Apologies to non-U2 fans; the title of this post may just fly over your head (but in the google era, no allusion remains obscure). It seems that everywhere you turned this week, be it social media or the newspapers, it has been Poe-bashing time. What strikes me is that all these things started right AFTER the Malacanang dinners, wherein Poe pretty much said no to joining the Liberal Party ticket. As soon as it was clear that Cinderella Poe was not going to hitch up with the Liberal Party’s anointed Price Charming, Mar Roxas, the free for all began. Cinderella’s shine had to be knocked down several pegs; once the darling maverick, the “spokespersons” are now trying to paint her as the evil, ugly step-sister. It is clear now that Poe was not to be sullied prematurely, in the event that she could still have been useful and toed the Liberal Party line, lending her shine to the lackluster Mar Roxas. That time is past. The clock has tolled midnight and the trolls are now loose.
First, came the insinuations about her relationship with Chiz Escudero. The wittiest version of this I saw was a reference to “Raspuchiz”, a play on Rasputin, who once influenced the Russian court. Escudero is her “Svengali”, they say (my god, the allusions are flying left and right). She is a mere marionette, with no mind of her own. We must look to who actually controls her. The truth may be somewhat more complex. As Tony La Vina, dean of the Ateneo School of Government has mentioned, it is too dismissive of Poe to think that Escudero is using her, when in fact it may be the other way around. The accusation that she does not have the savvy and brains to distinguish when she is being used, runs counter to the experience of those who know her and have worked with her.
Second came the charges of inexperience. Is it ironic that they leveled the same charge against Cory Aquino? Poe’s response was borrowed from Cory’s playbook. Yes, I have no experience…with corruption. Grace Poe is a senator; she is not exactly “just a housewife” coming out of the woodwork. I think Teddy Boy Locsin summed it up best when he said that you don’t actually need experience to run for President of the Philippines. Experience in Philippine politics is what screws you up. And to have Poe gain “experience” by first running for Vice President is a ludicrous idea. What the electorate always looks for is a fresh face, somebody who is not tainted goods. I have also heard comparisons with Obama who was also a neophyte senator who shot straight to the Presidency. He has done well by my book.
Third, Poe is presumptuous and arrogant – How dare she bypass the chain of succession? The biggest social sin in the Philippines, that of being “mayabang” has been hurled at Grace Poe. This reminds me of watching Filipino kids in the playground and when they gang up on one kid who stands out for some reason, maybe because he/she is smarter or taller or wears the new sneakers that everybody wants, or developed breasts too early. They all shout, “I dont like you. You are mayabang!” What would we have Grace Poe do, exactly? Paint herself like Mar Roxas as Mr. Palengke? In fact, the common experience of people I read and hear is that Grace Poe is very approachable to all levels, rich or poor. Seeing her on TV, the woman exudes genuine charisma, the kind you can’t buy and fake with TV ads.
Fourth, she is milking the “Poe” name for political mileage – there is no denying the FPJ factor. This is why some say Poe would have the broadest backing ever from all the classes of Philippine society from A to E. Is Grace Poe milking it? Yes, perhaps. If you were running for public office and you were in fact the adopted daughter of FPJ, wouldn’t you?
Fifth, her immediate family are all US citizens – Actually, all these insinuations get sillier as we go down, and this last one struck me as the silliest. The argument here is that you can’t have a First Family where the husband and kids are US citizens. But when you think about it; why the hell is that a big problem? Is the US an enemy nation? If Michelle Obama were actually Canadian, would that have stopped people from voting for Barrack Obama? Maybe some. Ties between the US and the Philippines have always been close and arguably closer now with the threat of China. Many Filipinos have relatives abroad. The Philippines recognizes dual citizenship. If it is really an issue, and again I wonder why it should be, then have the husband and children renounce their US citizenship. Problem solved.
Let me make myself clear. I am not writing this to say that Grace Poe is the perfect candidate for President. In many ways, she is a traditional politician in the sense that she will likely not change the political system but rather, maneuver within it. But then again, look at the field of candidates and tell me who is NOT the traditional politician. The only winnable who stands for radical change, and by “radical” I mean switching to Federalism / Parliamentary is Duterte. And that guy will always have an invisible sign over his neck that reads “Death Squads”, ergo making the middle class intellectuals cringe in their panties. If Duterte addresses that issue of extrajudicial killings once and for all, his star might shine brighter.
No, what I dislike most about the demolition job being done on Grace Poe is that it makes the prospect of a Binay presidency all that much closer. It widens the wedge between the Poe and Roxas factions. How many of those who are swayed by the demolition job will actually vote for Roxas, who someone aptly described as akin to hospital food i.e. might be good for you but extremely bland? How many believe Roxas can win against Binay in a one-on-one face-off, let alone an electoral system where 10 or so people usually run for President, and cannibalization of votes is the norm.
It is time for realpolitik. Until the Philippine political system manages to produce worthier candidates, the vote must go to the lesser of the evils. It would make me salivate if Poe or Duterte ran now on a platform of “Change”, and addressed the major issues that hound them. A change to inclusive growth; a change in the lack of an industrialization and growth strategy; a change in the turtle-paced justice system and spending on infrastructure. But I am very much a realist and I’m sure the Filipino voter realizes by now that he or she must be one too. Voting “on principle”, or wasting your vote on a non-winnable candidate may make you sleep better at night, but you just might wake up down the road to find the Philippines has fallen back into the dark ages (pun intended) under yet another corrupt presidency.