‘Dear Mr. President, about those term limits . . .”

aquino arrives in france inquirer

Full honors in Paris

Dear Mr. President,

Good day, Sir. I trust that you had a delightful time in Europe. The French are okay, eh? They offered a rather touching tribute to you and your mother. It seems to me that the trip was another important step to elevate the Philippines in the world’s eyes, spark an interest among investors and gain support for a law-based resolution of the conflict with China.

Congratulations on those achievements.

Now you are coming back from the diplomatic rounds and must again face the harsh world of real problems aggravated by venomous political game playing.

Vacations are never long enough.

I must admit that I am not one of your bosses other than as an advocate for my young son. He is Filipino by birth and I expect he will live and thrive here. He’s cracker jack smart . . . which is really smart . . . and has all the stubborn qualities of a full-fledged Filipino augmented by a strain of argumentative DNA from his peculiar German/American heritage. In other words, wishy washy, he ain’t.

I’ve noticed that you have a little of that quality yourself. Some call you hard-headed but I refer to it as “determined”. Your father was determined, eh? It is a valuable character quality for a leader if he has his directions on right. It is a bad quality if the leader is headed the wrong way.

Mostly, I think you are headed the right direction. Indeed, as I have written in these pages, I think you have led an amazing transformation of the Philippines, and it is too bad that the lower managers can’t keep pace with your ideals. But that will improve as more hiring is done for competence instead of patronage. It takes time to pull the weeds that have been growing in government gardens for years. Hire the youngsters, that’s my idea. They aspire and they are impatient in a constructive way. They have not yet been dulled by years of slog in the patronage-bound worker’s bog.

If you will allow me a brief digression, I have noticed that Filipinos can sometimes be an impatient people. When a storm blows through, they want all the houses put back in six months or they will scream bloody murder. And they want you to feed ’em whilst the construction is underway. I presume you have noticed that, too. And when your bosses decide from reading shallow and misleading news reports that they don’t like something . . . like DAP for instance . . . they tend to talk first and listen never. It’s hard to be rational when the audience is not. You’ve possibly picked up on that as well.

Well, I think time is its own boss and some things just use up a lot of it. One does not remake a government or a culture or an economy in six years. It is hard to get an airport remodeling bid out and done in six years. And one does not get rid of a nationwide infestation of corruption in six years, either. One can make a dent, and yours has been sizable. You wield a heavy sledge. But there are still scurrilous money-grubbers in the provinces sucking the productive life from the nation a million pesos at a time.

Frankly, I think getting this nation straightened out and globally competitive is probably a 25 year job.

I don’t mean to be impolite, but I must ask. Do you believe you are the only person who can do this? That you have to be here for 25 years to get to a conclusion?  As I reflect on that, it seems to me the idea of ever reaching a conclusion is an illusion. Old soldiers die and, in the Philippines, old presidents seem go to jail. But there is still work to be done. Always.

So if you want to stay in the job to reach a conclusion, I am afraid you will be in office for a very long time. And the people will eventually rise up and everything will turn sour.

I think it is a bad idea, this seeking of a conclusion. Because, like the carrot in front of the donkey’s nose, it keeps moving along right in front. Ever unreachable. It is a perpetual drive much akin to greed.

So here’s my take on this. Although I like your confidence and your achievements, I’m afraid I am against the idea that there is only one good driver for this particular bus.

To me, the trick is not finding the driver. It is getting him elected. Or her.

It is easier to get a bad driver elected because Filipinos seem to prefer people with panache, with style, with an “in your face” attitude. Losers are too often winners here. Winners are losers in the Philippines because envy runs so deep. That’s Roxas’ problem. His family is too successful. Dee Meyer did a little piece about envy a while back, “Thinking outside the bucket“.

But the point is, Filipinos like to flaunt convention. They like showmen and “attitude”. You know, cock fight kinds of guys like Estrada and Binay and that hen Arroyo. Or showboats like Santiago or champs like Pacquiao. Or Duterte, the Duke of Davao. He’d be a shoo-in if he ran, I suspect. Knee jerk and outspoken are seen as positive traits . . . and we’d be at war with China about a week after he took office.

Our favorite angel, Grace Poe, could probably win, too, even though she seems to have the calm demeanor of a school teacher when we need a mad-hatter who will whip the place in shape. As one of my readers indelicately put it, we need an “A-hole with integrity” to break through the bottlenecks. But good Grace has the right name, fine brain, great character and an eye for progress.

