Martin Bautista: The Candidate Who Lost, But Won
- Juaniyo Arcellana () - August 12, 2007 - 12:00am

The elections are over and Kapatiran candidate Martin Bautista has lost his bid for a seat in the Senate, but he’s still standing. In fact he looks none the worse for wear after the gruelling campaign that stretched for several weeks, and he has no regrets.

On an early Saturday morning he is sharing a breakfast of beef tapa and eggs with fried rice as he fields questions from a reporter and looks back at the elections, in a nondescript place called Heaven and Eggs along Morato Avenue in Quezon City.

“I got 758,000 votes,” says Bautista, a doctor whose family came back to the Philippines last year after 17 years in the United States where he and his doctor wife set up clinic in Oklahama.

“At least I beat Victor Wood,” he says, adding that the Kapatiran was able to get a lock on the AB class vote.”“But in order to win, you have to also get the CDE vote.”

He describes the experience as both”“humbling and educational.” He says in a post-election statement that he “ran for the Senate because I wanted not merely to prove a point, but to live by it. And the point is this: we can change our country, help our people, not by talking or theorizing but by actually doing something about it. One cannot simply make a statement. He must apply it in his life, by example, by involvement, by action.”

These days he spends most of his time in Bacolod, where his wife hails from, and where he has enrolled their four daughters at the La Salle Bacolod (although he was an Atenean in elementary and high school, then got his medical degree from the UP). When he’s in Manila he stays at the Bautista house in New Manila. Earlier this month, he went back to Oklahoma to preserve his green card status, and also to check up on the clinic that employs a number of people.

“I didn’t give it (clinic in US) up to keep my independence,” he says, noting that many Filipino politicians are beholden to the culturally ingrained patronage politics.

“Politics is not a means of livelihood,” his statement continues. “It is not an economic investment that will pay off in future material gain. Politics is a way of giving, of sharing, of helping. It is not soliciting support but providing it. It is not about rendering service in the senate when elected, but rendering service now, in the present, in this time and place, in one’s capacity as a candidate, a citizen, a Filipino of compassion.”

In keeping with this, Bautista gives a personal accounting:“I received donations from many sectors of society. Added to my own private contribution to the campaign, the total amount exceeded my modest campaign expenses. The balance I shall turn over to Gawad Kalinga in accordance with my conviction that politics is not an enterprise for profit.”

 Surveying the list of Senate winners, he says the victory of former Navy Lt. Senior Grade Antonio Trillanes IV “should be a wake-up call for the Arroyo administration.”

Symptomatic of Philippine politics is that 50 years ago, a Recto, Magsaysay and Osmeña also ran for the Senate, he says.

He feels disheartened that the election of the likes of Chiz Escudero and Alan Cayetano won’t do much to change things as they are, which he observes get worse every year he has visited the home country since the stateside sojourn.

“What we need are investments in health and education, a larger budget for the right priorities,” he says.

Bautista feels strongly about the automatic appropriation for debt payments, as “we are the only country in the world that has such a law.”

The automatic 28 percent appropriation out of the national budget for debt payments, he says, dates back to 1984 and the height of the Marcos era, where the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, Asian Development Bank seemingly conspired with the Marcos government to bleed the country dry, to the detriment of the education and health sectors.

“But this can be renegotiated. The US, for example, has 22 percent of their budget appropriated for health, and only 8 percent for debt, while we have only 1 percent for health and 11 percent for education,” he says.

“I’m not asking that we not pay our debt, just a deferment while we renegotiate,” he says. The suggestion, however, was frowned upon by the Kapatiran elders who said it might make the bankers “uncomfortable.”

“We feel upset when in one day a Korean shoots down 30 people in the States, but here in the Philippines 75 children die from TB and 12 die from gastroenteritis each day, deaths which are entirely preventable if we had more funds to address health needs,” he says.

He recalls a local documentary that shows a patient dying of TB, who in the last moments is injected with a drug that, as a close-up reveals, is way past the expiry date.

The slant is sensational, the doctor says, but misses the point entirely – which is, the TB patient shouldn’t have reached that state of premature mortality in the first place.

 Bautista had his share of episodes enlight-ening and hairy on the campaign trail with fellow candidates Adrian Sison and Zosimo Paredes, as they hit the hustings in Bukidnon, Davao City, Carcar in Cebu and up north in Baguio and Pampanga. He says the north is no longer as solid as it used to be, a good number having migrated southwards or overseas.

And while he feels blessed at the chance of having rubbed shoulders with the common folk and pressed the flesh of the masses, he remains astounded at the amount of corruption not only in government but also in media.

“Lokohan lang yan,” he says of the party-list system, citing as an example one party-list accredited by the Commission on Elections which had asked for P5 million up front in order to be named as a nominee, apart from 30 percent of the pork barrel in the next three years.

Then there was the endless solicitations for grease money just to be able to get a few minutes of radio time in the provinces. “The radio announcer would text me saying they would need permission from the owners and so on and so forth,” he says. “Everyone is on the take.”

The broadsheet newspapers are not exempt either in the money game, as the doctor cites one conventional Manila daily that for consecutive days featured the pictures and releases of a provincial governor and a representative – all for a fee, of course.

If you look at the platform of Kapatiran, Bautista says, you’d think it was the 10 commandments. “That’s because no present day politician follows that.”

He says that originally, Kapatiran was envisioned to be a leftist party, somewhat like Partido ng Bayan (PnB) during the 1987 elections which fielded Satur Ocampo, Crispin Beltran, Nelia Sancho, et al., who all lost miserably. In the 21st century, Ocampo and Beltran bounced back to make it to Congress while others made it to the Estrada cabinet.

 Instead Kapatiran bannered a new politics for God-centered change.

“You don’t have to be a prophet to realize that the country needs radical change,” he says. It helped too, he says, having been out of the country for extended periods, during which he was able to get a better perspective of what ails our society.

“You can’t say it’s a damaged culture because if you place a Filipino overseas, he will thrive and adapt and make good,” he says. It’s only here where things don’t seem to move, or if they do move at all it is only after many deals and much horse-trading.

Or if nothing moves it is because people have become comfortably numbed by cynicism or apathy.

For a while too he thought the situation was better in the provinces, but not so. “In the classrooms the school children don’t have books, and in the countryside it is easier to get a condom than a pack of Lucky Me instant noodles,” he says.

He mentions the alarming rate of abortion and maternal mortality in the Philippines, where 10 mothers die each day during childbirth and half a million abortions occur each year.

This would not be the case if money was spent wisely. “But what has happened? We just finished paying for a nuclear plant which we will never use... It’s part of the Marcos genius that a lot of money was lost to the black hole of the Swiss accounts” and white elephants like a useless nuclear plant, he says.

He says heavy investments in education and health care would drastically turn the situation around and keep the required manpower in harness.

“Why does suddenly everyone, even doctors, want to become nurses? That shouldn’t be the case,” he says, disheartened at the prospect of our nation having an oversupply of nurses and call center agents.

“We have to produce competitive citizens, and this requires changing the culture of corruption,” he says. “Change can’t be conservative.”

Then he asks his interviewer pointblank: “Do you think there’s hope in the Philippines?”

“Oo naman, kahit kaunti.”

 And that’s the whole point exactly, he says, so long as there’s a sliver of hope and if change is going to come, it should start now.

Beltran should be released, the country should produce affordable drugs instead of moving for parallel importation, and if overseas remittances are what’s keeping the economy afloat, how much more possible is it to harness all the available hands in cleaning up the Pasig river, an unwitting metaphor for our corrupt society?

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