Saturday, 24 January 2004

New aristocracy

CIRCLE. There was a time when political leadership was confined to a close-knit circle of anointed individuals—“presidential timber”—carefully harvested from an exclusive forest of well-heeled families and well-schooled individuals.

Names like Osmeña, Quezon, Lopez, Lacson, et al. represented the cream of Philippine society. For a long time, only those that came from families of similar pedigree were considered worthy of aspiring for a career in the public service.

A common man—by the standards of the day—named Ramon Magsaysay first broke the aristocratic hold on Philippine politics, shocking the prim-and-proper world of mestizos and mestizas, who until then had never thought that a rank outsider, much less a less-than-well-educated one, could mix within their exclusive circles.

We have come a long way from the days when only those with noses of a certain length were deemed worthy of being in public office.

Ramon Magsaysay’s ascent to the top post of the land made sure that if your heart was in the right place, and you had your wits in the place where they should be, you could aspire to be anyone you wanted to become.

TOO FAR. In fact, one may say we have gone way too far since the days of the old political aristocracy.

Today, even if one’s heart is not in the right place, and his wits are not where they should be, that would still be no obstacle at all to one’s political ambitions. Not as long as the aspirant is a regular fixture in the public eye, and a familiar face to the millions who would vote him to power.

Welcome to the new political aristocracy. Exit the Quezons, Lopezes, Osmeñas and Lacsons. And enter the Estradas, Santoses, Cunetas and Poes.

CINEMATIC. Aristocratic blue blood has given way to cinematic credentials as the ticket to political leadership. Where before, UP, Ateneo and De La Salle were the training ground of choice for would-be public servants, today it is the movie studios and television stations that are the breeding places for our future leaders.

The shift in itself is not necessarily a bad thing. After all, none among the old political guard were ever that successful in raising the Philippines to the status of a world, or even just a regional, economic power.

While Lee Kuan-Yew and the other visionary leaders of Asia relentlessly steered their own economies to First World prosperity, our brilliant leaders like Marcos only succeeded in driving us deeper and deeper into global ridicule as the sick man of Asia.

Given the failure of the old political guard to improve our lives, we can scarcely fault the masses for trying new talent for the political leadership.

After all, the former had many generations to do something about our poverty—generations that were wasted instead in petty political bickering, endless legislative squabbles and confusing economic policies—all of which have made us relatively worse off compared to our Asian neighbors, just a few years ago.

We are so far behind every other country we could think of, with the exception perhaps of those in conflict-ridden parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Our situation has become so bleak and desperate that the only hope for many of us, it seems, is to head for shores far beyond our own.

So, could we really be faulted for trying something else?

Published in Sun Star Daily, Saturday, January 24, 2004 (

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