The 2010 train is moving forward. Before we know it, it will be here and we have to make important decisions about where we want it to go. So this early, let us start the process of selecting our candidates well, and imagining how and where we want a presumably new set of leaders to take us.
I am proposing these rules — half-serious “new rules,” rants actually — for candidates to observe during the elections so that we can be sure we get the leaders we deserve. Here goes:
1. Anyone who wants to run for president must, on top of the qualifications stated in the Constitution, not be a female below five feet tall. She must not have a mole on her face, an overweight husband with a high–pitched voice and sons who are congressmen.
2. Every candidate must clearly state his or her stand on an issue that divides our nation’s sense of culture, its sense of socio-political correctness, its definition of honor, dignity, compassion, good taste and etiquette, and more importantly, its moral fiber. I am not talking about the National Artist awards, the RH bill or the MTRCB. I refer to something more pervasive in our national life and conversation that has set the tone and direction of our children’s values: Willie Revillame and Wowowee!
3. Every presidential candidate must promise to be creative in handling coups, tragedies and other calamities and refrain themselves, their spokespeople and their underlings from using the following overused phrases in their media statements: “We are monitoring the situation,” “We are on top of the situation,” “Everything is under control” and “We will punish them accordingly.”
Seriously, it is time to speak a different language and come up with intelligent solutions to our country’s problems.
4. Every candidate running for public office must promise not to purposely talk stupidly, or espouse dumb ideas because he thinks that by doing so, he is connecting to the greater number of our people. In truth, it only shows how much he actually despises the public when he assumes they are stupid. If you talk stupidly, at least be honestly stupid about it.
Sad to say, our people have learned to expect this behavior from politicians, the media and even the Church who have been dumbing down to us for decades when they evade real issues because it takes an extra creative effort to simplify them and discuss them with the masses. They do this when they presume that the Filipino is stupid and cannot appreciate complex concepts and ideas that can liberate them. They do this when they fear that people are not smart enough to make their own choices and so they must be kept ignorant and easier to dictate upon.
The worst part is, we have learned not just to live with this indignity, we are no longer even bothered by it. Imagine someone like Senator Villar, who instead of expressing his aversion when asked about Willie Revillame’s supposed vice-presidential aspirations, chooses to answer perfunctorily that “he has every right to do so as a Filipino citizen,” and gets away with it
Jeez! It’s the safe but insincere answer, a reactionary response that can be called idiotic politeness. It comes from the mindset of one who will wheel and deal and bend to please everyone.
We want our elected officials to be intelligent and honest and walk the talk no matter how tough the temptation is to play “dumb” in order to “connect.” And we, the electorate, should let politicians, the media and the Church know that dumbing down is unacceptable.
If we want to move ahead as a nation, we must challenge not only our leaders but also ourselves to dream higher and embrace a greater understanding and appreciation of the issues that affect us.
Knowledge, wisdom, leadership are elite qualities. Decisions, therefore, should be made by an elite group of elected officials, and by that I mean people who know what they’re talking about, in consultation with their constituents.
Would you be comfortable if someone outside of his competence — like, say, Manny Pacquiao — performed brain surgery on you? So why does the administration want him to run as a lawmaker?
5. A caveat to all candidates declared and undeclared: please avoid stunts like suddenly becoming visible with ads that promote you even before the campaign period has started. And when called down for premature campaigning, please do not say that it is “friends” who are paying for them. People have learned to see through your evasiveness. Where there is smoke, people know there is a fog machine somewhere helping create an illusion.
While we’re at it, here are some rules for officials to consider after they are elected:
A. Every public building and all public property therein, all government cars and assets must be marked clearly with stickers that read: “This is owned by the Filipino People. Use of this by the President and other government officials is a privilege. He/she must not in anyway think, act or use this like they own it.”
Remember the story of Cory’s grandson who asked her if he could eat the candy on her desk, or if it belonged to the Filipino people? That’s how conscientious officials and their family members should be. It should not be farfetched to imagine the President staying up 10 minutes longer at night grappling with his conscience, not just on how he tackled the big issues but also whether he was too extravagant using paper clips, Kleenex, or the air conditioner.
B. Once a month, public officials must set a day to state unequivocally and in public any mistake they may have committed that may have harmed the public interest, no matter how small. It would be great to hear Speaker Nograles say, “My fellow Filipinos, I’ve been such an insensitive idiot for insisting on Charter change, and through con-ass at that! My bad!” Or Senator Miriam Santiago could come clean with: “Okay. I admit I love to hear the sound of my own voice and my self- perceived brilliance. I’m sorry if I took up so much senate time which cost the taxpayers millions.” Or Senator Lito Lapid might candidly say, “I still don’t know what I am doing here. I’m sorry.”
We must find a place in our culture for public apology. It will force our officials to remain humble and may even change our nation in a big way. Imagine plunderers, coup plotters, thieves, and other baddies admitting their crimes in special courts, asking the people for forgiveness and volunteering some form of retribution like going on self-exile, returning the loot, or offering to commit suicide. (Okay, forget the suicide.) In truth, it may take as little as genuine contrition to heal our divisions. In Rwanda, people who committed atrocities during the civil war came forward and asked for forgiveness sincerely. And guess what? In most cases, that was enough.
6. Opening sessions of the legislature, executive meetings, and all caucuses, including the SONA, must start with a five-minute talk by a non-public official. In Russia, such a privilege is given to poets, writers and other artists. In our case, we can give the pulpit to humble citizens like market vendors, public school teachers and farmers. While there is a risk that this can turn into a circus, at best, our officials will be reminded at every turn who they are supposed to serve.
The tide is changing. A fresh wind is blowing. I am willing to bet that in next year’s election, genuine dignity — similar to that by which Cory Aquino carried herself during her campaign, throughout her presidency and the rest of her life — will have a better chance of winning than cheesy gimmickry.