Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Valedictory

Sunday, May 31, I received a call from Senator Ping Lacson. He intimated that he had made up his mind to withdraw from the presidential race. I did not ask for reasons. His campaign had been wobbling along principally due to a paucity of resources that the other so-called presidentiables seemed to have without limit.

As I had written in March this year, “the atypical Ping” is not your regular politician. In fact, he is not a politician at all in ways and in character, and “handling” him, or attempting to handle him, is a most difficult task. He will not do the “usual” things, and not go through the “usual routine” that politicians typically do. He will not try to please someone he does not regard highly. He will not be interviewed just to spew neither-here-nor-there positions. While he is at ease with common folk, he does not “socialize” for the sake of socializing.

After he won re-election to the Senate, making it to third spot despite campaign expenditures that probably approximated only one-seventh of what Manny Villar, the Numero Cuatro spent, we had lunch, just five of us --- Ping, me and three other close friends. “Where do you go from here?”. I asked.

“You know I want to serve as president. But, we have to be more realistic now”, he said. “In 2004, we were treated like dirt by those we thought were our allies in the opposition, and we stood defiant to the end. This time, let’s test the waters, and see how we pick up.”

The first round of surveys taken the third quarter of 2007 placed Ping at Number 2, behind Loren Legarda. But as much as we asked Ping to move around the country, he refused, saying that it was inappropriate to campaign early. Ping can be as hard-headed as a bull when it comes to his sense of propriety, and more so, his convictions.

2007 passed, and so did 2008. The surveys slipped. In early 2009, we started to assemble a core team, and did a team-building endeavor. It was all systems go, but as survey ratings are the end-all of pre-campaign activity, I saw chances slipping. While other candidates had broadcast audio-visuals in every prime-time show nationwide, we could only afford a pitiful few. And the problem with short messages is, unless you can afford a blast, the effort to communicate fails. The situation was worsened by the government striptease in March regarding the Dacer-Corbito case.

After Holy Week this year, we did a serious reality check. And after a slow thaw, Ping decided to withdraw. Though the timing was off, considering that Cezar Mancao, who has re-invented himself as a state witness to the Dacer-Corbito abduction in the late hours of Erap’s reign, had just returned to the country, (giving Ping’s enemies in the administration reason to ululate and wet their pants for a giddy kill) Lacson decided to go through with his announcement, which he requested Ricky Carandang to read at the start of the ANC Leadership Forum, where he was invited to present his views on national leadership. “No timing will ever be right if we consider every situation, every obstacle”, Ping reasoned. What follows in this article is his statement:
“Thank you for this invitation to the second ANC Leadership Forum. Up until I made a decision last Sunday to retire myself from a race that would matter most in the lives of our beloved countrymen, I had every intention to share with our people my vision of what the Philippines ought to be in a Ping Lacson presidency.

“Marahil sa huling pagkakataon, sa isang pagpupulong na tulad nito, nais kong ipabatid sa aking mga minamahal na kababayan na ang kahirapan at kawalan ng mga serbisyong pangkalusugan, edukasyon at seguridad ng mamamayan ay hindi mabibigyang lunas ng pamumudmod ng tulong mula sa mga pulitiko tuwing papalapit ang halalan; tulong na magaan at madaling ipamigay dahil madaling kinikita sa pamamagitan ng pagsasamantala sa kaban ng bayan.

“My vision is clear as it is simple - the country's problem is government - bad government. The solution stares us right in the face of the problem itself. I believe that we need to discipline 1.5 million members of the civilian and military bureaucracy and imbue them with the right motivation and a sense of genuine public service. In short, if we hope to solve the problems of most of the 90 million Filipinos, we must set government right. This is the only way we can move forward as a country, and as a people.

“But correcting government will not come easy if it does not start with the leader himself. One cannot discipline if one is unable to discipline oneself. One cannot preach clean government if one is himself on the take, or his relatives and cronies are themselves the thieves. If a president cannot lead by the power of good example, then governance will always be bad.

