Winnowing the chaff from the grain

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There was a rich harvest of candidates for national positions —for president, vice president and senators—after the deadline for filing of certificates of candidacy closed on November 15, 2021. A total of 97 individuals had filed their COCs for president and 29 for vice president. An even bigger number of people, a total of 178, had sought to become senators representing various political groups and colors of the rainbow. It’s heartening that many Filipinos respond to the call of public service. 

In fact, many are not even called but they come forward unbidden. It’s not necessarily healthy for our democracy when eager and overzealous netizens who have virtually nothing to offer in terms of competence, knowledge, governance and administrative skills will crowd the election process. It is totally repugnant when demagogues under the guise of serving our people run for public office only to make a mockery of our elections and drag our electoral process in disrepute, or to cause confusion among the voters by the similarity of the names of the registered candidates. The Omnibus Election Code defines them as “nuisance” candidates and the Commission on Elections is empowered to deal with them motu propio by refusing to give due course to or cancel their certificate of candidacy. And our poll body has just done that.

The numbers running for national positions have been significantly whittled down after the Comelec had reviewed the list of candidates for each national position and canceled many names. The poll body released the 11 names included in the tentative list of presidential candidates, namely: Ernesto Abella, Gerald Arcega, Leody de Guzman, Isko Moreno, Norberto Gonzales, Ping Lacson, Faisal Mangondato, Bongbong Marcos, Jose Montemayor, Jr., Manny Pacquiao, and Leni Robredo. For vice president, only nine candidates remained, to wit: Lito Atienza, Walden Bello, Rizalito David, Sara Duterte, Manny Lopez, Willie Ong, Kiko Pangilinan, Carlos Serapio and Tito Sotto. The tentative number of candidates for senator was reduced to 64. The Comelec has cut down the length of the official ballot by 2/3 and made the election exercise more manageable.

Now that the Comelec has done its job, the final task of winnowing the true leaders from the false prophets will fall on our shoulders. In less than four weeks, the campaign period for the elective national offices shall begin. Candidates whose political ads have been flooding the TV screens and the airwaves will soon be campaigning at every street corner, malls, markets and other public places. They will be omnipresent wherever voters gather. They will sell themselves at all costs even if they contradict themselves just to please the voters whenever and wherever it suits them. Voters should be more perceptive and discerning. To capture the imagination of the masses, many candidates have become more skillful in burnishing their credentials to attract voters’ attention. And it’s common to embellish their narratives and establish kinship with the audience to gain sympathy and support of the masses. Politicians, with the help of their spin masters, have become masterful in enhancing their reputation even if their actual achievements fall short of substantive results. This is typical of re-electionists or comebacking candidates who brag of their past achievements even if their records don’t bear them out. The people should fact-check their claims and measure their words against their performance. There’s no better gauge than a track record. Performance, not promises, is a more reliable yardstick in selecting our candidate. Testimonials given by individuals favoring a particular candidate should not be taken on their face value. Many are partisan hacks that are paid to express the political views of their candidates. Preposterous claims and promises made during the heat of the campaign should be dismissed outrightly. Politicians who brazenly make them should be penalized at the polls. Seeking an elective public office is a serious business. One should not make light of our elections and regard one’s conduct during the campaign as a joke, or normal part of the political game. Getting elected to a public office for a definite term is a solemn covenant with the sovereign people. No position is more noble than occupying an elective office, which is reposed only to one who deserves the people’s trust. 

As the candidates employ many tools, both fair or through dishonest means, in campaigning using the social media, army of trolls, texts or phone calls, direct mails, web sites and surveys or polls, voters have within their means available measures to assess the qualifications and fitness of the candidates. The initial step is for the voter to gather as much information about the candidate. Voting for a candidate should be made on the basis of an informed decision since it’s one of the most critical choices we make in our life. Be objective in assessing his qualifications. What does he want to achieve in case he gets elected? Key to this is knowing the program of government or platform of the candidate and his political party. Listen to his speeches and interviews and find out his position and views on important election issues. They will telegraph his future actions and policies on the issues and problems that confront our country and people once he is installed in office.  

Generally, a candidate’s appeal for votes is addressed to people’s emotions, not to the intellect. Many people vote based on their hearts, not on their minds. If you have the time, find out how the candidate supports his campaign. Is it funded by vested interests or big business? It will give you some idea whether the candidate will be a mere puppet who will serve the interests of his or her masters or an independent leader who will prioritize the welfare of his or her people.  

Electing the correct candidates to lead our country is not a superhuman’s task. At the polls, voters are not asked to reorder the arrangement of the planets, change the courses of the rivers or multiply the loaves of bread and buckets of fish to feed a starving multitude. What confronts us is to perform a purely human function—using our intellectual and moral judgment to pick out from a set of aspirants our country’s leaders for the next three or six years. What makes it complex is if we allow our electoral process to be prostituted by corruption, vote buying, bribery, threats, deception, fraud and violence, which have characterized our elections in the past. 

God forbid!