Stay The Course

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

A disruption, not a campaign. A miracle, not a plan.

While the May 2010 elections have, indeed, occupied many people’s thoughts in the last several months, it seemed for a while that a strange and controversial automation program would be about the only new feature of a traditional process. There was no real talk of reform outside of alternative candidates whom no one gave any chance of winning and, therefore, hardly listened to. It appeared that it would be just another exercise of money politics, the billions of Villar versus the billions of the administration.

Cory’s last days, her death, her wake and her burial were the disruption. There is, after all, an umbilical cord between the hero, Ninoy, the mother of democracy, Cory, and the Filipino people. When it seemed that the yellow army and the Cory magic had long disappeared and were only a faint memory, the people poured out a grief so deep and a bond so resilient to honor it.

From the events of a few days, a new and powerful spirit invaded Philippine politics and disrupted it badly. The best of man-made plans gave in to the impossible, a non-candidate whom no one even thought of as a presidential possibility accepts a people’s insistent draft. It is no less a political miracle, a now declared Noynoy from a totally disinterested one.  

What happened? Where are all these coming from?

On the surface, political analysts and social scientists call it simply as the Ninoy and Cory magic clothed brightly in yellow, of course. But the same analysts and scientists did not see this yellow magic as active anymore. It had escaped notice for many years and was assumed dead. Yet, when it erupted, the whole world noticed and was awed enough to put Cory on the page of TIME magazine for the second time.

There is a message that is coming from the depth of the Filipino soul, but it chose to manifest itself first through grief at Cory’s passing and through gratitude for what Ninoy and Cory had done. The message is surely one of change, and surely a change that is agitated by an atmosphere of corruption and shamed by an environment of poverty. When many said that people don’t care anymore, the people are proving everyone wrong.

The people do care, but they are choosing whom they want to show that care for. There have been some would-be political messiahs, individuals who discerned that life was asking them to offer themselves to the people as presidential candidates. That is destiny, too, but not the destiny that the they were looking for. It is destiny, too, to have losers, to have a life of contrasts so that key lessons are taught with great drama.

Noynoy’s sterling credentials are not in the records of Congress or the Senate. They are where they should be – in his character and in the track record of this character. I do not think a few sentences have expressed it more succinctly that what a pro-Noynoy volunteer group has placed in its website (

“Leadership is first and foremost about character, one who is in power but not subordinate to it, one who has control of money but is not lured by it, one whose position opens all doors but prefers the simplicity of lifestyle, and one who is followed by many but takes the heart of a servant.”

Many assume decency and honesty are attained without effort, especially those who make light of it to pretend that they, too, are decent and honest. In the public scene, it is not unusual for the most indecent and dishonest to be the ones who point the fingers, who cast the first stone. Somewhere in the books teaching about human behavior, it is often mentioned that the guilty are first to accuse others to hide their own guilt.

It demands strength of character to resist the worst of temptations. Many start as idealistic public servants but are quickly swallowed by the dirty system which defines our political environment. The Filipino people’s misery is not caused by public servants who have no great intelligence but by those who have no great character.

The nation’s worst ills are not its lack of laws. In the archives of the Congress and the Senate are laws full of beautiful letters but devoid of any noble spirit. That is why many of them just lie there and just die there. Congressmen and senators do not earn their low grades in public approval and trust because they author and pass poor laws. They are held in distrust and disdain by the Filipinos because they are seen as dishonest, as untruthful and exploitative.

The same is true of the Executive Branch and the Judiciary. If Malacañang and its appointees are regarded with disapproval and unpopularity, it is not because they show ignorance or lack of accomplishment, but because they are accused and judged by many as liars, a thieves and cheats.  If justice is not meted out with dispatch and with fairness, it is not that many of our judges and justices are ill-educated but because the principle of truth and the need for justice are not the principal torchbearers of their character.

When a man of high position needs to file his income tax, he looks for an accountant. When he wants to have his teeth fixed, he looks for a dentist. When his goes breaks down, he looks for a mechanic. This list is long, doctors for those who are sick, architects for those who want to have a house designed, engineers for those who want structures built. No person, including a president, will be capable of being expert in everything, even the most ordinary.

But a president has to be decent and honest to know and to appoint decent and honest senior public officials.  Birds of the same feather do tend to flock together. In the appointing power of the president alone can begin the whole reform agenda of government, and in his or her resolve and strength of character can accomplish the change we seek.


Destiny chooses a president, but only character makes a president.

“There is always a philosophy for lack of courage.” Albert Camus

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