All politics is local

SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Ernesto P. Maceda Jr. - The Philippine Star

We wrote last week of the inside the beltway candidates, referencing those from high national office. The beltway of metaphor is Washington DC’s Interstate 495 which encircles the Capital. Inside it you find the White House and the federal bureaucracy, Capitol Hill and the US Supreme Court. If you work inside, you are inured to the ways of power.

In the Philippines, the comparable “protoype” is Imperial Manila. In this context, the insider candidates are Vice President Leni Robredo, Senators Ping Lacson, Manny Pacquiao, Bong Go and former senator Bongbong Marcos. Senator Go disavowed his candidacy but remains on the radar.

National perspective makes for good political theater. It calls to mind actors who tackle the soaring, poetic and grand themes. China, Climate, Congressional oversight, etc.. These intangibles, however, hardly resonate with the common man. It’s the decisions confronted by their local councils that fill the belly.

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte broke the mold, the first outsider to win the Game of Thrones. President Corazon C. Aquino? Her case was sui generis. After her interlude, we swiftly returned to insider advantage until 2016.

The outliers paradigm. As if to confirm 2016’s tectonic shift, 2022 will again be seeing non-insiders commanding center stage. Davao City Mayor Sara Z. Duterte and Manila Mayor Isko Moreno have emerged as survey anointed frontrunners over the four or five other proven national vote getters.

Mayor Isko Moreno has been relentless in his pursuit of good governance. At his launch, he committed to development not just based on economic growth but observing the Human Development Index. HDI is that composite of metrics in key dimensions of health, education and standard of living. This emphasis on measuring development by checking on people and not just numbers is the mayor’s implicit plaint that our success has not been inclusive. Wealth has not trickled down.

Walking the talk. On health, Mayor Isko has initiated elaborate and aggressive health spending in the city, like his predecessors. The best monument to this is the COVID field hospital, in the center of the Luneta grandstand area, organized and assembled while we were sleeping. Any more doubts on his health bona fides? His Vice Mayor is a doctor and his vice presidential candidate is a doctor.

He is strong on Education. From his own humble beginnings, he has availed of every opportunity. He was in law school when he first ran for vice mayor; studied public administration at the PLM and enrolled in courses at Harvard and Oxford.

Origin stories. The President has chosen to highlight certain aspects of Mayor Moreno’s past but it is undeniable that he comes with his own executive experience. For the past three years, he was a neophyte local chief executive. But he has had a long and storied career in public service from councilor, vice mayor and also in appointive positions under PRRD.

The Queen in the South. Arguably the candidate with the most executive experience is Sara Z. Duterte, on her third term as mayor of Davao City.

Educated as a lawyer, she is celebrated for her compassion and renowned as an ardent supporter of women’s rights. Mayor Sara has been very dignified in her representation of the country when accompanying the President on his official functions abroad.

She has navigated the role of presidential daughter/first lady with poise and has steered clear of any major controversies. But this lady is one tough personality. It’s not just the tattoo. She is a colonel in the Armed Forces reserve. And, as we’ve seen, she can beat any of her rivals in a boxing match. All except Manny Pacquiao.

Macros vs micros vs Marcos. The rise of the local behemoths highlights our comfort level with the more micro management styles. Isko and Sara will also attract LGU support given their experiences on the ground. It is but natural for local leaders to gravitate to their standard. It’s like having 81 provincial, 146 city, 1488 municipal and 42,046 barangay campaign managers, in theory.

And, in theory, this was the leadership they expected of PRRD, anointed mayor of the Philippines. His campaign platform of federalism and empowering of LGUs did attract the major LGU leagues. The Philippine Councilors League, 17,000 strong in 2018, was a pillar of support. But many ended up disappointed. Federalism, supposedly the main plank of the President’s agenda, was not pursued. Mandanas is coming in 2022 but, when it was first decided in 2019, there was no visible, visceral effort to support the possible early release and retroactive computation of the IRA. The President’s economic team were uncharacteristically vocal against it.

Sara and Isko are not the only ones forging a national identity. Senator Bongbong Marcos had one since birth. The former senator is also a former governor and, hence, not far removed from the same local orientation. Senator/governor Marcos has sustained that high level of awareness which, though netting him the most vituperation, has garnered him a fresh look from the electorate. The nation still remembers the 2016 tease of leadership where he almost broke through, virtually on his own steam.

The brink. A constitutional crisis is slowly unfolding, PRRD threatening to stonewall against the Senate Pharmally investigation. Should he deliver on his threats, a crisis proper will ensue but this will be diffused by the Supreme Court as there is clearly no basis for the egregious defiance. At this point, such a posture only succeeds in mirroring the equal stonewall desperation of Ong and the insufferable impertinence of Usec. Lao’s laughter in the face of the Senate’s questions.

The more important things. We are wishing our brother Edward VP. Maceda the healthiest, in both mind and body, and happiest birthday tomorrow. Your principled service is a bright star in a darkening firmament. Mom and Dad are surely smiling.

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