The country is in election season once again, this year twelve seats in the Congress’ upper house will be up-for-grabs in addition to the top positions in local government units. As every election period, the people are in high spirits – hopeful that the answer for their woes will be given by the victors. The atmosphere is celebratory, there is a jubilant mood in the air as if the town fiesta was approaching. The streets are lined with banners and tarpaulins depicting the names and faces of the candidates, campaign jingles awake people early in the morning and the aspiring politicians parade across streets with big smiles hoping to capture the votes of their constituents.
Every three years during either the midterm or general elections, the soap operas, the scandals, the controversies which usually are the main focus of Filipinos are all forgotten and put aside to focus on the future of the nation. The scenario in the country can basically be summed up into one word – exuberant – similar to that of a traditional city fiesta. Despite the Philippines being known for its’ flawed form of democracy, and several infamous atrocities which occurred in past election periods, the Filipino people always look forward to the next ballot they cast; which speaks volumes of the optimistic characteristic embedded in a Filipino’s nature. As always, the elections are the spotlight of the news; the content of the headlines range from the background of the candidates, their track record in public office and occasionally, even their dating history. But this year’s midterm polls offered a different headline, the focus was the surprise campaign of the young Nancy Binay, daughter of the Vice-President Jejomar Binay and how she survived the cut for nuisance candidates.
With all due respect to the young Binay, she had a stellar upbringing as a daughter of a veteran political family and holds an impressive educational background as well. She even boasts of a 20-year On-the-Job Training (OJT) being personal assistant to her father in politics. The matter that the Filipino people are scrutinizing however, is her lack of experience as a politician herself. The country’s congress recently brought up an ‘anti- dynasty’ bill, which aimed at restricting political families from creating a succession of public officials from their own clans, creating some sort of a monarchy. The fact that Nancy Binay’s only claim-to-fame and the foundation of her campaign as senator being that she is a product of a dynasty, did not bode well with the public.
At a time when the nation’s economy is starting to show glimpses of it’s true potential, we cannot afford to falter in our politics. The decisions politicians make will certainly impact the investment climate of the nation, but more importantly the competency of the country’s elected officials will not be ignored by potential investors. The legitimacy of a government is one of the key risks that businesses are looking at when deciding to invest in a country; when Joseph Estrada was elected president in the year 1998 investor confidence plunged in the Philippines. Two years later, the legendary investment guru Mark Mobius through his investment vehicle Templeton Asset Management pulled all of it’s funds out of the Philippine market. Templeton handles a whooping US$800B in investment funds all over the world, the pull-out was a huge blow not only to Estrada’s presidency but to the Philippine economy in general.
There was a news report conducted in 2008 by a major Philippine news channel where foreign businessmen who did not have investments in the Philippines were surveyed what their main reason was for being absent in our market, the most prominent response was that all they heard from the country were ‘bad news’. The 2009/10 Political Instability index results gave the Philippines a vulnerability rating of 4.6, much lower than regional counterparts Thailand, Indonesia and Myanmar but higher than Singapore, Malaysia and even Vietnam. In fact, investors underlined political instability as a bigger turn-off than limited foreign ownership of land for investing in the Philippines.
This is where all the clamor regarding Nancy Binay’s candidacy stemmed from, the Filipino public simply cannot risk another Estrada-esque era in Philippine history and neither can the local business circle. To the dismay of the critics, in the unofficial partial counting of the ballots Nancy Binay surprisingly ranked 5th place inside the twelve Senate slots up for grabs. With majority of the ballots counted, Binay firmly completes the top 5 while the popular candidates such as Richard Gordon and Risa Hontiveros have not even touched the so-called “Magic 12”.
The nation found itself baffled.
The most common sentiment was: how did so many people vote for, what they deemed, an inexperienced candidate? What was even worse was that the 2013 elections would probably rank as one with the least cases of anomalies in decades, therefore Binay would be able to claim a legitimate victory. The public simply could not comprehend how the stellar background of Rissa Hontiveros, a champion for women’s rights and firm believer in the Reproductive Health Bill or the platform of Edward Hagedorn on improving tourism and protecting the environment could lag behind Nancy Binay. While one can understand such protests, let’s ask ourselves this: does experience really determine the capability of a person?
There’s always that age-old saying that rings in our heads whenever we make a case on the importance of experience: “practice makes perfect”. Indeed, as Michael Jordan said in his Nike advert: “I’ve failed over and over, that’s why I succeeded”. But John F. Kennedy is remembered to this day as one of the most influential leaders in the United States’ history, yet before becoming the president he had no prior experience in the executive branch – he was neither a vice-president, governor nor mayor. Remember Nelson Mandela? He was credited with ending apartheid in South Africa, and is one of history’s most revered figures. He spent a lot of time locked up in prison and no time as a politician before being sworn in as South Africa’s president. In fact Dwight Eisenhower and Ulysses Grant, both memorable American presidents, had no previous political experience as well either.
These individuals were in the same position as Nancy Binay as well, no major experience in politics but then became efficient leaders. This puts the concept of the need for prior experience in that field into perspective. The most successful and influential leaders, regardless of their previous occupation and background, possessed the common qualities that make great leaders: love for the country and the desire to help. Is a political background really necessary to obtain such qualities?
