By SONNY AFRICA
IBON Features— With less than a week to go before the May 10, 2010 elections, the most common question on voters’ minds is of course who to vote for. Knowing the value of their vote, most voters also ask which candidates will deliver change for themselves, their families and the country. If there is anything Filipinos want in May 2010 it is change from the political, economic and social disorder that the Arroyo administration leaves behind.
Yet how this change can begin to happen and the ‘best’ candidates to push this are unfortunately not as obvious as it might seem. The presidency for instance is the most important and highest-profile position at stake– but it is alarming that the presidentiables’ respective stands on the most urgent issues faced by the people still do not seem to figure prominently in their campaigns and hence in how voters will choose.
Candidates can cultivate an image of reform but what exactly, beyond the predictable motherhood statements, can and will they do?
Presidentiables’ stand on key people’s issues
The key issues confronting the country and challenging the candidates can be clustered into five main areas: 1) truth, accountability and justice; 2) economic progress and the environment; 3) people’s welfare; 4) sovereignty, peace and equality; and 5) love of country. The antidote to ambiguity and generalities is to ground these criteria in the concrete and specific problems that Filipinos face. These problems are clear and distinct enough that the presidential candidates can be assessed according to whether and how far they offer real solutions.
A presidentiable’s stand on an issue can be identified based on explicit declarations such as according to a platform, on positions taken in the past on related on government policies, programs or laws, and on his or her personal involvement on the matter.
Truth, accountability and justice
The candidates all declare themselves to be anti-corruption even as the most pressing corruption issues at hand have to do with Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, her family, and her allies in and out of government. The most pointed proposal comes from Noynoy Aquino who declared that he will set up a commission on the scandals surrounding Pres. Arroyo. JC delos Reyes, Richard Gordon, Jamby Madrigal, Nick Perlas, Eddie Villanueva and Manny Villar have also said that Pres. Arroyo should be held accountable for possible crimes committed. Administration candidate Gilbert Teodoro on the other hand settles for evasively declaring this a matter for the courts. Ousted president Joseph Estrada is of course unique for being the only candidate actually already convicted of plunder.
All similarly declare to uphold human rights but have widely varying positions in practice. Delos Reyes, Madrigal and Villanueva have openly opposed extrajudicial killings while Villar affirms seeking justice for human rights victims from the Marcos dictatorship to the present; Perlas does not appear to take a strong stand on these issues. Aquino, Madrigal and Teodoro voted against the controversial Human Security Act (Anti-Terror Law) – which Gordon and Villar voted for – while Delos Reyes trumpets supporting Barangay Human Rights Action Centers. Although Aquino spoke out against extrajudicial killings he is defensive on the Hacienda Luisita massacre and even downplays this. Estrada and Teodoro are both directly implicated in state-sponsored human rights violations during their stints as president and defense secretary, respectively.
Economic progress and the environment
The deterioration of the domestic economy affects millions of Filipinos yet it appears most candidates do not have a comprehensive grasp of the problem. Only Madrigal is able to articulate a nationalist economic program of meaningful agrarian reform, industrialization, and protection of the national patrimony. She filed related legislation and voted against the free trade deal with Japan; however she voted for the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program with Reforms (CARPer), or extension of the agrarian reform program, criticized by peasant groups as a pro-landlord bill.
Delos Reyes, Gordon, Perlas and Villanueva seem to approach land reform more from the point of view of agricultural productivity rather than social justice. Aquino abstained from voting on CARPer and in effect continues to defend his family’s stake in Hacienda Luisita which is a showcase of evading agrarian reform. Villar did not vote on CARPer and has said that he will review agrarian reform, yet is a real estate developer facing allegations of land-grabbing. There were no real land reform gains under the Estrada presidency, while Teodoro is dismissive of such government support for the peasantry.