FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - May 18, 2019 - 12:00am

The most experimental candidacy in the last election is being ignored in all the usual discussion panels on mainstream media.

Doc Willie Ong launched his bid for a seat in the Senate without illusions – and certainly without pretensions. The cardiologist, who is also a social media sensation, announced he would accept no donations to his candidacy.

As a result, he could not afford to take out paid political ads, mount motorcades or mobilize mass rallies. He also did not try to peddle some false narrative about saving Filipino democracy from its own voters or about stopping a drift to dictatorship.

Willie Ong mainly addressed himself to his Facebook base. His message was simple: we need a real doctor in the legislature to help repair our badly injured health service system. His single advocacy was to make quality health care accessible to the masses.  The candidate called up images of that other legendary doctor who served in the Senate: Juan Flavier.

Ong, of course, had to surmount that unspoken bias in our electoral politics against candidates with monosyllabic last names. This election, he and Bong Go broke the ethnic glass ceiling.

It is heartening that Willie Ong broke into the win column in several overseas voting posts for our expats. Social media, to be sure, had no boundaries.

As the last votes are being counted, Ong is at 18th place. He is ahead of veteran Juan Ponce Enrile. He certainly outperformed six of the eight hyperventilating gang that designated itself the “opposition.” He is millions of votes ahead of leftist Neri Colmenares.

The truly revolutionary element in Ong’s commendable electoral performance is the fact that he mounted a virtually cost-free campaign. That has immense significance in the context of our money politics. We have much to learn from his experimental campaign to enlighten citizen engagement in future elections.


Benjamin Magalong’s brilliant career as a police officer nearly ended after he issued that courageous report on the Mamasapano massacre. The report called out the policy and procedural failings that led to this tragedy.

Then President Benigno Aquino III did not like that report, obviously, and Magalong was transferred to some purgatory post. After Rodrigo Duterte was elected president, the deeply respected police officer was rescued from oblivion.

After his retirement, Magalong brought his extraordinary leadership and management skills to the corporate sector. But his former colleagues and cause-oriented groups goaded him back to the public service. His hometown of Baguio City was in dire straits and needed someone with his skills and his integrity.

The people of Baguio, long beset by the incompetence and apathy of its entrenched political class rallied behind Magalong. He won the elections by a margin he never even dared to imagine. Now he has the unenviable task of solving his city’s traffic, garbage and water problems.

One common feature among the so-called “giant-killers” – Magalong, Moreno in Manila, Zamora in San Juan and Sotto in Pasig – is that they came before their voters with clearly thought-out plans. In all four cities, the population was dissatisfied with the tired and unimaginative rule of the traditional, deeply entrenched powerbrokers.

These “giant-killers” sought professional help in putting together the bold plans they offered their constituents. Some of the plans were truly innovative. Their voters bought in to those plans, confident that the newbies who offered them had the management skills and personal integrity to see those plans through.

These four incoming mayors, soon to take charge of distressed cities, represent something new in our local politics. Moving away from traditional patronage politics, our voters are choosing leaders who will bring modern management skills to the job.

Sour grapes

There is another trend that deserves closer scrutiny as the electoral dust settles: the rejection of the Old Left and their discredited demagoguery.

The day after elections, leftist groups were surprisingly on the streets, protesting the conduct of the exercise and undermining its legitimacy. The protest actions were obviously under the central direction of the dark lords of the Left.

As the numbers began streaming in, it became clear why the leftists were so agitated. Their senatorial bet, barometer of nationwide support for this ideological cult, was faring horribly. Their party-list groups were faring even worse.

 Despite his miserable numbers (several million votes behind Doc Willie), Colmenares refuses to concede and cast aspersions on the suitability of candidates who are winning in this contest. The man does not lack in conceit. He shows no respect for the wisdom of our voters in their large numbers. He betrays that autocratic streak that runs deep in the worn out ideology he professes.

The party list system is deeply flawed, to be sure. But for years, the leftist groups figured out a way to game the system and maintain a tight hold on congressional seats awarded out by this flawed system of representation. They traded the command votes of their mass organizations and captive communities for the support of local political lords for their party-list bets. While providing the Left a convenient platform in Congress, the system also help entrench the political lords.

Local political lords eventually realized they could get better returns by fielding their own party-list groups rather than trade votes with the Left. They too gamed the flawed system of representation.

Last Monday, the tide turned against the leftist party-list groups. They will never again regain the stranglehold over party-list representation they once enjoyed.

They are not taking that fact peaceably.

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