The Philippine civil-society group Social Watch could not have been more correct when its leaders said in a recent media briefing that the campaigns of the leading presidential candidates are not addressing the country's real problems.
This is especially true of the two frontrunners, Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino III and Manuel “Manny” Villar.
Aquino and Villar have consistently placed first and second, respectively, in all opinion surveys – with Villar frequently narrowing Aquino's lead and threatening to dislodge him from the top spot. Joseph "Erap" Estrada and Gilbert “Gibo” Teodoro trail far behind at third and fourth, respectively.
Further down the ladder are Richard “Dick” Gordon, Eduardo “Eddie” Villanueva, Maria Ana Consuelo “Jamby” Madrigal, Juan Carlos "JC" de los Reyes, and Nicanor “Nicky” Perlas.
By all indications, it is either Aquino or Villar who will be the next Philippine president, assuming of course that credible elections take place.
By and large, Aquino and Villar have contented themselves with slinging mud at each other.
Aquino started it with his attempts to belie Villar's supposed rags-to-riches story, a story that has been put to more than its fair share of use in the latter's political advertisements. Allegations that the highly unpopular Arroyo administration is secretly supporting Villar followed, and were repeated and repeated.
At first, Villar quietly maintained a poker face amid all this. Then he finally decided to get piqued, and offered to take Aquino to his old house in Tondo, a mostly urban poor section of Manila – while at the same time asking to be toured around Hacienda Luisita, which is owned by the Cojuangco and Aquino clans of Tarlac.
In the last few days Villar has challenged Aquino to disclose whether or not he actually had to receive psychiatric help in 1996; this followed the circulation of a fake psychiatric evaluation report assessing Aquino as having suffered a major depressive disorder, and stating that he has a history of marijuana use.
It is a spectacle that provides entertainment at a level that puts a lot of carnivals, reality shows and beauty pageants to shame.
Meanwhile neither is talking seriously about any of the issues that really matter, like upholding national sovereignty, the development of a self-reliant economy, elimination of social injustice, provision of social services, respect for human rights, ensuring good governance and accountability of public officials, protection of the environment, and promotion of a patriotic and pro-people culture.
In refusing to address the issues that really matter, the two leading presidential candidates are doing a disservice to the electorate – who will be, for the next six years after June 30, paying with their hard-earned money the salary of the next president.