We also have a problem of vote splitting. Wiki illustrates in clear language what the risks are:

  • In the 2004 Philippine presidential election, those who were opposed to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s presidency had their vote split into the four candidates, thereby allowing Arroyo to win. The opposition had film actor Fernando Poe, Jr. as their candidate, but Panfilo Lacson refused to give way and ran as a candidate of a breakaway faction of the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino. 

If the 2016 election shapes up to be between the “black hat” candidate versus the “white hat” candidate, how might votes get split? The only way the black hat electorate could be split is if a black hat kind of guy also ran – say a mayor of Manila – and sucked off the popular vote from the main man. The “white hat” electorate will get split about six ways, I suspect. We could imagine Roxas running for the same pool of voters as, say, candidates Cayetano, Poe, Santiago and Trillanes. And maybe toss in a Teodoro or Villar, for old times sake.

So for the white hat to win, there has to be a coming together of minds, no matter what political affiliation they originally had, to decide on the strongest horse. And to back that candidate with an intensity of support that the Philippines has never seen before. It is better to do this early before all the white hat candidates have splattered mud on one another.

I’m not sure the peoples’ passion is still there for you to wear that white hat. Well, from some it is there. But it can’t be like it was before. There are too many targets for opponents to attack, your aspiring to be a “dictator” perhaps the largest. There’s also DAP and some questionable deeds by your cabinet members. Busted trains and impossible traffic. Electricity and broadband problems. Floods. Every ill of the Philippines gets laid at your feet for some reason. You are no longer Mr. Halo.

Now if the system were to put the black hat candidate in jail, that takes care of that, eh? That would work, too, and then we would have a legitimate election of candidates from a white hat pool, and all would be rosy.

But illusive is the way of the skilled hereabouts, so I am not betting on that.

Here are some people who I think could do the presidential job well if elected: Cayetano, Poe, Escudero, Teodoro, Angara, or Roxas. They are all rational people of stable and intelligent character, relatively young and decent people. I’ve left off the eccentrics (Duterte, Santiago) because they are too unreliable, and I am not really inclined to like going to war. I’ve also left off the old codgers (Drilon, Osmena) because the Philippines is a young nation and needs to move quickly. Old people are . . . well . . . rigid, not to mention inclined to taking naps at inopportune times. Trillanes doesn’t know how to smile, so I find warming up to him difficult. Leni Robredo seems too much of a stretch to me, but I could likely be swayed to add her to the list.

In the framework of a white hat effort, political party affiliation should not mean much. Political parties are so artificial, are they not? Cliques of good old boys and girls, like a fraternity without the paddles. They are not more important than the nation, for sure.

I think it is wise to go with the best person, no matter what party has been his past affiliation. I like Cayetano myself, among all the people I listed. I have found Poe a little mild but Cayetano is the kind of intelligent, forward-thinker . . . and bit of an A-hole . . .who can drive the nation forward. But that’s just my take on it.

So that’s my view on term limits. If you believe they should be changed as a matter of stability or continuity or some other legitimate reason, then change them for your successor . . . but not for yourself. I have this image of you being truly passionate about the nation over personal gain. Frankly, I’d like to hold on to that ideal.

There are so very few who can stand tall like that.

Yours respectfully,

Joe America


42 Responses to “‘Dear Mr. President, about those term limits . . .””
  1. Bert says:

    I agree with your concept, Joe. It’s the ideal situation that could happen if that could be possible. But I don’t think so.

    Binay is not going anywhere near a jail. Family ties will make sure of that, and family relations here in the Philippines matter a lot. And so, without Pres. Noynoy wearing the “white hat’ as the presidential contender, we might as well be prepared to be ruled by a “black hat” president after the 2016 presidential election. The “white hat” contenders, anyone of them, mentioned here even if backed by the president will be no match against Binay, and the “mayor of Manila” will make sure Binay wins for the sake of his son’s liberty. Just my 2-cents.

    • Bert says:

      I’m sorry for disappointing you, Joe.

      • parengtony says:

        Allow me to argue, as follows:
        1. Jail or no jail before the 2016 elections, Binay et al is “damaged goods”.
        2. Grace Poe, on her own, will win over Binay in a one-on-one fight mainly because she will take the masa vote away from Binay.
        3. In a 4-way fight, Grace Poe may hedge and go for VP instead if she does not get the endorsement of PNoy and Erap. (But I think she has a good chance of getting one or both endorsements).
        4. A most crucial factor in the war with Binay for the hearts and minds of the masa voters is
        is the ability to effectively expose the real Binay.

