If, like Miriam Defensor Santiago, you’re too busy laughing over Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay’s announcement last Tuesday that he’s available as a candidate for President of this unhappy republic, you might be missing the point.

The chief pol of the United Opposition announced his availability for the 2010 elections in a rally in which, among other highlights, some of his supporters carried streamers declaring him the (Barack) “Obama of the Philippines.”

Binay should at least be credited for seizing on the historic election of a black man to the US presidency to boost his presidential ambitions, while not too subtly calling attention to his own dark hue, which in mestizo- and Caucasian-mad Philippines has always been a source of the most stupid jokes. Filipino racism assumes that while White is superior to colored (ask Filipinos in the US why most of them voted Republican last November 4), Light is better than Brown, but Brown’s better than Black. I suspect that what Santiago found funny, as did many Filipinos with the same twisted humor, was the audacity, not of hope, but of Binay’s attempt to make political capital out of his complexion.

But Binay did try to do an Obama in other ways, primarily by promising change as Obama did during the US presidential campaign, except that Binay promised a “revolution.” And of course he launched the usual attack against the Arroyo regime by citing the numerous scandals—from the electoral fraud of 2004 to the botched Memorandum of Agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front this year– that have haunted it from Day 1 of its putrid watch.

The comparison with Obama, or more precisely, the need for someone as promising, does resonate in these isles of want, where some political activists wept out of sheer envy when the US electorate threw out Bush and his gang of neo-con warmongers last November 4.

If Binay’s the Philippine Obama, we all know who the Philippine Bush is—except that she’s even more unpopular than Dubya. Thank God, she doesn’t have the same arsenal of destruction the US has, although she and hers are probably far ahead of Bush in the wealth and pelf department.

Our own little Bush, however, is similar to her patron in her disdain for the bill of rights, but beats him in her absolute focus on remaining in power. She has the same Bush skills in her horrible choice of officials too. Like Bush, she has an uncanny talent for putting people where they don’t belong, or don’t have any talent for, in some cases providing the country absolute proof that its alleged president has only contempt for its feelings and intelligence by appointing Gonzalez to Justice, Atienza to Environment, and Reyes to Energy.

Unlike Bush she hasn’t called Greeks “Grecians,” nor referred to Barack Obama’s wife of 16 years as his “bride.” But she’s no less a butterfingers in the foreign policy department, the latest indication being her frenzied, totally uncool attempt to connect with Obama. Again unlike Bush, about whom there’s a debate on who’s worse, he or Harry Truman, she’s most likely to go down in history as the worst president the country has ever had. Bar none.

And then there’s the economy, the unemployment and the hunger…In short, the country’s never been ripe for change, or even the “revolution” that was on Binay’s lips last Tuesday.

The bad news is that Binay might be the best we can get if we’re looking for an Obama. The Democratic Party at least had a deep bench of possible successors to the Bush White House other than Barack Obama, among them John Edwards, Hillary Clinton and Dennis Kucinich.

No such luck in these parts. Binay’s rivals —and we can’t say they’re all from the opposition, or will remain with the opposition, party affiliations in this country being as fluid as the Pasig on a stormy day—include deposed President Joseph Estrada, Senate President Manuel Villar, Senators Loren Legarda and Manuel Roxas III.

The most we can say about them is they’re not with the administration (although pardoned plunderer Estrada does invite more unprintable remarks). But not a man or woman among them has said anything about the imperative to remove the Arroyo regime from power in 2010 and everything else associated with it. A pledge to eradicate corruption would be a good start. So would a commitment to the Bill of Rights the Arroyo regime has been savaging for eight years, particularly the rights to free expression and assembly.

On the other hand, the regime’s candidates not only include people like Noli de Castro, who, were it not for his gender, would be a prime candidate for the title of the Philippines’ Sarah Palin; Bayani Fernando, whose prime achievement as chair of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority are those shocking-pink foot bridges he’s thrown on every intersection in the capital; Richard Gordon, whose being head of the Philippine Red Cross doesn’t mean he won’t be as disastrous as a typhoon for this country; and Gilbert Teodoro, whose main preoccupation during the last two years as Defense Secretary has been the defense of AFP generals.

Sure, Quezon City Mayor Feliciano Belmonte, one of the names in the regime list, is at least competent. But what the country needs is not only competence, but also what the US needed: the removal from power of a despised regime that in the last eight years has done more to destroy this country’s institutions than its perceived enemies ever could– and its replacement with another that could make Filipinos hopeful again.

But as we‘ve seen in the last eight years, the Philippine political system can’t do that, quite simply and brutally because it’s a system of compromise and opportunism, and unlikely to produce anyone equal to the vast tasks of rebuilding, renewal and transformation—of its institutions, and its civic sense as well as its hopes and energies—this country needs.

If, in asking who will do that, we limit ourselves to asking who this country’s Obama will be, the answer is no one. No, we can’t.


Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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