“No one will live in a squatter (area) especially in Metro Manila.”
“I will eradicate corruption in government offices.”
These lofty promises sound awfully familiar. They were spoken not by our incumbent President but by Sen. Manny Pacquiao, who has been busy of late.
In the span of a few weeks, the senator has provoked President Duterte by criticizing the latter’s stance on the disputed waters of the West Philippine Sea (WPS); has ping-ponged statements back and forth with the President on the matter of corruption; has made claims of corruption in specific government agencies; and according to one source, was seen distributing cash gifts in a barangay in Sarangani.
It’s been a busy few weeks in the political career of a man who was once the Senate’s top absentee, on top of his career as a sportsman. The timing of these salvos is unsubtle, and his motivations are fairly transparent, but it will be interesting to see what else arises from the senator’s crusade to curry the public’s favor while not straying too far from President Duterte’s. In doing the latter, Pacquiao is unsubtle as well. On the WPS dispute and the President’s responses to Pacquiao’s own remarks, the senator was quick to say that the President must have been misinformed about his statements; on the matter of corruption, Pacquiao sidestepped by implying that the President must not have been aware of the (very obvious and massive) scale of corruption that has consumed public funding. On the other hand, Pacquiao did not hesitate to target the government agencies in his “corrupt” list, pinpointing irregular transactions and unaccounted funds under the Department of Health and the Department of Social Welfare and Development, among others.
As election season draws near, such antics are to be expected. In Pacquiao’s case, the results they yield—if they do result in corrupt parties held accountable—may even be welcomed. But these perhaps well-intentioned, sweeping promises to eradicate homelessness and corruption are a reminder to us of how quickly the public can fall for empty words, if these are accompanied by even the slightest hints of action, however belated, clumsily timed, or obviously self-serving.
If we’ve learned any lessons at all from this administration, it’s that words can mean next to nothing. The President can promise to end the “drug war” in three to six months, then later say he was wrong to put such a deadline on the drug war. He can promise to ride a jet ski to plant a flag himself on the soils of disputed territories, then later claim he never made such promises. He can assure a people, at the onset of a pandemic, “huwag kayong matakot, may pera ako,” only to shrug ruefully at a later press conference to say “Problem is wala na tayong pera.” Speaking of promises, who can forget the President’s iconic “If I succeed [in resolving crime and corruption] perhaps that would be my greatest contribution to the country, but if I fail, kill me”?
What should speak louder than words are actions. Who among those seeking positions in the 2022 elections have consistently spoken and worked for national sovereignty, government transparency and competence, human rights and the protection of the vulnerable? Consider Senator Pacquiao, who has himself admitted to amassing information on corrupt activities for a long time without coming forward for fear of insulting the President. Mr. Duterte himself has said: “He has been with the government for so long a time as a senator. My question to Pacquiao is: Why are you talking only now?” The good senator is not alone. We can fully expect that others who have remained quiet and complicit will soon be following suit, like rats fleeing a sinking ship.
It’s my hope that no one who intends to vote in the next elections will take lofty promises like Pacquiao’s, however informally made, seriously. But after the last five years, my expectations—both for the powers that be and the Filipino audience — have dipped to a nadir. Let’s beware of big promises, as these are easily discarded, and seek to identify people behind good work in government right now—good work that is consistent and quiet, and doesn’t only seek the limelight when election season rears its head.
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