That is the question. For me, at least.
I don’t remember when I last voted. I do know I was still single at that time. So after around 2 decades of not voting, I was all set to register for the upcoming elections — but after Digong’s supposedly “final” announcement that he wouldn’t be participating in next year’s race, my interest waned again. If I had to choose between what I perceived to be a shameless thief, a bumbling newbie and an ineffective, obnoxious lapdog, why bother?
On the one hand, I understand the man — the burden and challenge to turn this country around is more than monumental. It is gigantically humongous. And at the twilight of his life and career, it would be much better to sit back and enjoy the benefits of what he has sown, rather than to be in the thick of what would be the biggest battle of his life.
On the other hand, it could be another strategy of his, as they say — to see how much public clamor his refusal to run would raise, and to throw his opponents off guard. It is uncanny to see some of his supporters seeing hidden messages in his words and actions, like conspiracy theorists revealing cryptic communiques in public documents. They post a photo of him and a well-known tycoon and say that he is already pledging his financial support. They post a photo of his aide wearing a shirt with his slogan “tapang at malasakit” (courage and concern) and say he is revealing Digong’s true message.
About a year and a half ago, I wrote that I didn’t think our mayor would make a good president. But given our current choices, what choice do I have? The curse of democracy is that it is a popularity contest, we know all too well that popularity can be unfairly skewed towards those who are more charismatic (even if they do not possess the necessary skill set of leadership) — or worse, popularity can be bought. Therefore, we are simply forced to choose among the most popular. The idealist would say that one should vote for the person who best embodies one’s ideals. The pragmatist, however, simply looks at the most popular choices and makes a decision. In many cases, it is choosing the best among the worst.
But why is it Digong for me? The next three paragraphs will explain why, and they are three paragraphs because each is also an answer against the three other popular presidentiables.
One, he has never been known to enrich himself from public coffers. We Davaoenos know where he lives and what type of vehicle he drives. He does not own multiple SUVs with bodyguards escorting him with umbrellas. He does not live in a posh, gated subdivision nor does he bully their guards. A few years ago, a traffic enforcer flagged him for not wearing a helmet while on a motorcycle. When the fellow realized who it was he had flagged down, he became flustered but the mayor simply told him to “do his job” and write the ticket. All throughout his political career, Digong has never been known to flaunt wealth and power, unlike you-know-who.
Two, he has a proven track record as an executive. He has shown political will to enforce laws, even those that are unpopular — like the 30 kph speed limit (which I personally find ridiculous, especially in wide roads like Dacudao, J.P. Laurel or R. Castillo), or the 12MN liquor ban that many bar owners decry. Unpopular as these laws are, however, I have to grudgingly admit that they have served their purpose. The rate of fatal vehicular accidents have, of course, gone down and citizens can roam the streets at night in relative safety.
Three, he exudes a natural charisma. While this is a double-edged sword, it is still necessary for leadership. You can’t be a leader if nobody follows you, as they say. This charisma is a natural extension of his simplicity, it is who he naturally is and he is not afraid to show that side of his personality in public. He does not have the veneer of a polished politician. He is brash, trash-talking and he speaks his mind often too frankly — but that is part of his charm. He has no need to pretend to be one of the masses, posing for obviously fake photo-ops as a traffic enforcer, carpenter, or pedicab driver. In this regard, there is no hypocrisy between who he is and what he does.
But if he is not running, I do not know who to vote for. Perhaps, it may be, as some suggest, that our elections are criminal activities and we as a people ought to fight against it in one form or another.
Originally published in Sunstar Davao.