    • Joe America says:

      I share your concerns, Bert. I do think certain people have a mystique about them, or an attraction that is hard to pin down “why” because it comes from many different places. I think Senator Poe could beat VP Binay if she would just get off the dime . . . or peso . . . or whatever is holding her back. Others might be able to with an Aquino endorsement. But I agree, Binay is an election machine and has the edge. His opposition has to somehow break through the local adoration and that is tough to do. He says all the right things to attract the poor.

      • parengtony says:

        “Here are some people who I think could do the presidential job well if elected: Cayetano, Poe, Escudero, Teodoro, Angara, or Roxas.”

        I would exclude Angara, Escudero, and Roxas, in that order.

  2. macspeed says:

    @Joe Am
    Really correct order for PNOY not to run and charter change only for essential Laws which will benefit the whole nation.
    Too many candidates for President position is really vote splitting and the one with black hat will benefit from this. PNOY should unite various parties to just one candidate for President and Vice President, to do that, it will require either breaking parties or retain existing parties but promoting promises which is a conventional style of old school which underneath lies corruptions. Too bad, the political parties increased every election time. The COMELEC should demolish parties into two (2) only. To do this, it requires Supreme Court (SC) ruling. Justification for Philippine Progress should be one of the SC objectives. So much time were lost for this existing political parties, time for SC to demolish them.

    • Joe America says:

      That is true, the system is the problem, not the candidates. The system features personalities, because that is what voters go for. There are a lot of personalities around, but not too many of them can really figure out how to beat VP Binay. Unifying all parties is important in 2016, but unlikely to happen.

  3. Bing Garcia says:

    Joe, can you make sure the President will read this?

  4. i7sharp says:

    JoeAm wrote:
    … my young son. He is Filipino by birth and I expect he will live and thrive here. He’s cracker jack smart . . . which is really smart . . . and has all the stubborn qualities of a full-fledged Filipino augmented by a strain of argumentative DNA from his peculiar German/American heritage. In other words, wishy washy, he ain’t.


    In a few decades, your Filipino son will be old enough to run for President. 🙂
    Just over a decade after PNoy will have retired from being President for two decades or so.

    But PNoy has to start reading the scriptures now … in the King James Bible. Only.

    What can he lose?
    Or rather, the question should be:
    What would he lose if he does not start now – or soon?
    He would lose time that he will wish he had more after he … er, … discovers the KJB.

    Can somebody please forward this one to him?:
    (Apparently this article was written before the 400th anniversary of the KJB which was in 2011.)

    I wonder – if time is of the essence – what book others would have in mind for PNoy to read NOW.

    ps Does anyone know of a presidentiable who reads – or would enjoy reading – the KJB?

    • Joe America says:

      That is an interesting question there at the end, i7sharp. I’d guess that the readers would be Grace Poe and Leni Robredo. Maybe Alan Cayetano on a Sunday afternoon, and Sonny Angara if no basketball is on TV.

      I don’t think Duterte would be interested. ahahahaha

      The President reads a lot, so he might actually enjoy parts of the KJB. If he read, the lessons would likely pop up in his speeches.

  5. Are there presidential candidacy primaries and caucuses in the Philippines? I am thinking these would be good ways of avoiding the vote splitting. “Matira and matibay” (Survival of the fittest) style.

    • Joe America says:

      It would be, but there are no primaries. The parties field their separate candidates. The deal-making is behind the scenes, both to form the parties, and then decide on the candidates.

      • Juana Pilipinas says:

        Pity. That is the most exciting part of the Presidential race. All the sneering and jeering. The Filipinos would love the drama and fanfare. 🙂

        • Joe America says:

          I try to resist saying the American way is any better because look at the bitter partisanship there and preference for ideology over party, and party over nation. But it would be good if parties here were based on platforms which state their principles and proposed acts. The only difference seems to be the personalities, as they all promise to care of the poor . . . which of course, they have always said . . . with the results shown.

          Color me cynical.

          • If the vote splitting results in getting the wrong person voted in, some sort of mechanism is needed to prevent that from happening. I do not pontificate that the American way is better. Its political realm still leaves a lot to be desired but it has sense enough to catch what is not working and do something about it. Over there, it seems that what does not work gets ignored so it pesters and becomes a vicious cycle. Please, correct me if I am wrong.

