The Kick-Ass Test

In my recent article on, “The promising decline of Philippine demagoguery“, I celebrate evidence I see of small steps being taken down a different path in the way we as a people regard the coming presidential elections. That is, at least, from the vantage point I have over the small section of the Philippine blogosphere I participate in and that part of mainstream media that I regularly monitor. We are seeing some promising signs that there is more attention being put to what the candidates — and the political parties they are affiliated with — stand for.

Over at The Noted One‘s seminal blog post “Good Frodo and Evil Gollum“, a commentor who goes by the handle “Engr. Jojo” cited the following reasons for supporting popular presidential candidate Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III:

1. He is Intelligent ENOUGH
2. He is Diligent and Hardworking ENOUGH
3. He is VERY Sincere, Honest, Humble, and God-fearing
4. He is VERY Clean and Untainted with Corruption
5. He Advocated Accountability, Transparency & Good Governance
6. He Knows How to Listen & Advocate of Participatory Democracy
7. He has a VERY good Breeding
8. He has No Political Debt
9. He has No First Lady to Appeased with
10. He is A WINNER

The reason I cite this gem is that it gives us a convenient peek into our recent past — when the landscape of thinking amongst the electorate and, worse, the best of our most well-regarded “thought” leaders — was still stuck in the demagoguery of Margalloism and Buencaminoism. This was a time when the best pitch a politician could make to the electorate was an appeal to their gut, where the “debate” amongst the “experts” revolved around politicians’ form over their substance (if any), and how the “reality” of Philippine politics will make any effort to raise the profile of platforms and, God-forbid, the ideas and plans articulated there an exercise in futility.

That’s fair enough, to be honest. Winnable politicians win elections in the Philippines. It’s as simple as that. It’s because Filipino voters make do with the kind of “reasons” that people like “Engr. Jojo” come up with. Whatever works for each individual voter, I suppose, though I did have this to say to “Engr. Jojo”:

Have you ever been on a blind date and then get asked later by your friends if your date was pretty?

The above stuff you wrote about Noynoy at best is the equivalent of that safe answer “Hindi naman panget” [translated: “Well, she wasn’t ugly”] (which we all know means only one thing…).

To be fair, hindi naman panget is a glass-half-full position. Very positivist. And positivism is what makes winners, right? Indeed, these “reasons”…

[…] can make one conclude that those qualities will make a good president out of Noynoy. As I said those are my reasons and for that I am very optimistic that HE IS, HE CAN and HE WILL BE […]. NO ONE CAN CONCLUDE THAT SOMEONE IS A HEINOUS CRIMINAL UNLESS HE DOES THE HEINOUS CRIME. benignO be OPTIMISTIC!!! There’s nothing wrong with it and it is not IDIOTIC […]

…adds “Engr. Jojo” standing by his “support” for The Popular One. It did not seem to occur to him, however, that one can argue too that one cannot conclude that someone will be a good president on the basis of these “reasons” he gave. That’s the trouble with “supporting” some bozo on the basis of what he won’t be instead of what he could be.

Wouldn’t we be better off instead evaluating politicians on the basis of whether they could:

– kick serious rebel/insurgent/bandit ass in Mindanao;
– kick serious diplomatic ass overseas when negotiating for Philippine economic/security interests;
– kick serious cabinet secretary ass to make sure he shows them who’s boss consistently over his six-year term;
– kick serious Congressional ass to ensure that he is able to get stuff he wants to implement passed in the legislature; and,
– kick serious ass when addressing various sectors in Pinoy society to ensure they do not bicker amongst one another.

Now step back and see if you can imagine your candidate being the kind of fellow who could do any one or more of the above from 2010 to 2016.

Does your candidate pass The Kick-Ass Test?


* * *

The reality of traditional Philippine politics of course still enjoys immense inertia, and until presidential candidates — and, of course, the electorate and the boys club of political “experts” they depend on for thought leadership — shift their sights to the issues and away from vacuous platitudes there remain two big roadblocks that the forces of modernism and progress need to crash through:

Roadblock 1:
“Politics-as-usual” reflects the flawed nature of the way the electorate drive politicians’ behaviour.

What key concepts underpin the politics-as-usual of the moment? Here are some that readily come to mind:

  • Winnability based on pedigree platforms;
  • Anti-Arroyoism (or more generically, anti-incumbentism); ignores the fact that whoever sits in Malacanang seems not to make a difference to the lives of a big chunk of the Filipino population. Indeed, the whole debate around charter changed was framed around anti-incumbentism.
  • Indignation over “corruption”. Is removal of corruption the real issue? For that matter what exactly does “removal of corruption” mean?
  • “Good” vs “Evil”. Back in World War II, the “good” and the “evil” were quite easy to distinguish. In 21st Century Philippines, however, “good” depends on who says so — specially during the campaign period.
  • “Hope”. Entire campaigns were built around some nebulous concept of “hope”. Hope in what exactly? The prevailing or triumph of “justice” and “conscience”? What exactly does that mean exactly?

That is what politics-as-usual means to me — an inability to move forward beyond the above meaningless platitudes to imagine a specific, more targetted, and clearer goal for our society; goals that are tangible and whose attainment can be measured. Blogger BetterPhilippines (BP) provides an example of how Mainstream Media takes its cue from an electorate that responds virtually instinctively to the above keywords. BP cites as an example Part Two of GMA Network‘s Isang Tanong Forum where various representatives of the boys club of political “experts” have a go at testing the wit and intelligence of our presidential candidates. The outcome of the show, not surprisingly, is again disappointing. And the cause of disappointment has its roots at the flaccid level of expectation we place upon the shoulders of those who presume to aspire to lead us:

The main problem lies in the questions that were asked. With the exception of a few, the questions mostly delved into past concerns such as Former President Joseph Estrada’s conviction for plunder. Some were just plain weird like the one asked by former MMDA Chairman Bayani Fernando, which was “What is political will in Tagalog?”

I don’t know why but some people just can’t seem to grasp the simple, basic truth about elections. Elections are all about the future; when we talk of the future we should talk of plans; therefore we should ask the candidates about their plans. Of course, there is also that differentiation between promises and plans, which I will address later.

Anyway, with lousy questions we can expect lousy answers. I can say again without hesitation that majority of the answers provided by the candidates failed to give the voting public a clear view of how they plan to achieve their campaign promises. We’ve heard them all before but to refresh our memories here are a few the most popular ones: education for all, affordable (if not free) healthcare for all, peace in Mindanao, and everyone’s favorite an end to government corruption.

It comes across like a chicken-and-egg riddle. Do our clique of “expert” interviewers do stupid because they reflect the people who look up to them? Or does routinely doing stupid themselves become the source of widespread stupid in Philippine society? Regardless of what it is, exactly, that makes stupid a deep-rooted social cancer in Philippine society, the fact remains that:

Roadblock 2:
So far in our history, Filipino voters have rewarded demagoguery.

We latch on to the meaningless deliverable of uni-dimensionality — platitudes — and embrace ambiguous “solutions” that are products of scapegoating — those “wars” against [place bogeyman in this space]. Small wonder that to the increasingly cynical Filipino, politicians and their politics have become a blur of undifferentiated personalities and rhetoric. And as such, the presidency has become a mere abstraction, far removed in relevance to the average Filipino. The collective fixation on who the next one will be (as evident in the highly-profitable media frenzy routinely whipped up during Philippine elections) seems to contradict this assertion, but that is more a function of how the “opposition” always successfully spins a picture of the incumbent of the time as a scapegoat — Demagoguery 101 — and builds a campaign upon a “movement” to insitute “change” towards some ambiguously singular ideal — Demagoguery 102.

The promising decline of Philippine demagoguery (from which much of what this blog post is about is taken) is a manifesto of what our next steps should be now that a focus on what the candidates stand for (as opposed to a focus on form) is starting to gain some steam in Philippine society and its politics.


(1) The electorate and their political analysts have to keep their eye on the ball: the issues, platforms, and IDEAS of candidates rather than the noise their “supporters” and publicists spin around them to mask their vacuousness.

(2) The candidates have to start referring to their party platforms (if they cannot come up with individual ones that take their parties’ one step further in detail). How can this be done? By those who engage with them (again, the electorate and the Media among others) framing ALL (as in ALL) discussions with our candidates around these published statements/platforms.

No matter how lame these platforms are initially, it is through dialogue between electorate and politicians that is firmly grounded on and guided by these platforms that will FORCE the evolution of said platforms. In Darwinian terms, the selective forces should be geared towards the ideas (read memes) in these platforms (to progressively improve them from their lame state today by rewarding soundness and robustness).

Right now selective forces in Philippine politics are more around the personalities and the hollow romantic “ideals” played up by traditional media and party lines. So it is no surprise that party and individual platforms have atrophied into virtual non-existence. But because we’ve made some headway re-directing attention to platforms, some effort has been put into fixing them up. Indeed, many have already started crawling out of the primordial soup, and hopefully this represents the start of a kind of a Cambrian Explosion in the evolution of Filipino thinking.

To cite the important ones that should be on everyone’s watchlist:

– The Liberal Party and their embryonic platform

– The Nacionalista Party (no known party platform)

Ang Kapatiran (“The Brotherhood”) party and their detailed 66-page platform downloadable as PDF

– The Pangmasa (“for the masses”) party of Nick Perlas and his/their platform

Some downright lame, others well-developed, and maybe some even bordering on brilliant. But what is striking about a list such as the above, is that the nature of the competition becomes a lot clearer. As such, it becomes crystal clear what getting back to the whole point of elections is all about.

These platforms are better than nothing. The journey to electoral maturity starts right there in the above list of four — with evaluating candidates’ platforms (in contrast with evaluting their dance moves like we traditionally have). Where individual candidates have failed to cough up an individual platform or vision we could get them to refer to (at least acknowledge) the one issued by their own party. This is a point Ben Kritz drives straight through in citing how the Liberal Party does indeed have a platform but with no one standing upon it. Indeed…

despite the fact that a reasonably-detailed platform has been published by the LP, the supporters of the party and standard-bearer Noynoy Aquino seem not to have gotten the memo, or chose to ignore it […]

* * *

Are we sick of politics stuck in the primitivism of intrigue, mudslinging, and personal attacks? The solution is obvious. Change the rules of the game, and move to a new playing field. We — the voters, the political analysts, and the mass communicators — are in the best position to do just that.


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7 Responses to The Kick-Ass Test

  1. HusengBatute says:

    Politicians who promise to remove corruption without proposing a sound economic plan is no different from promising the alleviation from poverty without any idea where to get the wealth from.

    Sometimes the “L” symbol is starting to sound like “Lazy”–They’d rather be satisfied with “guts” or intuition rather than resolve questions regarding the candidate’s qualifications or lack thereof through methods that are accessible or available anyway.

    Most arguments in favor of Noynoy tend to fall under any or a combination of the following:
    1. He is popular (i.e. bandwagon argument)
    2. Other candidates are [surely] dishonest or corrupt, while ONLY Noynoy is not.
    3. Because we don’t know any better (which slides into “we WILL NEVER know any better until after he may hopefully get elected into office”) — basically, one big argumentum ad ignorantiam
    4. He is the descendant of Ninoy and Cory (even though Kris had clearly demonstrated that her pedigree and the integrity of her parents did not save her from questionable decisions and lifestyle she is known to have had)
    5. If you hate Gloria, go for Noynoy (as a show of solidarity with Gloria-haters.)
    6. Noynoy doesn’t say much, hence vote for him to dispel your doubts and satisfy your curiosity.
    7. Noynoy doesn’t say much, while those other senators say a lot and were proven wrong, hence whoever doesn’t say much must be right.
    8. Cory died, so let’s console Noynoy and family by voting Noynoy.
    9. Cory died, so anyone who doesn’t vote for Noynoy is a heartless individual (“walang pakisama“)
    10. Because, so far, pinoys don’t know how to redeem or save the country, so any semblance of a messiah is acceptable.
    11. I like yellow. It’s fashionable.
    12. My kumadre or kumpadre likes Noynoy, hence, so do I 🙂
    13. I am a shill or paid hack.
    14. I am a Lopez, somehow related, or their underdog.
    15. I belong to the old oligarchy.

  2. BenK says:

    I brought this up in last week’s Sentro ng Katotohanan broadcast, and it’s a point I’m going to continue to raise: The election comes down to a very simple proposition of who is going to do the best job for each voter individually. Every voter should ask themselves one question, and that is: “What’s in for me if I vote for this guy?” When they hear high-flown rhetoric such as “strengthen democracy” and “transparent governance” they should be able to articulate (at least to themselves, which is all that really matters) what practical benefit they will see from that. If they cannot, then they need to be asking more questions, and the candidates need to explain why, in real terms, “strengthening democracy” or the like represents tangible progress. That’s what platforms are for, after all.

    The uproar over GMA running for Congress is a very good example of everyone worrying too much about what’s good for everyone else, and not nearly enough about what’s good for themselves. The people in the 2nd District of Pampanga have no reason to give a damn at all about what GMA in Congress may mean for the rest of the country — they need a representative who is going to take care of business for them, something that GMA has worked very diligently, in her own way, to demonstrate to them; why should they be expected to sacrifice for everyone else’s sake, unless the alternative presents an equal benefit proposition? One cannot eat “a strong democracy”, and “living in a land of transparent governance” is not a qualification one can use to get a job. Glomming onto a compatriot’s achievements or reputation does not confer validation, either; people do not assume I am an expert golfer and a philanthropist because I share a hometown with Arnold Palmer, to use a personal example. (Good thing, too, because I’m a terrible golfer.)

    When everybody tests whether their candidate “kicks ass” from the point of view of what’s good for them, guess what? The one that gets elected turns out to be the one who does the most good for the most people.

  3. Chino F says:

    That Engr. Jojo cited some reasons that should not be part of any candidate criteria.

    He has a VERY good Breeding
    He has No First Lady to Appeased with
    He is A WINNER

    Some questionable claims too (how are you sure you can prove this?):

    He is Intelligent ENOUGH
    He is Diligent and Hardworking ENOUGH
    He is VERY Sincere, Honest, Humble, and God-fearing
    He is VERY Clean and Untainted with Corruption

    Shows that some people are just desperate for anything BUT GMA.

    And just how good is ENOUGH? For me, enough is enough with these vague ways of choosing candidates. Choose one with the PLATFORM you like!

  4. Engr Jojo & Hustisya must be paid hacks says:

    I’ve made maybe 7 tries and my comments no longer show up at MLQ3’s blog.
    I’d like to post my comment here.
    Feel free to remove it if inappropriate.
    Just couldn’t stand the lies from Engr Jojo and Hustisya.

    Engr. Jojo,

    Won’t you share with us all lahat ng kinikita mo pare for selling your soul to the fantasy hero Noynoy cause? Alam naman nating lahat na you have a “slider” account na non-taxable para hindi makikita ng audit how you’re a paid hack for Noynoy.

    MASARAP BA MAG CAPITAL LETTERS NG LAHAT NG ISINISIGAW NG IYONG BAYAD NA LOOB? SIGE NA I-CAPITAL LETTERS MO NA LAHAT PARA PANALo KA CHONG. As if naman na may kapanipaniwala ka kapag capital lahat e nagmumukha ka lang highblood. Baka gumuho lahat ng ini-engineer mo kung binuo mo silang may altapresyon sige ka. Aba teka, nga pala, ikaw yung E.E.* tama?

    *Emotional Engineer

    Kahit ilang beses mo paikutin yung sinabi mo, obvious na nagpapalusot ka lang. bakit mo ikahihiya na paid hack ka kung yun ang totoo? “Your own money” has to come from where else but your “slider” account.

    Sana lang hindi mo ipinagkakait kay Hustisya ang sweldo este slider niya. Para siyang si Goebbels, daming kasinungalingan at imbento, nagtatanga-tangahan pa. Trying hard pero halata. Share your blessings sa poor naman.

    Mahina ka rin umintindi no?

    1. Wala ako sinabing oligarch si NOynoy. PUPPET SI NOYNOY NG MGA OLIGARCH.

    2. Kahit perfect pa attendance niyan kung wala naman naaccomplish, wala pa rin naaccomplish. Juan Tamad pala si Noynoy sa totoo lang.

    3. Di mo ba alam Noynoy gets plenty of advice from Krissy kapag hindi niya alam maghandle ng mga bagay-bagay? Pati sa Mommy’s funeral pa nga, Kris takes the opportunity to tell Noynoy na huwag mag-asawa dun mismo sa podium. Kahapon ka ba ipinanganak M.M.?

    4. The Aquino government authorized “shoot to kill if necessary” sa nagpipiket noong Hacienda Luisita massacre, kaya pati si cory sabit sa atrasong ito sa sambayanan.

    5. Sabi mo noynoy advocates Accountability, Transparency & Good Governance tapos ngayon sinasabi mo hindi niya ito magawa unless presidente may gusto? Ginawa ba niya o hindi? Ay nako, you’re creating DOUBT for NOynoy’s ability to do anything at all. Napaka-inconsistent mo pare.

    6. Noynoy always needs to be bailed out by Mar during presscons and interviews, laging kailangan ng advice ng iba pati ni Kris dahil he couldn’t decide on his own, laging nagtataguan-PUNG with discernment, laging no-show sa tv program na mate-test ability niya to think on his toes, laging nirerescue ng mga supporter niyang mga mapaglinlang tulad ni Hustisya. Buti na lang kamo maganda sweldo niyo este slider.

    7. Mr. Emotional Engineer, basahin mo ulit: Noynoy has breeding like Bong Bong. Hindi pinag-uusapan dito kung ano ginawa nung magulang. Di kasi binabasa hihirit pa. Go breed with something why don’tcha?

    8. Pumapalya na ba memory mo Engr Jojo? Eh Noynoy gets extensive coverage sa ABS CBN news programs, ABS CBN showbiz talk shows, ABS CBN morning programs, at kung anu-ano pang maisisingit, adding up to mileage exceeding 200% of other networks’ combined. Syempre kasi love your own puppet. ABS CBN has Noynoy for a puppet.

    9. Noynoy doesn’t need media mileage? U blind? Labas nga ng labas campaign ad ni Noynoy eh for added exposure. Ginagastusan pa nga eh. Bulag. (Pero totoo, Villar owes ABS CBN dahil sa Wowowee.)

    10. Noynoy is a winner, just like all the failed elected leaders na ibinoto ng mga makikitid ang utak ng tilapiang noypi katulad mo.

    you are a paid charlatan who makes money off lying to filipinos who need real, dedicated, competent leadership na may malasakit sa tao.

    Kahit i-capital letters mo lahat yan, hindi mo maibebenta mga kasinungalingan niyo ni Hustisya.

    Kahit anonymous ako, may katotohanan ang mga salita ko, di tulad mo ginoong Emosyonal na Enhinyero. Dun ka na lang mambola sa blog mo, puro kayo mga utu-uto doon. Di ka mapapahiya dun.

