Blood of Arsenio Balisacan (Arsenio’s blood) was also published by The Manila Times on 8 June 2022.
When I read from media reports that quoted incoming Economic Secretary Arsenio Balisacan about not having politics in his blood, I felt tempted to ask what is it in politics that some people would wish not to be related to it in any way.
Years ago, the phrase “politics was never in our blood” became popular when Indian movie celebrity Govind Arun Ahuja decided not to seek re-election in 2009 as member of the lower house of India’s parliament. More popularly known as Govinda, the one-term politician said politics was too difficult for him. He didn’t understand it.
I find their kind to be rare among political species. In the Philippines, all kinds of celebrities who enter politics find it too easy to understand, except probably for TV and radio broadcaster Ted Failon. Filipino entertainer-politicians do not only fully understand their roles, they can even multi-task, like Erap Estrada and Bong Revilla did.
Unlike Gavinda, politicians anywhere normally find their careers self-fulfilling and rewarding. They are happy at what they do. They use guns, goons, gold, and grolls just to make sure no force on earth will be able to dislodge them from their seats. They grow to become dynastic sources of happiness for their people. They are the reptilian equivalent of the ogre that never dies.
What is it in politics that Gavinda did not understand? Or what is wrong in not being able to understand it? In politics, stupidity is not a handicap, says Napoleon Bonaparte.
Did he feel compromised? But politics have no relation to morals, according to Niccolo Machiavelli.
My guess is that having neglected too often his congressional duties due to conflicts with his showbiz career, he finally empathized with his shortchanged constituents. What C. S. Lewis said must have embarrassed him:
“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”
Balisacan’s context appears unrelated to that of Gavinda. He was further quoted as saying:
“I think the incoming president knows very well that I don’t have politics in my blood and I just do my work. So it should not really matter who I work with.”
“I worked with President [Joseph] Estrada as well, I was undersecretary of the Department of Agriculture when he was president. I worked with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and of course PNoy (President Aquino) [at] the highest level. I really did not put any politics at all into my work.”
I took his words to imply that the politics of Estrada was different from the politics of Arroyo, whose politics could have also been different to that of the late Noy Aquino. And that he could have done differently under different conditions if he allowed politics to get in the way of his work. He assumably did not. A solid reputation as academician and researcher preceding him, he must have applied rigorously his knowledge and skills to what his work demanded independently of the politics of the appointing power.
Yet the basic development issues of the country have hardly changed since our colonization by the Spaniards and Americans. There is the widening income gap between the rich and poor, which is brought about largely by the uneven access to economic opportunities. Lack of access to opportunities results from many other inequities, such as inhibited public investments in the countryside in relation to urban areas and, quantity and quality-wise, low levels of education and health care services that are available for poor communities.
There are also man-made (eg, peace and order, forest degradation, illegal fishing) and natural disasters.
Quite apart from the opposing choice between communism and a market-driven economy, those overarching development problems could have been addressed by any president regardless of what politics he or she represented. This means a technician like Balisacan can have politics boiling in his blood and still carry on with his academic discipline intact.
Maybe Balisacan meant he was allergic to partisan politics? In a culture where anyone can switch political alliances any day, he probably believes he is above all that. He does not fit in a one-size-fits-all political dress, Philippine fashion.
Or politics impacting on public policy? The devil, after all, is in the details. Economists advise. Presidents decide. Is the economic agenda driven by agriculture and land reform, or by big business, such as commercial mining? When funds are scarce, which one tops the list—is it infrastructure or education or health care?
Down the road, there comes a time when competing interests make presidential advisers superfluous. It is not about ideologies or paradigms. It is about private profit. Public welfare is incidental.
S. Lewis is damn right.
It is probably at that point when the likes of Balisacan sees politics as, quoting Ernest Benn, “the art of looking for trouble, finding it whether it exists or not, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedy.”