Are You Smarter Than Alma Moreno?

So the trending topic in the Philippines these days is not APEC, but Alma Moreno. Or more specifically her interview with Karen Davila on ANC. It turned viral on the internet last Sunday and, as of this writing, it has more than 1.8 million views on YouTube. It even has its own hashtag, #AlDav.

Aside from #AlDav, Filipino netizens are also tweeting #PrayForAlma, as if her ANC interview has the same magnitude as the tragedies in Paris and Syria.

I missed Alma’s interview on Headstart when it first aired on ANC. Like most Filipinos, I watched it on YouTube when it started to go viral. Based on the comments circulating on social media, I was expecting to be completely horrified by how badly her interview went. But after watching the whole thing, it was not really that bad as they made it out to be.

It was just Alma being herself. She did not even attempt to speak in English. She did not pretend to know it all and was humble enough to admit that she has not really studied the issue. She told Karen she’s having a difficult time answering her questions (“pinahihirapan mo ako”) and that she’s sweating (“pinagpapawisan ako”) most likely due to the pressure of having her first non-showbiz interview on national television.

Alma was being real. She did not give prepared, memorized answers carefully crafted by political handlers and spin doctors. She spoke from her heart. She did not pander to voters and give vague statements to play it safe. She was clear on her stand on same sex marriage, reproductive health, political dynasty, tax reform, and the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).
Her answers may not be sophisticated enough. She may not be that articulate. We may not even agree with her views and stand on specific issues. But we know that those were her thoughts and feelings and nobody else’s.

Karen was relentless and practically grilling Alma with her questions (of course, because she’s running for senator). But Alma answered the best she could (even when her best was not good enough for those who watched the interview). And Alma managed to laugh and smile through it all.

Alma did not show any indication that she felt she did not belong there. Even when Karen asked her if she thinks people are taking her seriously as a politician. Alma was confident when she replied that she can feel that people respect her enough and believe that if all the members of the Philippine Councilors League (PCL), of which she is the national chair, will remain united, then they can deliver the votes for her to win a senate seat.

I don’t understand why people are being too hard on Alma Moreno. It’s not as if she went to Wharton like Mar Roxas or to the U.P. College of Law and Oxford and Harvard like Miriam Defensor Santiago. She’s an actress-turned-city councilor. If you must compare her with others, compare her with politicians having the same background. And I bet you know some councilors who know even less than she does.  Give her time and she might grow into the role the way Erap Estrada and Tito Sotto and Vilma Santos did.
If Alma Moreno believes she can be a senator, don’t blame her. Blame the electoral system that favors the popular and those who can afford to rig the system to their advantage. You may think her opinions are ridiculous, but candidates like her are not considered a nuisance. Because she can actually mount a nationwide campaign and has a good chance of winning.

There is no rule that says one has to be smart to run for public office. As Alma said, being called dumb (“bobo”) is a form of discrimination and she is against all forms of discrimination. And so should we. In a democracy, everyone has the right to participate in decision-making and governance. Politics is not exclusive to the educated and the wealthy, despite what the elite would want us to think.

But, seriously, I’d rather have an Alma Moreno who is humble enough to laugh at herself and admit she still has a lot to learn than an arrogant, hypocritical know-it-all like a certain former senator and now presidential candidate who blames victims of government incompetence (hashtag #TanimBala).

So if you think you are smarter than Alma Moreno but are not willing and able to run for senator yourself, then go do something beyond inventing a clever hashtag and help fix this country for real.

First Appeared on Mindanao Times, November 19, 2015