COMMENTARY: A vote for our future

A Filipino translation of the column is available at this link.

3 May 2016 - We will be electing our next president in 16 days. Amid the political noise and clutter, it may be good to pause to consider just what it is we are trying to achieve.

Mayor Rodrigo Duterte was our guest at a recent meeting of the Management Association of the Philippines and the Makati Business Club. He is now the frontrunner in the presidential race, and Election Day is only a few days away.

As we consider our final choices, my appeal is that we pause to fully appreciate the implications of our vote. Whatever others may say, the choice of our next president does matter, very much. The reason our economy has done well these past six years, and many more jobs have been created compared to the previous 12, is mainly the improvement in governance provided by President Aquino and his Cabinet, which brought about the confidence investors needed to bring in their investments and create many more jobs.

As the mayor is the frontrunner, he deserves close scrutiny. And the best way to know him is to go by what he has said throughout the campaign. Let us study some key statements that are particularly noteworthy.

The mayor said months ago that there would be a lot of fat fish in our waterways because he will dump there 100,000 suspected criminals whom he will order to be killed. He repeated before the business groups that his standing order to his law enforcers when suspected criminals resist arrest is to kill them—and he will arm the enforcers with presigned pardons so that human rights do-gooders cannot get in their way. He also repeated that if a son of his is found to be a drug offender, he will have him killed. For good measure, the mayor also warned the Office of the Ombudsman, the Commission on Human Rights, and Congress not to block him or interfere with his work. And he added that at the end of his term, he would issue himself a pardon for the crime of multiple murder.

The mayor has threatened on more than one occasion to abolish Congress if it does not cooperate with him, or threatens to impeach him. A few days ago he said he might just form a revolutionary government.

The mayor has also expressed strong admiration for Ferdinand Marcos, whom he believes to be the best president our country has had, a hero who deserves to be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. To my knowledge, he has made no statements about the world-class plunder of the Marcoses, the massive human rights abuses, and how Marcos brought our once thriving economy to bankruptcy. He also said on one occasion that he may not be healthy enough to last six years as president, but he looks forward to a state funeral, and would turn over the presidency to Bongbong Marcos.

Of course, there was his famous remark expressing disappointment that he did not have first crack at the rape of an Australian missionary. And lately, he declared some bank accounts with significant deposits to be nonexistent, only to later admit that they do exist after all.
There are probably many more statements that would give us a clearer idea of what kind of person the mayor really is. Many who support him clearly believe that statements like these simply demonstrate the strong, decisive leadership that they find lacking in the current administration. Don’t worry, they say, that’s just tough talk. Don’t worry that the mayor will actually do what he promises.

But surely the mayor and his supporters cannot take offense if we take his statements seriously, for these are certainly no laughing matter. For the sense that his statements convey a distinct lack of respect for the rule of law. And the rule of law is the foundation upon which confidence is built. Of course, peace and order are important, but these must be attained within the confines of the law. Without the rule of law, there will be chaos and anarchy, and no confidence in our country. Without confidence, there will be no investments, and without investments, there will be no jobs. These are not threats, only sheer facts. And it will not be just the business owners and bosses who will suffer, but also thousands of workers and their families who will be deprived of jobs. Remember that peace and order ultimately do not come from the end of the barrel of a gun but from food on the table, access to good education, housing and health.

It is in this context that I fervently appeal that we all review our choices one last time before we vote. Let us not vote out of despair or sheer disgust at an indecisive, slow-responding administration, or the infuriating traffic, or rampant crimes. Let us not go for a solution that may be far worse than the problems we are addressing. Think instead of what your vote will mean for your future and the future of millions of younger Filipinos, including your children or your younger siblings and coworkers. Consider the tremendous cost of the wrong choice.

Focus finally on the leaders we need to build on our gains, and to address the indecisiveness and ineptitude that have deterred our progress. Let us select no less than leaders who embody the decency, honesty, competence, toughness and patriotism that we want, and who have the capacity to bring us all together after the elections, so that we can be one united nation in pursuit of a better life for all Filipinos.

Please vote wisely!

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Posted on 3 May 2016 under the Opinion section of The Philippine Daily Inquirer