Listening to (many) messages and slogans and (few) platforms
I joined last Thursday’s Rotary Club of Manila (RCM) meeting which had for its guest, declared presidential candidate, eight-time world boxing champion, former Sarangani congressman and now incumbent senator, Emmanuel Dapidran Pacquiao, Sr. or Manny for short. Being the oldest and biggest rotary club in Asia, the RCM has justifiably earned the prestige and stature that goes with being a pioneer and trailblazer. Any serious presidential candidate cannot afford not be invited to speak before the RCM. The same goes for other personalities or celebrities who have something important to say because of an ongoing issue or controversy or simply, in the case of government officials, to propose policy options or to herald accomplishments.
Several weeks ago, the RCM had as guest its Vice-President Maria Leonor “Leni” Gerona Robredo who promptly attracted guests who had helped dictate the agenda of the nation earlier in their lives.
They were among the 1,000 who could be accommodated in the Zoom webinar and, reportedly, thousands more who used other platforms. The count does not include many others who watched the recording of the Vice-President’s 30-minute briefing on how her office has responded to the pandemic, the serious collateral damage it wrought, and her record of service to the poor and marginalized and her simple lifestyle.
For his part, the Pambansang Kamao seemed to have combined the slogans and messages of two successful presidential candidates: the late President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III and President Rodrigo Duterte. Having said that Senator Pacquiao seems (the operative word) to have appropriated for himself these slogans and messages, doesn’t mean that he does not believe that these are worthy priority advocacies and that he is just mouthing them in order to play to the gallery like some demagogues and populists we know.
I had the privilege of promoting a number of Pacquiao’s fights early in his career that included a first successful defense via knockout, at the age of 21, of his flyweight crown against Mexico’s Gabriel Mira at the Araneta Coliseum in May 1999. I have therefore seen enough of the man to know he sincerely believes what he says. He lost his second defense in a provincial city in Thailand in the same year in a second-round knockout in a fight where he had already lost his belt even before the opening bell due to his going over the weight limit. Pacquiao was all drained as he vainly tried to make the weight even hours before the fight. His manager, the late Rod Nazario, an amiable fellow could only shake his head in disappointment.
In his RCM speech, Pacquiao stated, in so many words, that “the country is in such a bad economic shape because of corruption.” It sounded very much like the campaign message of then candidate and later, president, Noynoy Aquino of, “walang mahirap, kung walang korap” — “There is no poverty if there is no corruption.” It was a very simple and easy-to-memorize message that appealed especially to those who felt how it was to be poor on a daily basis, like what Pacquiao and his family felt. One of boxing’s greatest Hall of Famers became emotional as he narrated how he and his family went hungry almost every night, satisfying their hunger by drinking water. Noynoy’s message resonated so well with the electorate in 2010 that then senator Noynoy won by a landslide. Pacquiao obviously hopes that his personal message would also lead him to Malacanang.
Pacquiao’s second message sounds so much like Duterte’s bloody war on drugs that gained traction, most especially with the AB socio-economic class that had experienced the drug problem in their own homes since their children had the means to access these illegal drugs. It had come very close to home and the “law and order” campaign of the tough-talking macho probinsiyano Duterte struck familiar chords. Duterte’s handlers embellished his tough stance against corruption with stories of him telling his aides to return money left in his home in Davao City by rich businessmen who had expressed their gratitude “for the Mayor who was simply doing his job.”
Pacquiao’s anti-corruption campaign would be capped, he said, by throwing all these corrupt government officials in the same prison where they can continue their bonding. The message is consistent with the claim of Pacquiao campaign manager, businessman Salvador “Buddy” Zamora who spoke of a meeting between Pacquiao and Vice-President Robredo who was exploring Pacquiao’s thoughts and position on corruption and how far he would go to punish and seek retribution from the corrupt who denied the poor access to many benefits. Zamora said that “the Vice-President failed to get commitments from other candidates about punishing the crooks for the choices they made and it was only Pacquiao who clearly committed to lock them up in jail… and he will do that. He’s serious about that.”
Pacquiao then discussed what could be part of his still-to-be- unveiled platform. He points to corruption as the main reason why taxes are so high, making the Filipino probably the most taxed person in this part of the globe. He then explains his disappointment with “those technocrats with all those degrees prescribing more taxes when all you have to do is not to spend more than what you earn.” Pacquiao adds that running a country and managing its finances should not be too different from running a household: stay within the budget.
Many may have other views on what they call the “home economics approach” which, however, appeals to everyone except the more well-rounded who inevitably say “Hasn’t he heard of deficit spending?” This spending strategy banks on the additional expenditures of government to rev up a sluggish economy during a pandemic — the money raised from the deficit hopefully does not end up again filling up private pockets but goes to activities that result in more productive investments and consumption and eventually more tax earnings for government to finance the deficit. The main challenge in this scenario is to manage the deficit and ensure that it does not extend into prolonged periods which will in turn create more serious slowdowns.
One area where Pacquiao’s messages are stalled is the lack of specific actionable plans and programs that should form part of his platform. Vice-President Robredo has provided valuable glimpses of her platform and stated in no uncertain terms that solving the country’s problems begins with managing the pandemic in a smart, competent and honest way: no kickbacks, no overpricing. Perhaps one way of contextualizing the Vice-President’s prescription is to quote one of the country’s most respected economists, former Secretary for Planning, National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Director General and incumbent Monetary Board member, Felipe Medalla who once said in an Archer Talks webinar, “Vaccinate and then stimulate.” He had seen the slow vaccination rates hobbled by bureaucracy and corruption, and stimulus measures that were contradicted by wide-spread lockdowns.
Philip Ella Juico’s areas of interest include the protection and promotion of democracy, free markets, sustainable development, social responsibility and sports as a tool for social development. He obtained his doctorate in business at De La Salle University. Dr. Juico served as secretary of Agrarian Reform during the Corazon C. Aquino administration.