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Monday, October 1, 2012

Living With Enrile

No, not in the same house, but in a larger, more powerful sense: he has been in political power for as long as I have lived. And I'm about to reach 40.

Still on top.
(Courtesy of

Today being the first day that political candidates file their Certificate of Candidacies (COCs) for the 2013 elections, I cannot help but look back at the political landscape I was born in, and continue to live with.

I was a Martial Law baby, and my father was in politics, so this was a topic that was no stranger in the house: it was something I have lived with all my life. Marcos was in power, Enrile was a member of his "inner circle" and his Defense Minister, and after Ninoy was assassinated, it was a weekly ritual to march on Sundays, both as a gesture of grief and a call to protest.

To this day, Senate President Enrile is in power: characterized to the younger generation as the "impartial one" during the impeachment trial of former Chief Justice Corona, and a staunch opponent of the Reproductive Health Bill, to those who have been pushing for it for more than a decade.

He has just released his memoir, showcasing his viewpoint of his participation in our country's political history.

In my eyes, he is symptomatic of what our brand of politics has been: unchanging.

He has served under various adminstrations - all, in fact - from the time I was born. In that time, he has switched political allegiances so many times, I do not know what party to identify him with. Which is why it makes sense that senatorial candidates like Loren Legarda and Chiz Escudero see nothing nebulous about being "adopted" by several parties: we don't have a political party in any real sense of the word.

What we have seen are alliances - and they live up to this word, the same way it is used in gaming communities: banding together because this member can contribute to the group as a whole, but there being no loyalty or principle involved, that once the need has passed, anyone is free to go.

Where else can you find the son of democratic icons appearing in the same "party" as the son of someone who oppressed those very icons? And before anyone touts that "don't blame the sons for the sins of the father" line, it might do that person good to read how assiduously they have both steadily defended what they view as their parents' contribution to this country, on top of the fact that they have both run using the political capital amassed by their parents.

And political dynasties have solidified their stranglehold: you can routinely see the mayor, vice-mayor, legislator, councilors, board members of a city, province or town with the same family name. It's become the living embodiment of that political joke of calling this arrangement Kamag-Anak, Inc. (Family, Incorporated), where these families and their scions have made it the official "family business" to run for public office. Our own Senate has seen this, given the family names that appear regularly since I started voting: Cayetano, Pimentel, Estrada.

A new phenomenon that has sneaked in is the artista - celebrity - running for public office. I don't think it was culturally acceptable during my parents' time: they had the utmost respect for politicians, who were considered brilliant thinkers and debaters. Even those who were against Marcos had to concede that he could never be called "stupid" - in fact, some say his intelligence was a large reason why he thought he could rule for an eternity and precipitated his downfall.

Maybe this is the reason why the time of the artista has come? As a backlash against the supposed "smart ones" dragging this country down. The same could be said for Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who was an economics professor, who was at this country's helm when various anomalies occurred in government, and even her victory over Fernando Poe, Jr., her closest rival, was never resolved in most people's minds, no thanks to her infamous "Garci" phone call.

So, here we are: has beens in the entertainment industry have sprung their names to life by running for public office, and while I'm sure many of them are smart and have the desire to serve, you have to ask an obvious question: would they have run if they weren't entertainers, with some measure of name recall?

To paraphrase the late comedian Dolphy - who was himself egged on to run for office many times - winning is easy, but what happens after you win?

And that is what our politics has become bogged down to: winnability. Which, like it or not, hugely depends on name recall, or name standouts. So it comes as no surprise that Manny Pacquiao is a legislator - his name is known worldwide. Or how about Lucy Torres-Gomez? Pretty as a picture, married to actor Richard Gomez, who ran at the last minute when Richard was disqualified.

It also comes as no surprise that for the "purely" political families - they have not dabbled in the entertainment scene - we still end up voting for the same names, over and over. During their terms, they make sure that they imprint their names all over government projects like bridges, arches, basketball courts, public markets, schools, giving them unlimited exposure and forging in people a false sense of gratitude, as if we should be somehow thankful that they "bothered" to make a road wider, and that we can pay them back by keeping them - and their kin - in power forever.

Last I heard, Enrile is fielding his son, Jack, for the Senate, ensuring that his name will still live on.

So, here we are, in 2012: it looks like I will be living with Enrile until my last breath, if things don't change: one, I believe, that has to start with education. When voters are adequately informed, the vote can be a powerful tool to institute social and political change.

Until then, I will be filled with despair.

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