History repeats itself

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

Are we condemned to repeat history for failing to learn from it? This is one of the bigger caveats against the Marcos (BBM) candidacy. But, devoid of the Santayana connotation, the phrase can simply mean following in a parent’s footsteps. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo became president just like her father, Diosdado Macapagal. Benigno Aquino III duplicated his mother Corazan Cojuangco-Aquino’s feat. If he wins the presidency on Monday, Ferdinand Romualdez Marcos Jr. will be the third to repeat presidential history, in his case 57 years after his namesake.

There are those who would make this a referendum on pedigree. They lament how the Gen Z and Millennials can be clueless as to the sins of the parents (these are the generations reputedly supplying the BBM campaign with their largest leads). To segments who choose to move on, forgive, forget or simply see candidates for who they are, the knee jerk reaction is to cancel them or to demand they justify their choices. This is emblematic of the zeal from anti-BBM camps.

Charismatic Pasig City Mayor and future president Vico Sotto articulates the contrary perspective. “Politics and elections should be about convincing people so let’s convince each other in a civilized manner, in a polite manner. Other people might be turned off with their attitude that they label people who are not with them as evil.” In Tagalog: “Walang basagan ng trip.”

Democracy’s cornerstone is that the people are sovereign. Each one has the right to speak and the right to believe. The market place of ideas is made vibrant by the array of voices competing for space. The objective is to co-exist as it is only in listening to all that we determine which is best. The operative word is respect. Intolerance, shaming, bullying are anathema.

Insulting candidates may be a “hallowed” tradition of elections, wherever held. To insult voters for their choices, however, is pretty new, even for election savvy Philippines. Using the specter of authoritarian rule is not only an offense to the candidate that he might attempt it but, worse, it’s an offense to the electorate that we would even allow it.

Knights or knaves? The most flayed of the presidentiables has been BBM but all of them are flawed, with some proudly so. It is one of the hallmarks of Philippine electoral politics that while voters still appreciate heroes, there is the aspiration to find identity with them. For this, they have to be reachable and more like us. Pragmatism, contradiction or ambivalence, we accept their “perfect” imperfections.

Knight or knave, BBM leads, according to surveys. Haters begrudge what they see only as his charmed life. Yes, the man enjoyed an entitled childhood but the past 36 years have been more star-crossed for him than star lit. Politically, his first national foray in the 1995 senatorial race ended with a crushing defeat. Even subsequent political success he has had to navigate with a scarlet letter on his chest.

In one respect, this electoral exercise trumps previous iterations in that the scrutiny of candidates has been intense, specially of BBM. In contrast, relatively little was known of candidate Rodrigo Roa Duterte in 2016. Never before have we had to think harder, second guess our decisions, educate ourselves on all the available data and make informed choices. The votes we cast on Monday will be our most calculated ever. Whatever the outcome, it required from us intelligent judgments.

Just Mercy. I am reminded of the effect of an official’s victory at the polls on his being held to account for past deeds. For the longest time the doctrine of condonation was a pillar of jurisprudence, institutionalizing the clemency power of an electorate’s will expressed through the ballot.

The doctrine was recently repudiated because, on a “conceptual level,” it was difficult to reconcile. Condonation presupposes knowledge of what is condoned. This is, however, contrary to human experience. A candidate’s past transgressions are so rarely publicized such that it is difficult to ascertain if a vote for him is given with full knowledge of his character and his faults. How do you forgive if you don’t know what you’re forgiving?

In BBM’s case, there is no such conceptual difficulty. Allegations of past conduct have been thoroughly publicized and extensively debated, even the focus of entire campaigns and platforms. His character has precisely been the bone of contention for many. Should he make it on Monday, then honoring the electorate’s will is accepting how they have come to terms with BBM and his story.

Strong presence. Professor Magno wrote the other day of the nostalgia for strong leadership. I see strength more in the virtue of forbearance. Even against the most withering diatribe, he has not been seen to engage or taken a retaliatory stance.

Most convincing, for a voter, is strength of principle. Senator BBM at the submission of the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law, 2015 was Horatius incarnate. That initial effort from Malacañang could have diminished the nation’s sovereignty and impacted on our territorial integrity. In BBM’s words, rather than bringing us closer to peace, it would lead to perdition. With forceful rhetoric and towering conviction, he succeeded virtually singlehandedly in thwarting the adoption of the constitutionally infirm original version of the BBL.

The chamber we need. There is enough from the cohort of the personalities we know, the re-electionist and returning senators, to fill half our line-ups for Monday. We draw the balance from the ranks of senatoriables newly introduced to us. The UP College of Law leads in supplying top shelf talent with the likes of alumni Gibo Teodoro, Jojo Binay, Neri Colmenares, Harry Roque and Sal Panelo. There is the heft of eminent practitioner and legal academic Chel Diokno, officer and gentleman Guillor Eleazar and infrastructure guru Mark Villar. Any, or hopefully all, of them would bring honor to the institution and prove worthy of the traditions established by the men and women who preceded them.                                                           


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