Know them by the company they keep

THE CORNER ORACLE - Andrew J. Masigan - The Philippine Star

Johann Wolfgang von Goeth once said, “Tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are.”

On a recent visit to a depressed community in Tatalon, I engaged with four blue-collar workers who are still undecided as to whom to vote for president. They expressed skepticism when I tried to persuade them to support Leni Robredo. They were equally skeptical about Bongbong Marcos. Politicians, past and present, have let them down. Their sentiments are understandable.

The four concede that this presidential race boils down to Marcos and Robredo. Who will be the better president between the two? After a brief discussion on the issues that the next president will have to tackle, I encouraged them to look at the people who surround them. One can tell volumes about a person by the company they keep.
I shared my reservations about Bongbong Marcos’ closest advisors. How can one trust a coven of politicians who were all convicted (and incarcerated) for plunder and caught red handed committing electoral fraud? How can one trust the dynasties who monopolize political and economic power in their bailiwicks while their constituents live from hand to mouth? If put in the position of power, cronies and dynasties will do what they have always done – expand the breadth of their influence at the people’s expense.

We fear that painful, but necessary political, social and economic reforms may not be implemented if they compromise the interest of those in power and their favored friends. To think that they may engage in a bacchanalia of plunder is not far fetched either.  They have done it before – what makes us think that they will not do it again?

I reminded the four that every centavo that goes into the pocket of corrupt politicians is a centavo taken away from public housing, education, health care and other social needs.

The undecideds told me that they are averse to voting for Leni Robredo because she represents the “dilawans.” They worry that if elected, she may be used as their puppet. When I asked who the dilawans are, no one could give me an answer. The dilawans have been so vilified that many simply write them off as evil without even knowing why.

Let me share what I know about the dilawans.

The dilawans are public servants associated with the administrations of former presidents Cory Aquino, Fidel Ramos and Noynoy Aquino. Sure, their administrations may have been imperfect but no one can deny their contributions to nation building. More importantly, none were convicted for corruption.

It was Cory Aquino who re-established democracy in the land. If not for her, we would still be living under a dictatorial regime where our freedoms and rights are overruled by whoever sits in Malacañang. President Cory re-established our freedoms of speech, expression, press, assembly and petition. She also enshrined our basic human rights in the 1987 Constitution. Thanks to her, we now have the right to due process if arrested, the right to privacy, to information and to protection under the law, among others.

For his part, President Ramos broke the Marcos monopolies and opened our industries to competition. Thanks to him, we now enjoy relatively stable electric power and water supply. Air travel has become affordable and so have telecommunication services. Ramos instituted reforms that helped the economy rise in competitiveness.

President Noynoy Aquino was much maligned but his was one of the more successful presidencies. He strived for inclusive growth where the benefits of economic expansion would trickle down to the poor. It was during his time that unemployment and poverty rates reached an all-time low of 5.8 percent and 21.6 percent, respectively, on the back of a strong economy. It was during his time that the Philippines shed its “sick man” image and became Asia’s brightest star. Our standing in various developmental indices increased markedly and the Philippines found its pride again.

It’s been said that PNoy did nothing for infrastructure. This is false. In fact, numerous projects realized during the Duterte administration were initiated by PNoy’s government. PNoy left Mr. Duterte with $83 billion in treasury reserves, which made Build Build Build possible. That said, the infrastructure program of the Duterte administration stands on the shoulders of PNoy’s judicious financial management.

The dilawans were decent leaders. They put people before politics, prudence before populism and dignity over vulgarity. They respected due process and never let expediency get in the way of law enforcement. The dilawan’s reforms were designed for long-term benefit (eg. democratic reforms, draconian tax collection practices and trade liberalization, etc.) even if unpopular for the here and now. Above all, they exemplified bravery by dragging China to court for their territorial grab. No other claimants to the Spratlys dared.

So is being dilawan a negative attribute? Absolutely not. The dilawans represent the pursuit good governance even if they erred now and then. No administration is perfect, after all. The reason why they suffer a stigma is because a demolition job was waged against them, perpetuated by those who oppose what they stand for.

Leni Robredo was once a member of the Aquino-associated Liberal Party before turning independent. Does this make her dilawan? It no longer matters. Leni Reobredo comes with her own convictions, her own reform agenda and her own leadership style. She is surrounded not by a team of Liberal old timers but by young professionals who represent the best minds in the land, the majority of whom are not even politicians.

So to the undecided, when making your choice, consider not only a candidate’s credentials, preparedness and integrity – but also the company they keep.

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Email: [email protected]. Follow him on Facebook @Andrew J. Masigan and Twitter @aj_masigan


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