In 2004, Barack Obama delivered the opening remarks in Boston, Massachusetts for the Democratic Convention… and he went on to become the President of the United States of America in 2009. It was thought to be as an “overnight success” for the then relatively unknown senator from Illinois. That keynote address is now considered as “The Speech That Made a President”, the first black American President at that.

Recently, candidate Atty. Luke Espiritu participated in a forum with other aspirants for the Philippine Senate. Among others, this Atenean lawyer is currently more recognizable with the three-word he forcefully articulated – “’Wag kang bastos.” Overnight, this labor advocate’s Twitter account increased quite exponentially, from more than 2K to 18,300 followers.

When all is said and done, speeches do have the power to make, and to unmake, a politician. Spoken word is transformative. Though calling himself as “unlikely,” Obama was then and there touted as a possible future occupant of the Oval Office. For his part, Espiritu went on to become viral right after that firebrand forum. In a sense, speech is also “informative.” Netizens have thusly searched for the name of the lawyer who had sparred with former Malacañang spox Harry Roque and suspended lawyer Larry Gadon. People do want to be informed who he is. Speeches do have the capacity to be “formative.” After hearing a speech, those who were able to listen must have been ably assisted in the formation of their conscience on whom to vote or not to vote for. Certainly, not a few did have a change of mind right after a speech ended.

Like the scorching summer sun, the political climate will certainly heat up on March 25 as local campaigning begins. To say the least, people again will fall victim to all types of speeches. I do wonder if some speeches would pass the standard of becoming a modest speech at all. And for the several who do not know how to speak publicly or for others who have nothing meaningful to say at all, will belting out a song or a trying-hard dance moves be a worthy consolation? But still, there is quite none that could replace the power and the candidness of a speech. As told, “The fruit of a tree shows the care it has had; so too does one’s speech disclose the bent of one’s mind. Praise no one before he speaks, for it is then that people are tested.” (Sirach 24:7)

Truth be told, unlike in ages past, that campaign sorties now have been devoid of rhetoric. Gone were the days of eloquence in discourses, the incantation in every utterance of the word, the charm of hand gestures and the magic of the eye contact with the audience. I contend that the stage and microphone of the politician should like that of the pulpit of a preacher and the chair of a professor – both inspirational and educational. But doomed we are today as we are seemingly placed in the gutter of shallow gimmicks, empty promises, stressful negativity coupled with all the straining neon lights and the irksome bombastic sounds if only to awaken the attending crowd.

But while we are at it, this is how they usually show their speeches in political rallies (It really is a show, not a speech, so I refuse to use the term “deliver”.) Better yet, consider this as a way to detect a traditional politician’s spiel in sorties. You will definitely hear of these words and lines over and over again in campaign sorties. Here is the predictable formula – when they begin to hold the mic, they will mention the names of everyone present that are supposedly the who’s who in the locality- from the parish priest to the town mayor, to the barangay capitan then to the kagawads and down even to the chief tanod with his cohorts. How many minutes have already been consumed just to do the roll call. In class, checking of attendance is never yet considered as part of the lesson. What is really laughable is the disclaimer, “Hindi ko na iisa-isahin….” And as fate would have it, s/he would go on just the same with the list of who’s who.

Of course, you do not only say the bland name; it has to have “pambobola” to describe how the person matters much to the community and how noble his persona is. And it goes much likely this way- “ang ating napakasipag na mga opisyales….”, “Ang kanyang napakagandang maybahay…”, “Ang ating very supportive na parish priest…”, and so on and so forth. Hallelujah, if there is somebody who knows better and much more about the who’s who in the village are the people of the village themselves and certainly not a mere visiting campaigner.

Towards the middle of the show, they will shift to identifying themselves with the people they are talking to. “Ako po ay katulad niyo rin na galing sa mahirap.”….”Naalala ko noong ako ay nag-aaral, working student po ako noon.” … “Nag-umpisa rin po ako sa barangay.”… “Ako po ay kapwa n’yo rin katutubo.” They would still go on and on with whathaveyou’s even though people are either quizzical with what they are hearing or unbelieving at all.

Then, the politician will transform into the humblest creature there is with a description of his/her self- “Ang inyo pong abang lingkod….” These are two too lofty words –“aba” and “lingkod.” Anybody who has the nerve to refer this to her/himself could yet be in the process of canonization as a saint. Not even Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who was serving the poorest of the poor, would certainly cringe at the thought of being appertained as “abang lingkod”. Would it really sell to voters if a candidate is poor? And with the currents of politicking, the word “paglilingkod” has just been suspect, if not cheapened.

And when it is already time to convey the heart of the matter (track record, personal integrity, platform for the government, political will and vision, among others), the politician (a trapo, if we may say so) would quip, “Hindi ko na po hahabaan ang aking sasabihin at marami pang susunod na magtatalumpati.”…Nuffsaid.

While the ensuing political climate is rather pathetic for the electorate and the public in general, it is somewhat absurd too on the part of the politicians themselves since they are downright on a string in as regards voters “whims and caprices”. Politicians do know better and have the brighter of ideas as regards civilization and culture. But, do they really have to go down the gutter, unmake their truest selves and allow themselves to clown around?

Raising the bar back to high level is but a call of the hour. The speeches we have in the campaign will certainly reflect the kind of government we will be having after the elections. Very much part of the discernment process before shading the ballots is to be keen on speeches and to be very wary of speakers. Better, be a critique of their speeches, as well as their brand of politics. After all, “How can culture grow if there are no critics?”, asked F. Sionil Jose.

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