Change We Can Believe In

Trust analysts to come up with fancy terms to describe a situation and make these stick. Take “paradigm shift” or “tipping point.” For the most recent—Sen. Mar Roxas giving up his presidential ambition and pushing Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III to run for the post instead—there’s “game changer.” My gut feel is that the term will stay.

I like “game changer” because it conjures the difference between the traditional and the reformist conduct of electoral campaigns. For some analysts, a Noynoy candidacy for president would hopefully change the rules of the game that presidentiables follow. Sen. Francis Pangilinan calls it an “electoral revolt” against traditional or trapo politics.

Old rules peg presidential candidacies on money, organization, survey, etc. All declared presidentiables, from Sen. Manny Villar to Jamby Madrigal, measure the ability to win on these factors. In a press conference Noynoy called Wednesday, this question was eventually asked: does he have money and organization to mount a campaign?

But the campaign won’t be done in the traditional way. That’s why Pangilinan talked about forming a “people’s army” that would wage the battle for electoral reform. If they kowtow to the trapo game plan, the election would be lost, Noynoy admitted. Thus, his candidacy will rely more than ever on what some call the “People Power framework.”

Now is the right time to summon that “people’s army” once more and only Noynoy and nobody else as of the moment can inspire them to heed the call. Not Villar, not Joseph Estrada, not Loren Legarda, not even Francis Escudero. Proof of that is the response to Roxas’ announcement supporting Noynoy’s bid: the excitement is palpable.

In this situation, political acumen is of secondary importance. Indeed, the rap against Noynoy is his lackluster record as politician. “Noynoy has to establish his own identity. He has to set up his own record,” was Malacañang’s response. Noynoy is neither Cory nor Ninoy, his parents. He lacks the charisma and capability of both, others say.

But that misses the point. Noynoy should not be compared to his parents but to the other presidentiables. He should be viewed not in the context of the “ideal president” but on kind of leader Filipinos need after the Estrada and Gloria Arroyo presidencies. When one considers non-trapo leadership, all other presidentiables pale in comparison.

Will the other presidentiables rally around him as a common opposition bet? I doubt, considering the character of these trapos. They won’t do a Roxas, but their selfish ways would be exposed. Does that take away Noynoy’s chances of winning the election? Not with the “Cory magic” and not if he is able to ride on the crest of the yellow wave.

What a Noynoy candidacy for president provides for many of those who are disillusioned with the country’s governance and politics is the belief that change can still be had despite the seemingly bleak situation. It also gives them something to fight for in an election that before this offered nothing but a political leadership bankrupt of values.

If a Noynoy candidacy can push the indifferent to fight the good fight again, that is achievement enough. And it seems to be on the verge of happening, dependent only on Aquino’s decision after he goes on a spiritual retreat this week. So trapos, beware!

(I wrote this for my September 4, 2009 “Candid Thoughts” column in Sun.Star Cebu)

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