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Grace Poe for Philippine President? Not So Fast!

he is photogenic, carries herself well, and Filipinos all seem to love her. The question to ask though is whether the well-liked lady senator is ready to be the next president? Filipinos it seems have a penchant for electing young “celebrities” with zero experience into positions of power, then simply hope for the best with “bahala na ang Dios.” Look at all the entertainers-turned-politicians who are now mayors, governors, senators and congressmen. None of them has truly stood out to the amazement and wonder of cynics like us. Most manage to simply muddle through…at best. Why, because they are simply not cut-out for the job. Their skills are in acting, or comedy, or modeling, or homemaking, and so on, not in statesmanship, or leadership, or community-building, or all the other requisite skills that leaders need while in office.

For the most part, Filipino politicians are on-the-job-training (OJT) politicians. It therefore concerns us greatly when we hear talk about first-time Senator Grace Poe possibly running for president of the Philippines. Is she ready? The country is beset with a myriad of serious problems that will tax the skills of even the most seasoned of leaders—and their advisers. For several decades the Philippines has simply muddled through compared to its Southeast Asian neighbors that have shot past the once-upon-a-time leader in the region. And the reason the country is that way is because Philippine politicians are mostly OJT politicians who have been muddling through their jobs for decades.

Unfortunately, the repercussions of poor leadership are often not immediately apparent. And this is what makes it so insidious. Case in point: the standoff between the Philippines and China over Panatag Shoal in 2012. As we wrote in our June, 2013 editorial:

The Philippine Navy’s newly acquired frigate, BRP Gregorio del Pilar was headed that day (April 10, 2012) towards the Northern section of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) to monitor North Korea’s planned missile launch. While passing by Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) which is 124 nautical miles from Zambales, the del Pilar was ordered to stop and investigate the presence of eight Chinese fishing vessels inside the lagoon. Navy officials boarded a fishing boat and discovered large amounts of coral, live sharks, and giant clams all of which are illegal to fish or harvest under Philippine law. No arrests were made because 2 Chinese (white) Marine Surveillance ships arrived at the scene and positioned themselves between the Philippine Navy ship and the Chinese fishing boats.

Aquino’s first big mistake was to pull out the big grey-painted del Pilar and replace it with 2 smaller Philippine Coast Guard ships painted white. He was advised that the Philippines should follow a grey-on-grey, white-on-white policy (grey being warships, white being civilian ships). By pulling the del Pilar out of the area Aquino tactlessly gave away his advantage for some misguided notion of chivalry or fair play. And it is now so obvious, three years hence, that the Chinese had no intention of ever playing fair.

The Philippine Coast Guard ships nonetheless stood their ground and faced down the Chinese vessels for a couple of months in what appeared to be an impasse until typhoon Butchoy threatened to blow through the region. Based on the erroneous assumption that the Chinese vessels would leave the shoal to seek shelter from the storm, Aquino ordered the 2 Coast Guard ships home.

That was Aquino’s second and even bigger mistake. After the storm passed, the Chinese were back in force. Without any Philippine presence around the shoal, they roped-off its lagoon and from that time forward, no Philippine vessel has been allowed to even get close to Panatag Shoal. It bears mentioning that the shoal is well within the Philippines' 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as recognized by the United Nations. Even old Spanish maps identify the shoal as Bajo de Masinloc.

We lost Panatag Shoal primarily because President Aquino, the poster-child for an OJT politician, was totally unprepared to handle the crisis. He made one wrong decision after another, and listened to bad advice because frankly...he didn’t know any better. Like most Filipino politicians he lacked the expertise and skills needed to properly handle the situation. Why? Because like most Filipino politicians, he was elected into office not because of his leadership qualities or his accomplishments but because his last name happened to be “Aquino.”

A president yields tremendous power. And because of that, a president’s mistakes can be very costly. Thus, in most properly-functioning democracies, voters make sure they bestow such power only to tried and tested individuals.

Unfortunately, many Filipino voters are planning just the opposite yet again. They seem ready to throw caution to the wind to elect Poe for president. We actually like Poe and believe that she might someday make a good president…but only after she has proven that she has what it takes. Unfortunately, at this point in time, we know next to nothing about her.

What has she done to prepare herself for the office? Up until her father, Fernando Poe Jr. passed away, she was living abroad. What was she doing all that time? Was she involved in community outreach programs? What did she do to hone her leadership skills? Was she involved in any way in politics? Did she participate in civic work, or community outreach programs? Or did she spend most of her time baking cookies and going shopping?

We know of no books Poe has written. There are no articles, essays or editorials by her that would give the public a clue as to who she is and how her mind works. She is practically a complete unknown in this regard.

We therefore have to conclude—unless given evidence to the contrary—that Poe should not be considered for the presidency at this time. It bears repeating that the Philippines has very serious issues confronting it and the last thing it needs is yet another OJT president fumbling his or her way around, making wrong decisions and missing opportunities, while other countries have their best and brightest leading them forward. To reiterate, if Poe wants to be president she must first show Filipinos that she has what it takes. Published 6/7/2015

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