Steep Decline


Vice President Binay joining Manila mayor Joseph Estrada in a dance (L). First Philippine president Emilio Aguinaldo and Manuel L. Quezon. (R)

Vice President Binay joining Manila mayor Joseph Estrada in a dance (L).
First Philippine president Emilio Aguinaldo and Manuel L. Quezon. (R)

The week that passed saw the world bidding goodbye to a memorable hero of humanity, Nelson Mandela. The man who was the figurehead in the struggle to end apartheid in Africa and taught his people to live in solidarity regardless of what ever racial difference there may be passed away surrounded by family at the age of 95.

Naturally, the death of a historical icon spurs people to remember their legacy. When Michael Jackson died his greatest hits flooded music channels and radio networks, when Margaret Thatcher died montage after montage of her memorable speeches were shown on TV, and memorial services are held for the Pope’s passing. So it was only fitting that a barrage of documentaries, past speeches and famous quotes by Mandela were being presented by the media.

Perhaps one of the most relevant and significant passages attributed to Mandela was a paragraph in his memoir, Long Walk to Freedom, when the man fondly called ‘madiba’ uttered an invaluable lesson of wisdom about politics:

“A leader. . .is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.”  -Nelson Mandela

Mandela reiterated that the true nature of a leader is not so much leading by authority but also by example – likening good leadership to a shepherd who walks behind his flock but still succeeds in directing the herd to his vision. Mandela was a successful in this practice, fulfilling the dream of a South Africa that accepts all races and creeds – a fate other nations are desperate to duplicate.

A true testament to the illustrious legacy he left behind was the grandeur that was his funeral  – attended by hundreds of global dignitaries from almost every member of the international community. The Philippines also sent a representative of their own, Vice President Jejomar Binay.

Binay was the most fitting representative of the country in the absence of the President solely because he was the next highest ranked official available. But if ancient Greek diplomatic customs were to be adapted in funerals, where each city-state chose their representative to send based on who resembled the deceased dignitary the most, Binay would be far from a candidate.

The Vice President’s own legacy is bleak in comparison to that of Mandela – enthralled with political controversies, falling short of Madiba’s popularity and influence over his people and being seen as a ‘TRAditional POlitician” by the general consensus. In short, Binay is a politician – not a leader.

Before you start accusing me of being harsh, let’s review the instances Jejomar Binay attracted attention from the media this past year: he delayed Typhoon Haiyan relief efforts by repacking the relief goods into separate bags bearing his name, he patrolled the typhoon-ravaged city of Tacloban in a caravan with boastful banners branded with his image and he made a disastrous declaration that a cease-fire had been declared in Zamboanga during the September siege, just a few hours before the rebels staged another assault.

These are all the makings of a populist politician, a contrast to a leader of Mandela’s stature. It’s unfair to only single out Binay however, it seems as though most of the country’s elected leaders are cut from the same cloth – and that is the sad part. Why can’t we have leaders like Mandela, who is more concerned about substantial matters such as solidarity and unity rather than personal popularity? What about leaders like Margaret Thatcher, who would happily eschew popularity in exchange for implementing the reforms she believes in? Where was our Rudy Giuliani in Zamboanga City, the leader who enters the conflict zone to ensure the safety of his people and to oversee military operations?

As an avid reader of memoirs of noteworthy world leaders, I long to find a Philippine counterpart which I can draw a comparison to whenever I read about Reagan, Lincoln, Churchill or Lee Kwan Yew. There seems to be none, at least not in modern times.

Yes, there used to be a time when the Philippines too had figureheads the rest of the world admired. There’s the perpetual legacy of Dr. Jose Rizal, whose poems and novels are still being adored by foreigners even until today. Then there’s Ramon Magsaysay, a former president, whose legacy is immortalized with the annual ‘Ramon Magsaysay Awards’ which have been called the Asian equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize. And what about Corazon Aquino, the housewife who toppled a dictator and redefined “people’s power” for all of humanity? She became the first Filipino TIME magazine Person of the Year.

Indeed there was a time when the Philippines bore offsprings that moved the world and whose actions shaped society – unfortunately, we have seen a steep decline since then.

Just this week, the two prominent children of the Vice President – Makati mayor Junjun Binay and his sister, Senator Nancy Binay – stirred controversy and drew the ire of the Filipinos. According to reports, a convoy of government vehicles carrying both Binays approached a closed gate in a private subdivision in Manila, expecting the security guards to give them access they were unfortunately rebuffed and told that the gate is locked from 10 p.m. onwards and were told to exit the village through a different gate instead, a mere 150 metres away.

Following procedure obviously isn’t in the genes of the Binays, it was their patriarch who forced U.S. soldiers to grant him access to a restricted area even if they had strict orders not to let politicians touch the relief goods. It was also this family that bypassed political party protocol by giving Nancy Binay a spot on their senatorial slate, despite the fact that she had no political experience whatsoever.

Any rational person would respond by acting sympathetic to the guards and beg to let them out or would drive the mere 150m to the other gate. But remember, this is the Binays. They do not care about protocol, you just need to heed to their orders. Berating the guards would be something you would expect from a smug politician, and some would go further by guessing that the Binays probably hustled their way out of the village using their team of bodyguards. But what happened went a step – no, make that a mile – further than those guesses.

An almost 30-minute long confrontation between their security entourage and the village guards culminated with the Binay siblings ordering Makati police to arrest the security guards, simply for upholding their employer’s procedures. All of this was caught on surveillance video.

To defend his children’s actions, the Binay patriarch told the media that since it was the city mayor and a Senator of the republic they deserved ‘courtesy’. “A little courtesy, please, to the mayor,” he said in a televised interview.

Courtesy, according to the Vice President, should have been given because VIPs were involved. That because they were elite politicians from a prominent political family they somehow deserved reprieve from the same rules applied to anyone else. This does not sound anything like the culture of ‘daan na matuwid’ (straight path) that the President of the republic, Noynoy Aquino, was elected for.

I thought we got rid of the politician’s siren, or the wang wang, which terrorized other drivers out of the way in traffic to accomodate a VIP vehicle, to remove the culture of bowing down to politicians? Aquino rarely fails to mention during his public speeches that the people are his employers and he works to serve them – but unfortunately, his own Vice-President believes in the opposite; that it is the people who should pay courtesy to the politicians.

Which brings me back to my point, would Nelson Mandela have done this? Would he dare use his influence and power to act above everyone else? In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Mandela had this to say about staying humble:

“One of the things that worries me is to be raised to the position of a semi-God, because then you are no longer a human being. I wanted to be known as Mandela, a man with weaknesses, some of which are fundamental…especially because I knew, it was not the contribution of an individual which will bring about liberation, and the peaceful transformation of the country. And my first task when I came out was to destroy that myth, that I was something other than an ordinary human being. Whatever position I occupy, it was as a result of my colleagues and my comrades in the movement who had decided in their wisdom, to use me for the purpose of focusing the attention of the country and the international community, not because I had any better virtues than themselves, but because this was their decision.”

Mandela rejected the idea that somehow his rise to power meant that he could act in however way he pleased. He did not want to be seen as a semi-god, but rather as a man who wants to lead his nation. When Binay graced the funeral service I hoped he listened to the eulogies and anecdotes said about Mandela and then made a comparison to his own accomplishments, to learn a lesson about what leadership really means then perhaps when he returns home he can teach his children about it.

But that seems like a long shot. My best guess is that Binay only went for the photo-op and the opportunity to shake hands with different leaders, many of whom may not even know who he was.

It is unfortunate that our politicians today are image-centric and popularity-driven rather than motivated to achieve genuine human results. When politicians took a stand against the Reproductive Health Bill, is it because they fear of societal impacts the law may bring or is it because they fear reprisal from the powerful Catholic church? When a majority bloc voted to impeach the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court a few years back, was it because they genuinely believed he was guilty or were they aiming to align themselves with the very popular President who spearheaded the impeachment?

When I remember that the Binays are wielding so much power, or that a convict such as Joseph Estrada can still attract votes I cringe. We as a people always long to see change and beg to see leaders stepping up to their mandates and fulfilling their pre-election promise; yet, we vote the same people.