          • wjarko says:

            Since you pointed out the flaws this kind of system and the current system, which is plurality system is also fundamentally flawed because it does not guarantee that majority of the voters voted for a winning candidate; then how about a run-off or two-round electoral system where the winner can only be declared if he got 50% plus one vote.

            I never liked the idea of a candidate winning by less than 30% votes because of the votes were split 7 ways. With this system, we know and the winning candidate know that majority of the voted for him/her.The only caveat is the cost of running such a system.


            • Joe America says:

              That is a common system, and would be an improvement. I am comfortable with the American party system that limits the number of candidates and vets them via a primary, within the respective parties. The majority requirement is also a good way.

    • Joe America says:

      It would be, but there are no primaries. The parties field their separate candidates. The deal-making is behind the scenes, both to form the parties, and then decide on the candidates.

  6. brianitus says:

    Give others a chance. That’s what I’d like to see. It’s scary whenever someone pronounces that he alone is the path.

    As for the Lord of Makati:

    To finally end the corruption issues against him, I think Binay should demand trial by combat and get the Mountain as an opponent. That’s me on an overdose of Game of Thrones.

  7. Dolly Gonzales says:

    The part about the white-hat electorate getting split is truly worrisome. I agree that PNoy should not seek reelection. Personally, I’d be very surprised, indeed, if he were to decide to run in 2016.

    As for allowing a second term for future presidents, my concern is simply decision-making with an eye on reelection. Even for a president whose integrity is intact, controversial issues will pose a dilemma:

    1) make a not-quite-correct-but-popular-decision, and be granted a second term to serve the nation well? or

    2) make a correct-but-unpopular-decision, and risk losing the privilege to serve the nation well for a second term?

    A one-term president has a greater opportunity to make all the correct decisions, because his/her focus is on what can be accomplished within one term. The shortness of the time focuses the efforts, making them more potent, more powerful.

    In this sense, a term limit does not limit at all, but empowers.

    • Joe America says:

      That’s true, isn’t it? In the US, the first 4-year term is awkward because half the time is spent running for a second term. The second term is spent as a lame duck.

  8. manuel buencamino says:

    I don’t think the president means it and I think everybody in his team knows it.

    I believe it is a master political stroke for the President to think aloud about a second term. Why? Right now, Binay, armed with poll results and walking around money, has been going around the country telling local powers to prove that they are either with him or against him. The president’s tease will give pause to local officials who have been falling all over themselves to throw their support for Binay. Local officials know that he still has more than a year left and he can still hurt them if he so chooses. So the pause will give potential rivals to Binay a little more time to catch up.

    Furthermore, the president thinking aloud does not interfere with governance as his cabinet will continue doing what they have been doing regardless of the tease. They have not and will not lose their focus because of it. It is only the political opposition and those like us who are in the peanut gallery who are confused, distracted, and concerned.

    All of it is good for all other presidential wannabes. The allegations against Binay are gaining traction and corruption could once again become the main issue in 2016. If that happens then the Tuwid na Daan theme will be at the forefront. That, in turn, will open spaces for unsullied politicians like Robredo and Poe and Angara and other fresh faces. And it could also, if Aquino manages to finish his term strong, add to his endorsement power.

    In short, anything that will throw an opponent off balance is good.

    • Joe America says:

      People underestimate the President, I think, given what you say. They see him as simplistic and reactive. He is not.

    • Dolly Gonzales says:

      I agree completely 🙂 “master political stroke” is so accurate. i remember the first time i read about the tv5 interview was the very night it was reported in the news. i emailed someone about stocking up on popcorn and chips, ready to watch next day the action-packed reactions of those who’d be thrown off-balance. i must say, it’s been quite entertaining…

  9. J says:

    I totally agree, Joe!

  10. CantilanKid says:

    Not sure about Cayetano though. He hasnt proved anything other than politicking.

    • Joe America says:

      I thought so, too, until I watched his work at the Senate sub-committee. Well prepared. Purposeful path. Able to slap down criticisms, and the slap is not always a soft one. I can envision him chairing a Cabinet meeting, even if the members are tough guys. I can’t yet envision Grace Poe chairing a cabinet meeting. I can imagine Cayetano solving tough problems like port congestion or electricity shortage. I can’t imagine others being quite so incisive.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: