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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Binay plays ‘poor card’

Each adult member of the Binay family is a millionaire several times over, and judging by their financial statements both Vice President Jejomar Binay and his wife are dramatically successful business investors, but apparently none of this means anything. For Binay, he is not rich, but someone who comes “from a poor family”; he does not own profitable businesses or million-peso properties, but is merely someone who “grew up poor.”

By Binay’s unusual measure, some of the richest men in the Philippines should not be called rich, but people-who-are-formerly-poor: Henry Sy, John Gokongwei, Lucio Tan, Manny Villar, even Manny Pacquiao, to name just a few. But would any of these gentlemen deny the fact that, through hard work or business acumen, they have not only become wealthy but are themselves creators of wealth?

Despite his wealth, Binay still self-identifies as poor, and in a radio interview with a Pagadian City radio station last Friday, the embattled Vice President tested the use of the “class card.”
“The rich do not want people who come from poor families to rise to the highest position in the country,” he said, forgetting his own country’s history. Diosdado Macapagal was already a wealthy lawyer and successful politician (exactly like Binay) when he became president in 1961, but he came from origins even humbler than Binay’s.

“The only ones capable of thinking up ways to sneer at and smear [our reputations] are rich people like [Interior Secretary and presumed Liberal Party presidential candidate] Mar Roxas. You already know this. We are the same, I grew up poor. They don’t want us to be united. They don’t want me to lead the fight against poverty and joblessness in our country,” Binay said in Filipino.

Now this (pardon the pun) is a little rich. Binay is under pressure these days because of dramatic allegations of corruption; the allegations have been fanned by two senators who have little love for him, true, but the sources of the allegations are former members of Binay’s inner circle. Instead of rebutting the allegations point for point, the Vice President has offered the lame counter-argument that the Senate blue ribbon subcommittee hearings, where the allegations have been raised, are politically motivated. Last Friday, he expanded his counter-argument to include class warfare.

It is a harsher version of an equally fraudulent political strategy: Joseph Estrada’s posturing as a poor man. Binay did actually grow up poor; Estrada merely played the part in very successful movies that made him even more rich. But either out of desperation or unresolved anger, Binay is trying out a rich-versus-poor narrative that has a sharper divide: “the only ones” to “sneer at and smear” the poor are the rich like Roxas; the rich don’t want the poor to be “united.”

This from the man who ran Makati City and whose family continues to run it. He used his leadership of one of the two richest cities in the Philippines to great success during the 2010 campaign. His theme was simplicity itself: This is how we are in Makati; this is how the rest of the country can be, too. But Makati is what it is, the city most successful in providing for its citizens, because it hosts the country’s central business district. In other words, the rich who have made Makati their headquarters have helped create the conditions that Binay used to claim the vice presidency. This makes “They don’t want us to be united” a particularly hollow claim.

Binay’s own statements of assets, liabilities and net worth prove that he is a wealthy man, but unlike Villar, who ran for the presidency in 2010, he does not see his wealth as something to be proud of. The contrast is telling. Wouldn’t Binay’s example be seen by poor Filipinos eager to lift themselves out of poverty as inspirational and attractive?

What a powerful campaign theme that would be: Here is a man who, despite humble origins, despite the travails of a working student, despite a difficult career as a
human rights lawyer, despite full-time commitment as public servant, managed through hard work and business acumen to build a fortune and to provide well for his children. The question is: Why doesn’t the Vice President sound this theme? Why, when he is already a rich man, play the poor card at all?

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