Less than three weeks away and many of our political leaders and aspiring candidates will be filing their respective certificates of candidacies for the upcoming 2013 national and local elections. As in any democratic country such as ours, each one of us is given the unique chance and privilege to choose whom we want to lead our communities and country for the next three years. Yet, one major dilemma that we often face during elections is the reality that we often have to choose between the lesser of two evils. For example, we will have to choose between an incompetent but perceived to be clean candidate versus a current incumbent who is known to have strong ties to drug lords and jueteng operators. In the national level, it is the same names and families that have come up strong in the recent Pulse Asia and Social Weather Stations (SWS) surveys. Nothing wrong with the same people running for office over and over again if they are able to deliver on their promises and do their job well, unfortunately, many of them fail to fulfill their promises when they already reach office.
The untimely death of DILG Sec. Jesse Robredo, who like Among Ed Panlilio and former Isabela Gov. Grace Padaca co-founded the Kaya Natin! Movement for Good Governance and Ethical Leadership has made us ask a simple question, if Naga City can elect an effective, ethical and empowering leader like Robredo, why can’t we? Where have all the good candidates and leaders gone?
One reason why many good Filipinos choose to shun away from running for public office is the very high cost of running for elections. Now that the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) has moved the filing of candidacies to a much earlier date, all the more you would need more funds to sustain your campaign. Even if the campaign period officially starts in March, once you have filed your certificate of candidacy then you are officially a candidate and a likely “target” for your constituents to approach you to ask for help on all sorts of things such as buying medicines for their sick relatives, education for their children and food for their family. Unless the COMELEC is able to strictly implement and enforce its limit to election spending then the playing field will not be leveled off and will place many of these good Filipinos whose heart is for genuine public service at a disadvantage.
In a conversation I had with one of my friends who is currently a City Councilor, he says that he totally understands why many of his colleagues have to resort to graft and corruption acts such as putting on their payroll “ghost” or non-existent employees just to be able to stay in public office. He says that this is also borne out of the fact that if they aren’t able to give to their constituents their needs as aforementioned, then they will no longer be able to win in the coming elections. According to him, they need to be able to raise funds albeit illegal in nature because once they are elected into office their constituents look to them as their benefactors for practically everything that they need. This is also why many good people have chosen to just leave politics altogether since they cannot in good conscience continue to turn a blind eye to these corrupt practices but at the same time, they know that if they don’t do it then most likely, they might as well kiss their political career goodbye.
Finally, one major reason why good leaders opt not to run for public office is because they fail to get support from ordinary Filipinos like you and me. Former Isabela Gov. Grace Padaca often laments to me that it is sad because sometimes it is the good people who are actually persecuted because the bad people are those who have the money to launch a public relations campaign against them. The main reason why Pampanga and Isabela in the previous elections were able to elect good and upright leaders like Among Ed Panlilio and Padaca was because ordinary Filipinos chose to be involved to support and campaign actively for them. Both Panlilio and Padaca have nothing compared to what their political opponents have in terms of financial resources but in the end they were able to pull off scintillating wins because their constituents went out of their way to contribute their own small share for their campaign. In one perfect example, Panlilio was sharing that instead of him giving money or food to his constituents during the campaign, it was them who were giving their own small share to help him. If we want good leaders in our government, we have to work hard for it because saying or posting on Facebook that we want good leaders in our country is not going to be enough. As the saying goes, “We deserve the kind of government that we have.”
By: Harvey S. Keh
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Harvey S. Keh is the Lead Convenor of the Kaya Natin! Movement for Good Governance and Ethical Leadership and is also the Director for Youth Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship at the Ateneo de Manila University-School of Government.