Mediocrity: No Longer an Option

Mediocrity: No Longer an Option

FEBRUARY 11, 2007

Sometmes, the urge to boycott the midterm election is as recurrent as that pleasant dream in which an almighty power wipes out all politicians in the country overnight and puts in place an entirely new genetically modified breed. Not just new, of course, but brilliant and possessed of a kind of unwavering integrity. It is a must. The biological progression of the present-day Filipino politician is from so young and so corrupt to so old and absolutely corrupt.

Or, one can have nightmarish urges. A serious evaluation of the senatorial wannabes may push one into adopting a position more desperate than a boycott. You would want to vote with your feet—pack your luggage and leave the country for good.

At least 80 per cent of those who want to be senator or reelected senator neither understands nor grasps the nature of the senate’s job. This is to legislate and advance an agenda for the common good. Legislation and advocacy. How hard and tough can these two get?

After the burst of inspired legislation from 1987 to 1995, the Senate went downhill, then descended into the cellar of impossible mediocrity. The Senate used to be 85-percent bright, 10-percent average, 5-percent mediocre. Now it is 30-percent bright, 20-percent average, 50-percent mediocre.

Just to illustrate: The Senate president of the Eighth Congress (Jovito Salonga) trained at Yale and the majority of his colleagues at Harvard (Saguisag, Enrile, Tañada, Alvarez etc). If they were not Ivy Leaguers, they went to public schools just as prestigious such as the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor (Angara). Bert Romulo trained in jurisprudence at the Universidad Central de Madrid. The pool of brainpower was so awesome that there was room for one slacker (Estrada).

I covered the Eighth Congress (the Senate) from 1987 to early 1989. If a reporter had the energy, he could file five good stories every day and ten decent ones. All the senators, except one or two, were saying something of substance. Now, a senate reporter is limited to reporting all that nonsense and hogwash and the tortured ranting of ego-tripping jerks. When was the last time senators engaged in a debate of high-minded purpose? When was the last time they made a nation proud?

The disenchantment with the field of senatorial wannabes turns into utter hopelessness as one scans the headlines and reads what the wannabes intend to offer to the nation (in terms of legislation and advocacy) once elected. Shifting through reams upon reams of official statements, very little is said about the battleground issues of this new millennium: energy, the flattening of the globe by strides in information technology and cyber issues, the new global conflicts that have emerged from clashing civilizations and ethnicities, a world trade radically altered by liberalization.

The dummies cum wannabes don’t get these issues. Either they know they exist but there is not enough in the cerebrum to grasp their complexities, or simply the great national and global issues have slipped by without notice. While political leaders elsewhere are constantly preoccupied with the great issues of the day, exploring policy frontiers, reshaping and reinventing their advocacies, it is politics as usual in our damned and hopeless country.

The senatorial election in May is being billed, rightly but tragically, as a referendum on who is more popular and better regarded: Mrs. Arroyo or Erap Estrada. Instead of giving the public the chance to select candidates based on what they will do in the Senate once elected (again, in terms of legislation and advocacy), the public is being made to decide based on whether such and such candidate is running with the Estrada coalition or the Arroyo coalition.

What about competence? What about training? What about the grasp of the large national concerns and global issue that now dominate the policy landscape? At the very least, a basic grasp of the nuances and dynamics of public policy.

As Senator Angara (who is running for reelection) has said, mediocrity is no longer an option for the voters. The great tradition of the Senate is still covering up for the current mediocrity but the once great reservoir is fast drying up and is about to get exhausted. Voters have to take if from here and vote to reverse the slide. Grand ideas, literate debates, big advocacies and inspired and intense legislation should once more dominate this revered ground of democracy.

Marlen V. Ronquillo


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