Coming soon, the circus that never left town

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WILL Vice President Jejomar Binay still run for President in 2016 despite his falling approval and preference numbers? Who will be his running mate, if ever? Wily tactician that he is, Binay’s thinking of getting Senator Grace Poe, who’s been rising in the surveys as the electorate’s second most preferred candidate for President.

If Poe runs as Binay’s vice-presidential candidate, that will surely assure him victory next year, despite the devastating impact on his popularity of the many allegations of wrongdoing that’s being dredged up in the Senate practically every week, which include his supposedly taking kickbacks in the construction of the Makati City Hall building, his unexplained wealth and possessions, and even his family’s interests in the company that makes the cakes that Makati presents to senior citizens during their birthdays.

Binay and company have been saying since 2014 that it’s a demolition job meant to destroy his chances in 2016, and it may very well be. The spearhead of the campaign is his own best enemy, the Aquino administration’s Senator Antonio Trillanes IV. Trillanes is a member of the Senate blue ribbon committee and has practically made a career out of accusing Binay of various offenses including graft, plunder and other forms of corruption.

A demolition job the Senate hearings about Binay may very well be. But that doesn’t make the accusations against him mere creations of Trillanes’ imagination, not only because imagination doesn’t seem to be among Trillanes’ military gifts, but also because Binay has refused to answer any of the charges before the committee, insisting that not only has he been prejudged, the intention is also to humiliate and torment him before the press and the public, which sounds more like an excuse to conceal his inability to explain anything rather than a legitimate fear of public persecution.

But if the intention is to bring down Binay’s previously astounding approval and other ratings, what Trillanes and company are doing seems to be working, as amply demonstrated not only by those numbers’ decline, but also by the consequential rise in the numbers not only of Poe, but also of such people as Davao City’s Rodrigo Duterte who claims to be not interested in running for President, but is nevertheless “touring” the entire country supposedly to campaign for federalism.

Duterte’s now tied with ousted President and Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada for third place in voter preference for President, after Binay and Poe. Meanwhile, apparently while looking at Poe’s rise in the surveys, and being suitably impressed, Benigno Aquino III is reported to have broached with Poe the possibility of her running for either the Presidency or the Vice Presidency under the Liberal Party banner, which raises questions over the political fate of presumptive LP Presidential candidate Manuel “Mar” Roxas II—and the possibility of a rift within the LP should Poe end up as its candidate for President in 2016.

But what have these to do with the price of eggs?

Most Filipinos are too concerned with the high prices of basic commodities, the rising cost of education, the future of their children, crime in the streets, and such other matters as how they’ll get to work on time, considering the increasing unreliability of the MRT and LRT and the dangers attendant to commuting through either—or with the even more urgent one of whether they’ll ever have a job without leaving the country and their families behind while they risk ending up in death row for some offense or the other—to be bothered by such questions as who’ll be running in 2016 or who’s going to be Jejomar Binay’s running mate.

The media are nevertheless entering into election mode, devoting more and more space and time to who’s going to run for what next year, what plans this or that “political party” so-called has in its sleeve etc., an entire year before the elections of 2016. If you asked the editors and public affairs honchos of the media why, they’ll say they’re taking their cue from the politicians for whom the three-year interregnum between elections has always served as an opportunity to prepare for the next election, and who’re in fact always in election mode. If Philippine politics were a circus, the politicians would be either clowns, high-wire artists or freak show denizens; they’d be performers in the year-long, 24/7 spectacle called Philippine politics that’s always been in town.

But some people and not only journalists are more ingenuous, and will say that they’re already in election mode because, after all, elections are the indispensable hallmark of democracy, and their results next year will be crucial to the future of this country. They’ve been saying that for years, as if Philippine elections have ever made a positive difference in anyone’s present or future—and as if elections in this country were authentic exercises of democratic choice.

Which is why most Filipino look at Philippine politics as a tired old circus that’s becoming less and less interesting with each passing day, although, bored as they may be with the latest news from the political front, most Filipinos will religiously go to the polls next year and the three years after that to cast their ballots—which, depending upon the Commission on Elections, terrorism, vote-buying, problems with the automated voting system and other events and factors both foreseen and unforeseen, will either be counted right, shaved off someone’s tally, or credited to someone else.

For the most part, however, the electorate has been in the throes of indifference and cynicism over the political process for decades, despite the public relations hypes over “Filipino First” (Carlos P. Garcia’s mantra in the 1950s), “this nation can be great again” (Marcos’ in the 1960s), and “Daang Matuwid” and Aquino III’s crowing over the country’s economic development.

They look around their neighborhoods and their homes, and see only the same poverty, the same misery, the same injustice and the same madness in the government bureaucracy exemplified by, among other hideous crimes, the involvement of police and military personnel in kidnapping, extortion, and murder. The result is mass depoliticization—an ironic predisposition to political non-engagement beyond grumbling in private about the state of the country and their lives, and voting every three years.

And yet politics, in the larger sense of its being about who wields power and how it is used, is crucial to everyone’s lives. The problem is that politics in these parts is often mistaken to mean engagement only in the political circus that—thanks to a clueless and grasping, self-aggrandizing political elite—has become the substitute for fighting for one’s right to decide how this country ought to be run, not by the political dynasties, but by the workers, peasants and professionals who for decades have been denied access to power by a political system driven first, last and solely by money.

(BusinessWorld)

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