Are we really contented with action-movie stars supervising our national security? Because we have Lito Lapid and Bong Revilla in the Senate committee on National Defense and Security. Can we really trust coup plotters with issues regarding our foreign affairs? Because Antonio Trillanes and Gringgo Honasan are both on the Senate committee on Foreign Affairs. And Tito Sotto on the committee on Dangerous Drugs? Have we not learned from that raid in 1997, when the notorious Hong Kong drug lord and fugitive Alfredo Tiongco was found to be hiding in Quezon City all along,  protected by police escorts that were assigned to Senator Sotto?

Like it or not, if we keep electing the same jokes into office we don’t really have a lot of right to complain when they treat our country as one too. Surely once we’ve seen what a person can do or know what they did in their past we would think twice about trusting them? That’s what criminal records are for. We can’t keep singing about how bad we’ve been treated and yet still go for the same type of people; that doesn’t sound like a nation wanting change, that sounds like a population of Taylor Swifts.

What ever happened to the era of Magsaysay, who ordered the gates of Malacanang Palace to be opened to allow his people to consult him personally in his office? Now of course, the notion that an ordinary citizen in his flip-flops discussing his problems face-to-face with the President is too ludicrous to think of. What about the time of Manuel Quezon, who ordered a national language be recognized so all Filipinos may understand each other without having to learn English. And where is our modern day Carlos Romulo, who despite his short stature was not afraid to mince words with global leaders?

Our country has faced a steep decline since then.

There used to be a time when our leaders not only dressed like respectable people but acted like ones too. There used to be a time when we passed laws based on reason and logic, today we barely see a Congress session without a lawmaker or two (at least) invoking God or the supernatural. We used to pass economic measures based on what would benefit the people the most, today Congressmen only care about economics that benefit their own families or their benefactors.

What happened to those times when our countrymen could bask in the glory of having the first airline in the continent, the most modern public facilities, the most efficient education system, boast of high literacy rates and enjoyed the best economic climate in the region. Today we have to surrender our own dreams and to choose an education based on what profession is in demand in other nations, just so we could make a living for ourselves.

There are a lot of reasons why this reality came to be and it is unfair to pin the blame solely on politics. But leaders are supposed to know the right path and lead their flock towards it. And of course this has a lot to do with us since it is we who choose our leaders, and indeed our choices have costed us dearly.

When we hear of elitist snobs such as the Binays treating the country like their own kingdom, we need to remember that in order for those people to achieve positions in government they needed to be elected first; and the Binays were elected. So when we complain about their shenanigans, and the joke that several other politicians do, we need to remember them very well – all the way until 2016 when we enter that voting precinct.

We also need to remember that politicians suddenly act like the most admirable people in the world as elections draws near, because they rely on the fact that people have a short attention span. This is a scheme that they have been doing for years, ignoring their jobs as soon as they get elected only to redeem themselves as their terms near its expiration. And why would they bother changing it if it works?

In order to force change we need to remember everything that politicians did during the full duration of their terms and scrutinize their track records.

Take United States politics for example: up until Obama sealed the Democratic primaries, Hillary Clinton was seen as the undisputed frontrunner to lead the party in the 2008 elections. She was leading on all polls by overwhelming margins months prior to the end of the primaries. But in a snap of a finger she lost her lead and Obama ended up carrying the party torch. Why? Because Obama’s campaign team scoured her political history and used the fact that she supported the Iraq War, which made her unpopular among the anti-war liberals.

If only we would apply the same approach, analyze and dissect the track records and history of every candidate then we too would do a better job of choosing our leaders. If we are tired of traditional politicos like the Binays, Estrada and the rest of the comedians that seem to win elections at ease then we need to stop electing them. Then perhaps, we can bring back the times when our leaders were someone we could actually be proud of.

Binay video, courtesy of Inquirer.net

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EDITOR’S NOTE: It’s been a while since my last post, which also happened to be my most popular and successful blog post to date. Unfortunately, I became too busy getting my student loan applications and university applications sent in time and I did not have time to write an immediate follow-up post. But nonetheless, I am done for the semester and will be making more frequent posts. A big thanks to everyone who left positive comments by the way on my previous article, it was also featured on CNN. (someone uploaded it to their iReport page) Thanks for sharing it on social media sites and even for just taking the time to read it. Much appreciated and expect the same tone and storytelling from me. Cheers! 

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