An Open Letter to Harvey S. Keh and other friends of reform
Joel Rocamora, Institute for Popular Democracy, March 21, 2009
I understand why you and other friends of reform want "a God-fearing, morally-upright, effective and ethical leader for our country in 2010". The sins of the ruling Arroyo clique are so all-encompassing, so pervasive that our only possible response is moral outrage. But the distance between taking a stance for morality and electing a president cannot be shortened by choosing moral leaders as candidates.
If we float candidates we must make sure they want to run and not feel like people are running after them. If we then launch a candidacy, we must make sure we have the capability to run a serious campaign, not coast on wings of hope and moral fervor. US$5 contributions from overseas Filipinos sounds nice, but to get your US$30 million target you have to get 6 million people to contribute! If you set unrealistic targets, you set yourself up for failure, and the people you inspire, for a hard fall.
We all want a reform president in 2010. Repairing the damage from nine years of corrupt misgovernment by GMA will require leadership from a president who can use the powers of the presidency for reform. To elect such a president, all reformers have to work hard. To begin with, we have to come to an understanding about the nature of the electoral terrain in 2010. Even if the Comelec succeeds in modernizing ballot counting, election contests will remain substantially the same. The Philippine electoral terrain has been shaped by trapos for over a century.
Results of national contests are determined by what some call "trench warfare", the struggle for support among local politicians, and the "air war" of competing TV and radio advertizing. Because we do not have political parties with real programs, there are no issues in national elections. Our task as reformers will be to assert the importance of issues of reform in the 2010 elections. This can best be done by supporting a candidate who is competitive in both "trench warfare" and the "air war", who gets an edge over his rivals by building a new source of votes, people who want reform.
The 2010 election will not be anything like February 1986 when the one-on-one fight between Marcos and Cory Aquino was as close to a fight between "good and evil" as we will ever get. In 2010, there will be at least three and possibly four serious candidates and a bunch of also runs. There will be temptation to take the politically debilitating "lesser evil" stance. As reformers, we should instead look for the candidate who is more likely than the others to organize reform if he wins. We should come in now and help to shape his campaign.
Picking a reform candidate is not enough. We need to build a reform constituency which can do the following interrelated things: (1) Shape our candidate's campaign around the importance of reform, (2) Transform our reform constituency into a factor in the election by forcing other candidates to compete on the issue of reform, and by mobilizing serious numbers of voters. Ten million might be unrealistic, but five million added votes can win the election. (3) Sustain our reform constituency to support struggles for reform after the election. Even if our candidate wins, he will continue to need our support in pushing reform.
I have several problems with your position, Harvey. (1) I agree with Gov. Panlilio “that we should have one reform candidate; otherwise, we will get a president that we do not like.” If you are serious about supporting Among Ed, you should not float other possible candidates. (2) You should make sure the people you float are interested. Governor Padaca and Mayor Robredo are both Liberal Party members who support Mar Roxas for president. Chief Justice Puno has said he is not interested; he is needed where he is.
Among Ed's position is the wisest. “I will go for whoever will represent a genuine reform constituency,” he said. “It does not necessarily have to be me. If there is a more appropriate candidate, why will I present myself? I look at my role now as more of one of the convenors of a genuine reform coalition.” The candidate is less important than the reform constituency. But to get our reforms close to reality, we need to elect a president. The sooner we decide on that candidate, the better. Floating many candidates will not get us closer to that decision.#