the best among us, all of whom we still speak about today. Among them were Claro M. Recto, Carlos P. Garcia, Eulogio Rodriguez Sr., Lorenzo M. Tañada, Esteban Abada, Jose W. Diokno, Eva Estrada Kalaw, Soc Rodrigo, Jose R. Roy and Jovito Salonga.

These men and women would make headlines for their nationalistic and patriotic policies, even if it compromised their own interest or that of their political parties. They were bold, fearless and determined, always putting the nation’s interest before anything or anyone else. Above all, they were honest and decent.

If we are to make our nation great again, we need to elect senators and local officials who match, if not surpass, the caliber of our former statesmen.

Famed writer Virgilio Velèz wrote…. “From minds enlightened come enlightened laws….. from minds corrupted come corrupted laws”. Corruption is the root of many evils. It is what causes lawmakers to enact statutes that are either self serving or benefit certain sectors at the expense of the greater majority. It is what compels them to abet crime or protect people, sectors or nations who have wronged the state. It is what makes them use the influence of their offices for undue advantage (thereby distorting the level-playing field). Worst of all, it is what compels them to steal what should otherwise belong to the marginalized.

Would you want to be stolen from? Would you like your hard earned taxes to further enrich certain dubious politicians? If not, do not vote for candidates who have been proven corrupt… those who have been convicted by the court of law for plunder. Let us not forget, these people were convicted beyond reasonable doubt. The worse of their ilk are those who refuse to admit or apologize for their deeds. The fact that they show no remorse is a sign that they see no wrong in it and will likely do it again.

Corruption is a character flaw — it is a product of dishonesty, entitlement and a scheming mind. They are a cancer to our system and must be flushed our by radiation. Your vote is that radiation.

The convicted plunders who are running for reelection have had their chance and have proven to be unworthy. To elect them again is like remarrying an abusive spouse.

The unqualified. Let’s get one thing straight. Action stars, clowns or sportsmen who use their popularity (or popularity of their spouse) to get elected, knowing full well that they do not qualify for the job, should be looked upon with trepidation. Beneath the rhetoric of them declaring their desire to serve is a devious ploy to take advantage of our countrymen who don’t know any better.

As voters, we should make sure that the skills and experience of a candidate matches the position he or she is running for.

To be a senator, for instance, one has to have a deep understanding of the law, of macroeconomics, of the principles of social development, of geo-politics and diplomacy. A potential senator must have had a track record of leadership in either or all of these fields. If they do not, he or she will fake it — and faking it means they will be incompetent. They will uselessly occupy precious seats in a policy-making body that could otherwise go to a more deserving candidate.

To elect a showbiz personality or a sportsman to the Senate, Congress or City Hall is like hiring a jester to be your chief accountant or hiring a dancer to be your lawyer. It is the wrong job for the wrong person.

The almost dead. Some candidates are more than eighty five years old and still running for office. To elect them is a waste given their inability to meet the physical rigors of the job. We have seen it before….. geriatric public officials who rule in absentia. In the end, they are represented by their chiefs of staff who make a mess out of the job. Case in point, look at what the city of Manila has become in the last six years.

The almost dead reek of selfishness and entitlement as they are unwilling to give the next generation a chance. They want to enjoy the perks of the job knowing full well that they are incapable of carrying it out. Let’s do them a favor and allow them to enjoy a restful twilight, in their homes.

The entitled dynasty member. A study made by the dean of Ateneo School of Government, Ronald Mendoza, shows a direct correlation between poverty rates and the proliferation of political dynasties. The more entrenched a political dynasty becomes, the higher the probability of poverty, underdevelopment and weaker institutions.

Within local governments, political dynasties are more likely to utilize their budgets doling out scholarships, funeral aid and basketball courts rather than investing in social development programs, economic initiatives and infrastructure. This is because preservation of power becomes the priority, even more important than social and economic development itself. Painful reforms and unpopular but necessary decisions are avoided as they erode political equity.

On the national scene, political dynasties are more likely to vote for populist legislation and in accordance with party lines. Again, to preserve the power of the clan.

Political dynasties have an unfair advantage. Within their disposal are political machines, funds and the many advantages of having other family members in office. The playing field is skewed to the dynasty’s favor. This unfair advantage dissuades aspiring public servants from throwing their hat in the ring. In effect, it decreases the level of political participation among the populace. Dynasties monopolize power by depriving others of a fair opportunity to serve. This is why we have 21-year-old scions becoming mayors and governors while the man with a doctorate degree in public governance is edged out. Political dynasties cause a brain drain of talent among elected officials.

Studies further show that capabilities, values and work ethic rarely improve from generation to generation, especially within powerful families enjoying comfort and positions of influence. More often than not, the second generation simply emulates the habits of the first. So if we want meaningful change, voting for a member of a political dynasty is not the way to do it.

The story of the Philippines is still being written. While the country’s glory days are several decades behind us, we could very well turn our fortunes around and create a new golden age for the next generation. It all boils down to good governance, wise leadership and uncompromised patriotism. As we contemplate who to vote for, let us reject the plunderers, the incompetent, the nearly dead and the entitled scions. Instead, let us vote for the best, brightest and most qualified among us.


Andrew J. Masigan is an economist