“My vision for the Philippines is one where basic services are guaranteed, where health and education and public safety are prioritized, and no-nonsense government is instituted in all levels of the polity.

“Sadly, what we have today is a feudal set-up foolishly labeled as democracy, where transactional politics is entrenched both in the bureaucracy and local government units; and where the poor are deluded into believing that throwing candies or giving instant noodles or occasional help in distress is the be-all and end-all of public service. In the grind for survival, the poor forget all too often that the occasional goodies they get are mere scraps from the tables of the immoderately greedy powerful who plunder public coffers, or abuse power for self-profit.

“I have always maintained that if we doggedly and purposively set government right, the rest will follow. When people respect government, they pay the correct taxes and follow even the simplest of traffic rules.

“Equal opportunity. Level playing field. To each a fair, fighting chance.

“Patas na laban, para sa lahat.

”But reaching out to the voters, particularly those in the D and E income levels, which altogether comprise some four-fifths of the population, does not come easy. It is most expensive in a political system which has neither strong institutions nor correct procedures.

“Minsan ay sumagi na rin sa aking isipan na tanggapin na ang 200 milyong pisong pork barrel bawat taon para sa isang senador upang magamit at makasabay man lang sa isang magastos na pangangampanya. Nguni't, at mabuti na lamang, nanaig pa rin sa aking isipan na ipagpatuloy ang isang adhikain at paniniwala na higit sa ano pa mang bagay, mas mahalaga ang integridad sa isang tulad kong inihalal ng bayan upang maglingkod nang tapat at walang halong pag-iimbot.

“The great Charles de Gaulle of France, who put order back in a land wracked by anarchy, once remarked that “in order to become the master, the politician poses as the servant”. Like his forebear Nostradamus, he might have foreseen the Philippine political scene of this generation.
“But I refuse to lie. And I refuse to purvey make-believe storyboards and saturate the airwaves with fairy tales.

“Even if I tried to communicate the truth to our people given the extremely limited resources that I could raise from well-meaning friends who have kept the faith, and believe as I do in my central advocacy of good governance and national discipline, the time has come to face the reality that the intent to lead in this land in order to do good, has become an enterprise only for those who have access to unlimited funds.

“I bow to that reality, which is why I have chosen not to participate any more in this laudable forum of those who seek the presidency of the land. And I beg your favor that you read this message that springs from my heart.

“To my loyal supporters and those who appreciated the kind of work ethic and purposive leadership I have demonstrated as a soldier, as the Chief of the Philippine National Police, and share the advocacies I have been fighting for as senator of the Republic --- beyond expression of my undying gratitude, I now pledge that in time, we will all join together to support a leader who could best deliver our people from the bondage they now suffer. That leader must have both the competence and character that are the preconditions to purposive leadership so imperative in these crossroads of the nation’s life.

“And I appeal to the learned and the well- educated in our society to share their thoughts and help guide the vulnerable 80% of the Filipino electorate to vote wisely and conscientiously, not for their day to day personal needs, but for a country that we all love and care for.

”Magkaisa po tayong tumulong sa isang taong batay sa karanasan at sa ugali, ay alam nating hindi magnanakaw at hindi gagamitin ang kapangyarihang hiram para magpasasa sa sariling interes.

“Maraming salamat po. Mabuhay ang sambayanang Pilipino!”

* * *

Right after lunch last Friday, June 5, Dr. Minguita Padilla, Gerry de Belen and I met with ANC’s Ricky Carandang, to give him the Lacson statement written and addressed to him in letter form. He was requested to read it in the Forum at the UP School of Economics auditorium, but he thought it best to have Ping taped live just before the show began.

ABS-CBN’s Linda Jumilla went to a meeting which we called that afternoon so Ping could break the news to his core team before the Forum started. It would have been a shocker to them if they had learned about it only in the news.

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