Decidedly Undecided

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Marge and I are decidedly undecided. We are because we believe choosing a national leader requires a high level of scrutiny.

A kind of scrutiny that involves investing time in understanding national issues, candidate platforms and their past achievements. It requires having to carefully examine competence, character, associations, flaws, quirks, styles. It involves a lot of reading, listening and studying not only of the positives but the negatives. The kind of scrutiny that is devoid of selection bias (only focusing on the news we see but even of the news we don’t see) . The kind that is not blinded by confirmation bias (the proclivity to interpret information so that it aligns with pre-existing notions or beliefs). It cannot be a superficial endeavor that only appeals to emotions. Or to side with platforms that only benefit a specific business sector because that encourages patronage politics and is heavily prone to influence peddling.

We had 6 months and more to choose a viable candidate, and now we are still undecided. We have one candidate we are leaning towards but with serious reservations. We are not looking for a perfect candidate. There is no one like that. But we are not settling either.

Marge and i are one in wanting to disabuse this notion: Choose The Lesser Evil. The problem with us Filipinos is that we should demand more of public servants, not less. Demanding less comes from a cultural ethos accepting of mediocrity. Pwede na yan. If we want to be world class, then our leaders should be world class. Who among the candidates can even hold a candle to current world leaders? Obama isn’t perfect. Hillary Clinton isn’t perfect. Justin Trudeau isn’t. But they are world class leaders. They look presidential, sound presidential, act presidential. Okay, let’s compare candidates with even regional Asian leaders. Narendra Modi may not be perfect but his platforms put India squarely on the world map. Look at Malaysia. Even Vietnam.

Marge says choosing a leader within the Philippines is like watching Hell being paved with good intentions: election promises that sound good but are empty in substance. Choosing the lesser evil is like having good intentions. But no matter where you are in Dante’s seven levels of Hell, you are still in Hell. People forget that the objective is to reach for the heavens.

We have been called idealists. Yes, we are. But that’s not the only thing that defines us. The ability to balance vision with pragmatism is important. But people tend to equate pragmatism with inferiority. And there is nothing practical for a country so full of talent to waste it on half-assed platforms and programs. We need smarter & competent leaders. (Note, we didn’t say intelligent, we said smart and competent. Different things, people.)

People also tell us to make our votes count. If we don’t vote, we don’t have the right to complain, disagree, or debate about the government. This is a narrow minded sentiment. All people in the Philippines exercise a voice. The ballot is only one of the many demonstrations of our democracy. But voter or not, employed or not, each and every Filipino pays taxes. Everytime you buy something, you are VAT taxed. You own a house, you pay a property tax. You buy a car, you pay annual licensing fees. You use the expressways, you pay toll fees. You work, you are deducted an income tax. The very nature of paying taxes means you are participating in the economy of this country. And even if you are not subject to regular taxes — as in the case of children, students, senior citizens, those with disabilities — you still have a voice whether you vote or not. Why? Because you are part of a society that is drastically affected by social welfare decisions.

When President Noynoy Aquino was elected, he didn’t have an electoral mandate: he won only by a plurality of votes, not by a majority. There were more people who did not vote for him compared to those who did. Roughly, that’s 20 million who voted for someone else versus the 15.2 million votes he received. The sad thing is that our Constitutional law allows for this to happen. Furthermore, of the expected 70 million who should have voted, only less than 40 million bothered to cast a vote. If people choose not to vote, it paints a picture — not because they didn’t participate. Perhaps they decidedly chose not to. Perhaps they were disenfranchised. Perhaps there was voter suppression and their ballots were unaccounted. The failure of Comelec to figure out what makes people not vote should be studied as well. Does it mean they don’t believe in the integrity of the elections? Is it because the real silent choice of the majority is None Of The Above?

Sometimes the Philippines is like a Richard Pryor movie waiting to happen.

We need to choose wisely, but if you settle for a leader that does not mirror the highest standards of public office, then you definitely deserve the President you voted for.

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