Most thinking Filipinos will agree that the rhetoric surrounding the lead-up to the 2016 presidential elections is by far the dumbest it’s ever been. Never in my life did I ever expect to behold the spectacle of presidential candidates challenging one another to slapping matches, fistfights, and gun duels. Suffice to say, this crop of presidential candidates is anything but presidential in conduct.
Indeed, candidates Rodrigo Duterte and Mar Roxas are in the midst of plumbing unprecedented lows in the annals of campaign ‘debate’. In the last election, it was a case of one idiot running against far more qualified rivals. This time it is an even sadder situation where all candidates are idiots. Not only are they wasting our time getting caught up in the self-absorbed triviality of their inter-personal character assassination battles, they are also scraping the already thin final layer of dignity left in the Philippines’ democratic process off its raw back.
The irony here is in how much of a credentialist society the Philippines is actually home to. In the Philippines, credentials matter a lot. Filipinos like to adorn their names with all sorts of prefixes and suffixes to broadcast the amount of money they’ve invested for the right to use these titles. The trouble is, that beholdenness to credentials does not seem to extend to where it matters most — presidents and members of Congress.
Because the offices in the executive and legislative branches of the Philippine government are filled by popular vote, the only real qualification required by a candidate is, well, popularity. Combine this “majority rule” notion with a population where the majority is ignorant and you get the disaster that is the Philippine-style Democracy we see today.
Funnily enough, one of the spats between Duterte and Roxas was over Roxas’s educational credentials. It is funny because, this is an election where candidates’ IQs do not matter. Yet the veracity of Roxas’s declared education credentials became a top-trending “issue”. Figure that out. But then as if it mattered so much whether or not Roxas was a “graduate” of the US’s prestigious University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Economics, Filipinos watched with glee as Roxas exchanged verbal barbs with Duterte as if reading from the script of a low-brow Tagalog teleserye.
It mattered enough to Filipinos that Roxas was, indeed, a Wharton alumnus but not enough for them to expect Roxas to conduct himself like one.
One thing’s for sure, Roxas is not working smart. Duterte’s “achievements” supposedly around turning Davao City into a Singaporesque oasis of peace and stability in the south, does not change the fact that he has a human rights violation record just waiting to be poked at. For all his ivy league creds, Roxas does not seem to be able to routinely mount a strong and witty intellectual comeback to Duterte’s raw balasubas soundbytes. Rather than exhibit statesmanship Roxas has allowed himself to be dragged into a field where Duterte enjoys homecourt advantage.
Interestingly, this is a game his boss current President Benigno Simeon ‘BS’ Aquino III excelled at. During the 2009-2010 campaign for the presidency, BS Aquino was up against candidates who were far more intelligent, educated, experienced and qualified to run the country than he was. But Aquino successfully overcame this by shifting the “debate” away from pertinent national issues and into his comfort zone where he was at his supreme element — the bobo world of pedigree emo politics.
Today, Duterte is applying the same strategy to crush Roxas’s bid for the Philippines’ highest office — an office Roxas’s fans regard as one owed to him by the Aquino-Cojuangco feudal clan. Duterte has successsfully mobilised a solid following around his balasubas rhetoric made credible by an equally (albeit debatable) solid track record in Davao City. And Roxas, being Roxas, fell for the bait. Rather than use his Wharton pedigree to cut Duterte’s Lyceum of the Philippines creds down to size, he’s allowed himself to be dragged into an arena surrounded by baying spectators to whom the name Wharton means nothing.