    Oo nga pala, eto info para kay Hustisyang Ignoy clone:

    Noynoy supporters = sobrang insecure kay Gibo kasi walang isyu na maihagis kay Gibo so ipinipilit ang pagconnect sa Ampatuans

    Hustisya = ignoramus, hindi alam yung party ni Noynoy at Raymond habang si
    Pepeng nananalanta

    Party with Noynoy = = patunay na tanga si Hustisya kasi di niya alam

    Meeting with convicted plunderer Erap = inasikaso ni Noynoy sa halip na tumulong sa kasagsagan ni Ondoy

    Cory = silently benefited the Aquino side of the Cojuangcos by signing the bungled CARP

    Cory = sneaky hero
    Hindi ba ito inanunsiyo sa zoo, Hustisya? Kaya ba hindi mo alam?

    Dennis, your Noynoy apologist tattoo is showing. You’re quite the hypocrite, pa-calm effect pa. Nick and BP make perfect sense, and your faked ignorance of the truth makes you a charlatan too. Tama na pagbabalat kayo. Para ikaw magsweldo este mag slider din. 😉

  5. Pingback: Does your candidate pass The Kick-Ass Test? « NoyPI Ako!

  6. Pingback: The Kick-Ass Test « NoyPI Ako!

  7. benign0 says:

    The blogger Marocharim in his latest article gives us a good idea of this general difficulty many people have around grasping what it means to be goal/results-oriented in the field of execution. To be fair, I’ve come across many people in my line of work who are actually in the field of “project management” (a field where one lives and breaths goal/results orientation), not to mention people who are in senior management and executive positions who cannot seem to fully grasp it either.

    Here is a comment I left in that article (still under moderation as of this writing):

    =======start of comment:
    Dude, platforms need to be stressed because they happen to be the key aspect (among many other aspects) of Pinoy-style elections that is glaringly weak in the electorate’s regard for their role as participants in a democracy.

    The obvious question one would ask of a candidate bidding for the 2010 presidency (at least for those of us who are inclined to think that way) would be:

    How do you envision the Philippines of 2016 after you conclude your tour of duty as chief executive of the land?

    That to-be vision then becomes the set up for the next question:

    How do you plan to take us there?

    And perhaps for an electorate that is cluey enough:

    How can we help?

    What is the document that will articulate a comprehensive response to the above questions?

    You guessed it.

    […] [Y]ou cited the following as “answers” to the “How?” question:

    – “not by campaign promises, but by the law”;
    – “not a[…] by platforms, but by the synergy of the branches of government”; and,
    – “not answered by publications of agenda, but by popular sentiment and […] the public good”

    I beg to differ Marck.

    What you cited above are constraints and considerations that are factored into the execution plan.

    Consider a goal of getting, say, from Quezon City to Makati to meet up with friends

    How to get there is answered by:

    (1) Your choice of transport (public or car) and route to take
    (2) Your ability to finalise agreements with your friends on where and when to meet.
    (3) Your ability to prepare for the trip (clothes, grooming, and money)
    (4) Your ability to set aside the time for both the preparation and the trip.

    But to implement the above plan (and how much of it you can realise), you have to consider these constraints:

    – the time of day/night
    – the volume of traffic given the above time
    – the temperature given the above time and the traffic expected (which impacts your planned attire and grooming, presumably)
    – how much money you’ve raised for the day’s activity with your friends
    – the kind of stuff that particular set of friends you are meeting are into.

    See the analogy? For the most part you described the environment — the politics, the governance structure/framework, and the public sentiment — within which the chief executive needs to perform.

    Those are considerations to take into account in one’s plan.

    And such a plan currently DOES NOT EXIST in today’s National Political “Debate”. In fact it hasn’t for the last two decades.
    =======end of comment

    Perhaps there is an even more fundamental need to remind the electorate and the “analysts” they take their cue from that we have for the longest time, (the last I recall is President Fidel Ramos’s “Philippines 2000” campaign) lacked a forward-looking agenda in our politics and national “debate”.

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