"Here’s a yardstick we can all use."
Anyone, even certified or card-carrying crackpots, can run for the two highest elective positions in this country, provided he/she fulfills the basic requirements enumerated in the 1987 Constitution: Natural-born citizen of the Philippines, a registered voter, able to read and write, at least 40 years of age on the day of the election, and a resident of the Philippines for at least ten years immediately preceding such election.
That list of qualifications has been criticized as grossly inadequate. There’s the proposal to include “college graduate” to replace the mere literacy requirement. Or “of sound physical and mental health” as the top leaders need to be hale and hearty to meet the hectic demands of their positions. Or even “capable of conducting a nationwide campaign.”
But the Constitution obviously listed only the minimum requirements, which would cast a wide net according to democratic principles and not unfairly limit the choices to a few.
The 1Sambayan recently endorsed the presidential bid of Vice President Leni Robredo. It said it considered six criteria in choosing Robredo: Integrity, competence, track record, patriotism, vision for our country, and winnability.
Let’s tackle them one by one.
Integrity. As we understand it, integrity simply means honesty. First of all, those who offer themselves as candidates for the presidency must not have been involved in any controversy involving moral turpitude, such as stealing from the public coffers. Neither should they have been involved in serious crimes such as murder and human rights violations, nor widely known as habitual liars.
Competence or the capability to lead, to govern, to manage the complex affairs of state. This covers a lot of ground, from the political to the economic to the social dimensions of national life. This also includes some familiarity with the Constitution and the laws of the land, although this does not necessarily mean being a lawyer, as the president must make decisions in conformity with existing laws as well as moral and ethical standards in Philippine society. The Chief Executive, as the architect of our foreign policy, must be able to command the respect of other nations in negotiations, whether related to political, economic or trade issues.
Track record or performance includes experience in governance and policy-making, whether in public office or in the corporate world. The candidate must uphold transparency and accountability in public office. Here, the presidential candidate must demonstrate statesmanship, or defense of the national interest or the public welfare at all times.
If we go by what’s been said about politicians and statesmen, the politician thinks of the next election, the statesman thinks of the next generation.
Patriotism or love of country. The Chief Executive must be the first to take pride in our history and heritage as a nation while acknowledging that as a nation and as a people, we have our own limitations. The candidate must pledge to put the national interest first in dealing with other countries. He/she must also instill respect for Filipinos values, customs and traditions without closing the door to foreign influences that can enhance our own practice of democracy, contribute to economic advancement, and enrich our cultural and social life as a nation characterized by diversity.
Vision for the country must be reflected not just in a catchy slogan, such as “Fight Corruption!” Or “End Poverty!” but in a comprehensive platform that fleshes out what reforms in politics, economics and society are needed, not just in the six years of the presidential term but even beyond that, or could be followed through or continued by succeeding administrations.
The winnability factor is a complex one. It could take the form of consistently high marks in popularity surveys, wide exposure in mainstream and social media, high awareness of the candidate by Filipinos across geographical areas and social classes, and personal charisma. It’s a subjective standard although it can be verified by statistical analysis.
A candidate may be winnable at certain points in time, but turn out to be a dud at a later period. Survey firms warn that popularity surveys are mere snapshots of public opinion “if elections were held today” and should not be construed as valid tomorrow or a month after.
We add another criterion to this list: Genuine commitment to democracy. All those who run for public office in this country must clearly say they stand for democracy. But most of them pay only lip service to democracy; the tendency is to make policy decisions without consulting their constituents, or rule with an iron hand. They should be booted out of office in the next election.
Are we saying that those running for president must possess all or most of these qualities? That’s the ideal. But we know that no one is perfect, and human frailties may be set aside for as long as the candidate meets the yardsticks of integrity and competence. We can probably even consider those hiding skeletons in the closet if they are sincerely contrite and vow to change their ways.
At the end of the day, we shouldn’t elect to the highest elective position someone with none of the above qualities at all, and simply wants power for its own sake. We should have learned our lessons by now.
In succeeding columns, we will try to assess the qualities of the presidential and vice-presidential bets according to the above criteria and rate them according to a grading system from 1-10 to guide voters on election day.