The vice presidentiables

March 29, 2009


Manila Times
March 29, 2009

We admire young politicians who show great promise but have modest ambitions. One of them is Sen. Francis Pangilinan, an opposition leader belonging to the Liberal Party who announced on Wednesday that he will seek the vice presidency in 2010.   

Pangilinan, who was elected as an independent in the 2007 Senate races, has a better record as legislator than many of the other politicians hungering to become president. A declaration for the presidency would not surprise many Filipinos.   

Why he chose to run for Veep and not for Chief may reflect either modesty, good political sense, a recognition of political reality, or all of the above. He does not have the P-billion campaign chest that Sen. Manny Villar said a “presidentiable” must put up to wage a winning bid. Lowering his sights may have endeared him to the front-runners looking for a good runningmate. Or Kiko may have realized he is not ready to lead 85 million Filipinos out of their Second World status to the G-9 Club.   

Filipinos do not think highly of presidents or candidates running for No. 2. The focus in each election is on the standard bearer, the man who could deliver the first honest election in history or could return decency to public service. The main qualification for the vice president is that he brings “balance”—regional balance—to the ticket. Our system, of course, makes possible the election of a president and a vice president from two contending parties. This isolates the vice president, coming from the minority, from the presidential palace and policy-making.   

For the most part, presidents are happy to see their “vice” doing their errands, such as delivering a trite speech at a nondescript ribbon cutting or representing the country at the funeral of a foreign despot. Vice presidents are not considered important enough to be named acting president when the Boss travels overseas. Vice President Diosdado Macapagal was largely ignored by the incumbent so the self-made astute leader used his time quietly campaigning for president—and won handsomely.   

The conventional wisdom is that the “Bise” is a heartbeat away from the throne, a spare tire that becomes indispensable at a crucial time. This, fortunate or unfortunately, seldom happens in Philippine politics. The Veep may only wish his superior dire things or try to make them happen by, for example, sending the sybaritic president “lechon” at every opportunity.   

Pangilinan may have given high-profile politicians a reason to temper their ambitions. Speaking at a commencement in Sorsogon City, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada said he was happy to retrace his father’s steps by running for vice president in 2010, before seeking higher office. Gov. Grace Padaca allowed she might accept a second slot in an Among Panlilio ticket, and Gov. Panlilio hinted he may drop to No. 2 for Sen. Mar Roxas.   

We need more self-effacing leaders to remind us that there is no deficit in public modesty and to reassure us there are men and women who will shun the starting gate for ethical reasons. In this country, every candidate who loses swears he was cheated and every Juan who has had his face published in the papers thinks he can become president. Few are those who will say a high public office is not their cup or that they are not qualified for a higher calling, except perhaps for chief Justice Reynato Puno or the immensely popular comedian Dolphy.   

When urged to run for president, Puno said he would follow the counsel of his trusted advisers, his grandchildren, to retire after his term. Dolphy, when egged to run for senator, deadpanned: “E kung manalo ako [what if I win]?”


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