The (Vice) President’s Speech

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A few days ago, Vice President Jejomar Binay took to the lectern of the PICC, and delivered what was – at least to his spokespersons and his most ardent supporters – a speech that was “presidential” in tone. It had all the trimmings of what many of us would call “presidential:” the tableau, the motif, the somber cadence of Binay addressing the nation. Except for the cheers of his supporters, chanting his name. So much for the presidential tone: anyone who still doubts Binay’s clear intentions to run for President at that point is either deprived of reason, or deprived of the senses.

While most of us would complain that the substance of Binay’s speech was lacking (if anything, Binay dodged and redirected accusations, rather than answer them outright), that would be somehow missing the point. Binay’s political success – and his rise to power – was never predicated on the desire of an educated middle class for transparency and accountability, but on the message that resonates with the downtrodden majority.

By pushing back the level of political discourse ten years into the past, Binay is furthering his political ambitions ten years into the future. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that Binay admits to the overpricing of the Makati City Hall building: he would simply point out other incidents of overpriced infrastructures. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that Binay admits to being corrupt: he would then simply point out to the corrupt acts of other public officials.

The brilliance of Binay is to cut the middleman of the argument. Without him admitting to anything, the burden of proof is now on his accusers to don sackcloth and ashes, before throwing stones at the poor orphan from Manila who lost his mother to cancer, clawed his way up the ladder of success, and became the second highest official in the land. Tired old strategy, but no one in recent memory can pull that off with much success.

But even his rosy painting of Makati is not without fault. The towering skyline of Makati was never his sole doing or the product of his own initiative, but as much the product of businesses whose best interest is to grow: businesses who employ people outside of Makati to thrive. The towering skylines prevent the casual observer to see what’s behind all of that: slums smack dab in the middle of Ayala, the flooding in the Pasong Tamo area with just a hint of rain, the many shanties in Cembo that make it to the national news when they burn down. This – regardless of overpriced buildings and corruption allegations – can indict and tear down Binay’s mural of the greatness of Makati City.

But like I said, perspective – forced or otherwise – is the motor that keeps the Binay illusion engine going. Anyone who points out to the inability of Binay’s Makati to spread the wealth around is also pointed to one’s inability to create it. Anyone who accuses Binay of being corrupt faces the accusation, too, but is left to prove his or her innocence from corrupt dealings. Anyone who claims that Binay is against transparency also faces the claim of being anti-poor: why, he’s only doing this for the good of his constituents, and you have done nothing for yours.

Damned if his speech sounded like a miting de avance, either: why would you stop your supporters from chanting your name? Damned if it’s early campaigning: everyone else does it. In short, Binay’s critics are left holding the bag in this one: incensed, angered, left wanting for explanations and heads to roll. “Bitin” as it may be, but what did we expect in the first place?

Never mind the infamous birthday cakes, the free movie tickets for the elderly, the free school supplies, and the free treatments at OsMak. Binay is the kind of leader who would forego Senate investigations and hearings on overpriced parking annexes in favor of distributing relief to typhoon-stricken areas, or curry favor with the poor of the metropolis by doling out necessities in the name of a “better Philippines.” No politician in a populist democracy like the Philippines ever succeeded by doing anything other than what Binay is doing. Certainly not “anak-mayaman” Senators, and surely not the “anak-mayaman” President.

And that’s why Binay succeeded: all that was rubbed in our faces a few days ago, and he still sounded presidential doing it. As whiny and defensive as it read on paper, it sure looked presidential on the six o’clock news.

It was, after all, a presidential-sounding speech from an astute political mind. For all we know, they’re still chanting his name.

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