By Philip Tubeza
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:49:00 08/30/2009
MANILA, Philippines—Trust a politician to turn a public confession of mock-vulnerability into a vainglorious exercise.
In a recent town hall meeting at a residential enclave in Pasig, Senator Francis Escudero confessed to a fear that he says is partly driving him to consider taking a shot at the presidency in next year’s elections.
Escudero, who turns just 40 on October 10, said he wants to run for president at a very young age because he is concerned that if he does so when he is older he might by then be thinking and acting like the veteran wheeler-dealer politicians.
“Will we be better off or worse when we are older? I’m afraid that I might end up like them,” he said.
Escudero said that the youth’s role in reforming the country does not lie in the distant future but in the here and now.
He quoted US President John F. Kennedy on why he was running for president at 43: “We are given the chance not because of who and what we are at present but because of what we can do together in the future.”
“The youth may have their handicaps or shortcomings, but I hope the older generations do not look down on these in the same way that we do not question your capabilities,” he said.
“Let the young and the old work together and not just have only the older ones serve in government while the youth are left waiting for their turn when they grow old,” Escudero said.
The senator was mostly talking to people his own age who made up the majority of those who turned up to listen to him at the Valle Verde clubhouse.
One young professional said he rarely went to political meetings but went to this one because he was interested in what Escudero had to say.
For almost two hours, the senator from Sorsogon answered questions thrown at him, ranging from Charter change, the conflict in Mindanao and which of the policies of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo he would continue, if elected.
Escudero showed a grasp of policy details, context and possible solutions, which he delivered in a lawyer-like, rapid-fire fashion..
No eye contact
One observer faulted him for sometimes not maintaining eye contact with his questioner. But one woman gushed that she would have melted in her seat if the senator had looked her in the eye.
When asked about his views on abortion, he talked about the ectopic pregnancy of his wife, Christine.
“I’m against abortion but perhaps not the Catholic definition of abortion which includes almost everything … Like, my wife suffered from an ectopic pregnancy. Um, her life was endangered, the doctor said to make a choice,” Escudero said.
The Church definition might consider that abortion but “so far as I’m concerned it’s not,” he said.
“[You can say I am] against abortion per se unless it is medically required or necessary as determined by doctors,” Escudero said.
Cause of poverty
He agreed that the country’s “exploding population is one of the major causes of poverty in the country.”
“But I think government should just do it and act on it without waving a red flag in front of the Church and asking them to pick a fight,” Escudero said.
He said the controversial reproductive health bill was being pushed in Congress because Arroyo refused to fund population management measures.
“We should plan for our families,” said Escudero, a father of twins.
He said if he became President he would address the problem of corruption, the crisis in the education system and the lack of accurate government research data on what is actually happening in the country.
He said the government loses approximately P400 billion every year to corruption, which is nearly a third of the national budget.
“Our (education) budget is only P158 billion. If we are able to capture all this money that goes to corruption, we can double the money that goes to education,” Escudero said.
To attract investors, Escudero said he would lower the cost of doing business in the country by pushing for a cut in corporate income taxes by 10 percentage points from the current 30 percent.
The son of Salvador Escudero III, an agriculture minister of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Escudero nimbly sidestepped a question of who he thought was the country’s best President.
“No one in particular. I would rather stick on the good that they did and avoid the bad,” the senator said.
“Marcos had a vision and a plan for the country but I do not agree with some of them and the methods or procedures that were used,” he said.
Civil society groups have not forgotten that his father was a Marcos loyalist and they warn of a “Marcos restoration” if Escudero wins.
As to what he admired most about Marcos, he said the dictator had the vision to set up the heart, kidney and lung centers, which he said was today’s concept of medical tourism that was ahead of its time.
“What do I fault him for? He didn’t accept and realize that time would come that he can no longer be President,” he said.
Cory: Reverse of Marcos
On the other hand, the senator said he gives credit to the late President Corazon Aquino “for doing the reverse of what Marcos did” which was to give up power at the end of her term although she could have sought reelection.
As for her faults, Escudero said that maybe Aquino could have repudiated some of the country’s debts with the global popularity that she enjoyed right after the first Edsa People Power Revolution.
“She was in a unique opportunity to do so much more but perhaps that was asking too much already. After what she had done for our country insofar as restoring democracy and insofar as governing as she did as simple as she could,” he said.
On the issue of Charter change, Escudero said he would ask the public through a referendum if they wanted to do it.
He also said the Constitution should be reviewed every five years but not necessarily amended.
No master plan yet
But the senator stopped short of proclaiming his “master plan” or vision for the country under an Escudero presidency..
“That’s one reason why I haven’t declared yet … the only thing actually that’s preventing me from making known my plans,” he said.
He said he would want to be able to answer one simple question for a voter, whether he or she is businessman, a student, a senior citizen, jobless, rural or urban resident.
“What’s in it for you if I run and win and how will your life improve?” he said.
Escudero said he was also considering the vice presidency or not running at all. His Senate term does not end until 2013.