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Philippine Elections: Where the Most Qualified Don't Run While the Least Qualified Do

n a country where the elderly have always been given due deference and respect, in today's politics you have the exact opposite. Instead of the senior most experienced leaders running for office, you have ambitious, precocious, youth, still wet behind the ears who do the running. The result of this phenomena is that over the years the Philippines has continually lost ground to its neighbors who are all slowly turning into developed economies while the Philippines—the country that lead Southeast Asia during much of the 20th Century—is becoming more deeply entrenched as a Third World nation.

Painting depicting "Mano Po." Is it still a meaningful Filipino tradition or has it become an empty gesture?

The word that encapsulates this trend is "TRAPO" a contraction of phrase "traditional politician." It has become the broad brush by which Filipinos paint all their "elder" statesmen as corrupt politicians who remain in power solely to continue stealing from the people. While there are indeed many who fit that description (his detractors point to Jejomar Binay as the poster-child for true dyed-in-the-wool TRAPOs), there are just as well many good, seasoned statesmen who are tarnished by it.

In Singapore for example, Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was in his late 60s when Singapore made its greatest strides. Then as Senior Minister in his 70s, he had decades of experience under his belt and used it to catapult Singapore to even greater heights.

Looking back at our own history, in 1965 the Philippines chose a brash, young, and daring Ferdinand Marcos over the elder more staid Sergio Osmena Jr. We wonder how different the Philippines might be today had Pinoys chosen Osmena over Marcos that year?

Continuing on the realm of "what ifs;" what if Marcos had become president when he was in his 50's or 60s instead of his late 40s. Would an older Imelda still have had a roomful of shoes—or feel the need to close down Saks Fifth Avenue in New York for a private day of shopping? It is likely those would have been seen as unnecessary to an older, more mature couple—as would the unmitigated lust for power and money that characterized the Marcos era.

On the surface, Filipinos appear to respect the elderly. They take pride in this fact and see Filipino society as better than those that are not as overtly deferential to older people. But today's Filipinos are living a lie. If respect for elders was true back then, it no longer is true today. And the clearest proof of this is in the electoral field where elder statesmen are now all cynically regarded as TRAPOs.

Senate President Franklin Drilon, House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Former Senator and Philippine Red Cross Chairman Richard Gordon, to name a few are "traditional politicians" with a wealth of experience who should be running for president but aren't because Filipinos have "thrown the baby out with the bath water"—so to speak. These politicos have been around too long and therefore they must be corrupt; so the twisted reasoning goes.

Senate President Franklin Drilon, House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, and Former Senator and Philippine Red Cross Chairman Richard Gordon

Instead Pinoys prefer a new flavor-of-the-month celebrity, with good looks and an engaging smile who, for a while at least, can make them forget all the squalor and misery that surrounds them. These new darlings may be totally inept and unqualified for the offices they seek, but they'll do because that's the way we Filipinos choose our politicians. We use our hearts and not our heads.

The "Mano Po" tradition is now a meaningless, empty gesture to fool foreigners—and ourselves—into believing we still are who we no longer are. Sadly, unless the Philippines finds a way of righting itself, and gives those with the most wisdom and experience the opportunity to lead, it may never catch up, and remain a Third World country forever. Published 9/24/2015

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