The presidential elections in 2022 will be the focus of riveting public attention starting early next year. The center of attraction will be those aspiring, hoping, or dreaming to occupy the most omnipotent position in government, the presidency.
The presidential aspirants will be creating a lot of noise. They will clog the air lanes, the pages of print publications, and the social media platforms to gain attention. They will endeavor to be ahead in the early survey ratings to gain the support of the power brokers and big-time political gamblers.
But there will be first a polarization of political forces before the battle lines are drawn. Only after the realignments of the political parties and sectoral groups will the serious candidates be known.
Since the election is still a year and a half away, let us focus on the importance of the office itself – the presidency.
The people should have a closer look at this prestigious position: its powers, perks and privileges as well as its downsides and drawbacks. This is the best way they can weigh and appreciate the importance of the presidency and measure the fitness of those aspiring to occupy it.
The presidency is the highest, most powerful, and most influential position in government. It is not equal to the legislative or judicial branches of the government. The president is not on the same level as the vice president, the Senate president, the speaker or the chief justice. He is above all of them. This truism has been proven.
President Ferdinand Marcos abolished Congress and the entire judiciary when he declared martial law. No one, not even Congress, prevented the imposition of the dictatorial regime. It took 13 years before President Marcos was ousted not in an armed revolution but in a peaceful demonstration of thousands of people inspired by Divine Providence.
President Duterte ousted a chief justice with the consent of her associates and jailed a senator without a whimper from her colleagues in the Senate.
He also sent mixed messages about working with his vice president – twice appointing her to a cabinet post and yet twice making it difficult for her to perform her job.
Most of those who were elected senate presidents and speakers of previous Congresses had to first get the blessings of the incumbent president.
President Duterte did not lift a finger to save his first speaker who was ousted by his colleagues on the instigation of his daughter. He had to arrange a term-sharing agreement between two congressmen who could not agree on who should head the House of Representatives.
The president is number one. He normally runs the country all by himself. President Duterte has been doing this since Day One in office.
He is the commander-in-chief. He appoints the heads of the armed forces and the national police even if they are not on top of the heap.
He can exercise emergency powers, particularly in times of a national crisis such as the pandemic.
He can provoke or prevent a war. President Duterte pivoted to China to the consternation of the US President Barack Obama and his own foreign policy advisers.
The president enjoys privileges that ordinary citizens can experience only in their dreams.
He always sits at the head of the table in private or public events. He can no longer be addressed by his first or nickname. He is either Mr. President or Madam President.
No one is supposed to make a joke at the expense of a president. One columnist was convicted of libel for making fun of a president.
The President can make himself filthy rich. He can amass a fortune which will provide an opulent life for five or more generations of his ilk.
But there are drawbacks and downsides to the presidency.
The president is looked up to by the people as the provider of most of their needs. He is a favorite sponsor for wedding and baptism ceremonies.
The president and immediate family members are instant celebrities. Some presidents are proud of their masculine prowess that they could not resist the allure of beautiful women, particularly movie personalities.
Yet the presidency is not really an enviable position.
The president is usually blamed for every calamity whether natural, man-made, or providential. He is asked to mediate in quarrels between his friends, political allies, and even between women.
There are certain events where the president enjoys and feels proud of himself. In international conferences, he stands as tall and as important as the heads of state of the richest and most powerful countries.
The awesome powers of the presidency and the opportunities for fame and fortune it offers constitute the mystique and the magnet which attract even lunatics to covet the office.
Political history is replete with accounts of heads of state who have been assassinated. Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy are among the most famous victims.
These are the reasons why the presidency is important to you and me. Every decision he makes affects us and our families. These are same reasons why we should exercise due diligence in voting someone for the presidency. The same reasons why voters should exercise their right of suffrage wisely. Selling your vote is like selling your honor and your dignity.
In his hands, the president holds the future of our country.
Sadly, there is hardly anyone among our former presidents who sincerely loved and cared for the people and the country.
Let us hope that whoever succeeds President Duterte will have the wisdom to address the awesome challenges confronting the country. He should be aware that the most debilitating ailment of the country today is moral bankruptcy. Can he serve as the moral compass for the Filipino people to regain their sense of honor and decency?
We don’t need a superman or superwoman as president to liberate the millions of our citizens who are still living in abject poverty and endless penury.
Lee Kuan Yew and the few others, who made a difference in the progress and prosperity of their country, had one common attribute—honesty.
Mr. Ernesto Banawis is a student of government and history.