(The following came out in the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Commentary section on August 11, 2015.)

THE BIGGEST challenge to Sen. Grace Poe is not proving her citizenship or her competence. It’s in convincing the people that she is a genuine alternative to the sickening kind of politics that has ruled the country for decades.

Like it or not, the only chance Poe will win the presidency is if she packages herself and her team as the proverbial third force—in other words, the way out of having to choose between the two evils as painted by the opposing camps: a “corrupt” Jojo Binay and an “elitist” Mar Roxas.

Some say Poe does not have enough experience to lead the country. Well, Cory Aquino had none at all. In fact, Poe’s short stint at the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board eclipses Noynoy Aquino’s lackluster performance as a congressman and senator before his mother’s death catapulted him to the presidency.

Critics say that like Noynoy Aquino, Poe is living off her dead father’s fame. This is no fault of hers, of course. The question really is: What do you do with all that fame and “winnability”?


Poe has two choices. One is to use her popularity to prop up Roxas and the Liberal Party’s delusion of the straight and self-righteous path. This is the quick and easy way and ensures her a sure crack at the presidency in 2022. Or, she can use it to take us to the road less travelled—the rough-and-tumble path of radical changes in the Philippines’ disjointed political, economic and sociocultural systems. This is the hard way, full of peril but one that we need to take if we are to rise as a nation.

To do this, Poe must first of all reject the LP propaganda line that P-Noy’s “daang matuwid” is so great for the country that we have to continue trudging on it for the next two decades.
Early on in the jostling for P-Noy’s endorsement, all potential candidates extolled the hollow triumphs of “daang matuwid” and vowed to continue his policies and programs once the baton was passed to them.

Mamasapano and the worsening MRT fiasco have changed all that. Add to this the unchanged poverty situation after five years and P187 billion worth of conditional cash transfers, P-Noy’s insistence on maintaining the pork barrel system, his brand of selective justice, plus his “kabarilan-kabarkada-kaibigan” style of leadership. These failures have blasted holes in the “straight path” and exposed it as another road to perdition.

To be fair, the Aquino administration has built not only a straight path but also a gilded superhighway for the rich and powerful. Growth has been inclusive, but only for the oligarchs, the taipans, caciques, foreign investors, and politicians who feed on juicy government contracts and multibillion-peso public-private partnerships (PPP), as well as the smugglers, drug lords, casino operators and gambling lords.

Even if Poe considers herself an ally of the President, Poe cannot travel the potholed, flooded road that Roxas is desperately trying to re-gravel. With Roxas and his sycophants all over the place, the straight path hasbecome crowded. She must make her own road.

Poe will have to embody the road less travelled. She will have to mix her wholesome mother image with the need to get tough on those who oppress the poor and downtrodden—something in between sweet Susan Roces and the macho-but-soft-hearted Fernando Poe Jr.

But more than tweaking her image, she and her team will have to come up with a platform that contrasts with those of Roxas or Binay. Such a platform should not fall into the empty “daang matuwid” vs. “daang tama” debate being conjured by the spin masters of both camps. She will have to reframe the debate entirely.

If Roxas says Mr. Aquino’s PPP is great and Binay says his PPP will even be better, Poe will have to say the PPP concept itself is flawed because it prioritizes private profit over public interest.

If Roxas says the pork barrel was abolished under Mr. Aquino and Binay says the pork barrel even grew, Poe will have to try to obliterate lump-sum, discretionary funds even now, in the proposed 2016 General Appropriations Act.

If both Roxas and Binay are silent on land reform, Poe will have to insist that our farmers still need a genuine land redistribution and agrarian reform program.

If both Roxas and Binay insist on being lapdogs to the United States and other foreign powers, Poe will have to present an alternative vision of an independent foreign policy.

Poe will have to push for the antidynasty bill now, and not at the last two minutes, like P-Noy did in his last State of the Nation Address. She will need an agenda for higher wages, an end to the contractualization of jobs, and greater public ownership in power and other public utilities. Her peace platform should address the roots of the armed conflict, not just the laying down of arms.

To make a mark and win, Poe should embody the alternative to the status quo, and not be just another popular, winnable candidate.#


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