Indeed experience does make us better individuals because they hone our qualities, but experience does not have to translate as previous work in that line of duty. Everyday in life we encounter problems which provides us with a learning opportunity to sharpen our skills, this is an experience in itself. So it’s baseless to say that Binay is an unworthy candidate because she had no previous experience in the legislative or executive branch of government or in politics in general.
Yet the outcry that Binay is not deserving to run for public office still lingers. Nancy’s critiques are picking on her due to the fact that her resume does not boast a substantial background in politics, but little did they know that one of the most popular Senators, Loren Legarda, topped the 1998 polls for Senator despite having no background in politics beforehand either. In fact, the candidate who is ranking first in the unofficial tally, Grace Poe, is very similar to Nancy Binay: they both have no political experience beforehand and they are both carrying the names of their fathers, Fernando Poe Jr. and Jejomar Binay respectively, to augment their campaigns. Yet no one is protesting Grace Poe’s inclusion in the top spot.
However, the most ignorant complaint of Binay’s critiques is that she “does not deserve to run for public office”. This notion is not just arrogant, but ridiculous altogether. You see, the most common idea people have of democracy is the fact that every citizen is entitled the right to vote or suffrage. While this is indeed correct, the concept of democracy does not limit to it. Another important virtue of democracy is the right for a citizen to run for public office and serve his or her people. The 1987 Constitution clearly states the qualifications of any aspiring Senator as: a natural born citizen of the Philippines, of 35 years of age during election day, literate, a registered voter and a resident of the country for at least two years prior the election day. Nancy Binay ticks all these requirements, therefore she does have the right to run for public office.
We cannot help but feel a bit of sympathy for Nancy, she is in a lose-lose situation if you analyze her predicament carefully. If she wins, people says it is because of the influence of her family name but if she loses, people will ridicule how she failed when she has her father’s last name. Either way she gets the brunt of the ridicule, and that is hard. Every politician in this country have their fair share of critics, but the sad part for Nancy is she has not even been sworn into office and yet she already feels the criticism. How she handles her critics will also serve a litmus test for her capabilities as a Senator, if she finds herself affected by these criticisms she should just surrender her slot; the heat she gets right now is no way comparable to the pressure of being an elected government official in the Philippines. It is a thankless job, but very fulfilling if one has the right intentions.
People also like to point out the evil of political dynasties; when discussing this topic, do not only think of the Ampatuans or the Kirams nor the descendants of Kim Il-Sung but also bear in mind the Kennedys and the Roosevelts, two political families in America who produced that nation’s finest leaders. One should also not put down the pettiness of one’s profession, even if she was just a personal assistant, great leaders in history such as Jimmy Carter of the US, Evo Morales of Bolivia and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela were farmers before becoming presidents of their respective nations. In fact the champion of human rights, Abraham Lincoln was self-educated and read books on his own instead of going to school. Nelson Mandela used the fact that he is the son of a farmer to craft his memorable line: “Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through this that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, the son of a miner become the head of the mine and the child of a farmer can become the president of a great nation.”
Think about it, a politician with no prior experience in politics and who rides on publicity is not new to the Philippines. Vilma Santos and Bong Revilla were both famous actors who won seats as public officials, yet they became respectable public servants. Politics today has become a career path for celebrities who are not able to land projects anymore: Angelica Jones, Joey Marquez, Anjo Yllana, even a famous sportsman like Manny Pacquiao has joined the political scene. It is unfair to single out Nancy Binay when there are a handful of others out there.
Voting for an untested candidate does have its risks, Joseph Estrada was elected president mainly due to his “Robin Hood” roles during his time as an actor and the country went on a decline. But then the incumbent head-of-state, Benigno Aquino III, was also largely unpopular as well and was deemed inexperienced having sponsored not a single law in the Senate, then the economy started improving, corruption was minimized and today foreign investors are optimistic about the country once again. It is a risk which could have polar effects, but if we play the right cards then it might just pay-off in the end. No one knows what tomorrow will be like, nor do we know what Nancy Binay will bring to the Philippine Senate. So while we are oblivious of the future, it is wrong to speculate the outcome or to judge the performance of these future senators before they have even been inaugurated. This is merely prejudice.
Make no mistake about it, this article does not serve to defend Nancy Binay nor to support her candidacy, but merely a defense of common-sense and fair play. If I voted during these elections, I would not have shaded the circle next to Binay’s name as well and in all honesty, I am dismayed that there is a great possibility she will be sworn in as Senator sometime soon. I am one of you who do not believe she deserves a slot in the Congress’ upper house, but unlike most of you I understand that in a democracy, the majority always overrules your personal choices. As the Commission on Elections’ motto clearly states, “the voice of the people is the voice of God”; if it is in God’s will that Binay will become known as Senator Nancy Binay, who am I to stand in the way? Better yet, who are WE to stand in the way? The job which befalls on us citizens now is to ensure the election process was fair and to support the future lawmakers of this nation.