She was hailed as the “most prepared” of all the presidential candidates during the debate. An irony in view of a campaign constantly hounded by accusations of her inexperience, something that did not escape the scrutiny of the audience and the other presidential aspirants.
With a candidacy besieged by citizenship issues and a disqualification case, Grace Poe faces yet another challenge – to show that she is not as inexperienced (or incompetent) as some people make her out to be. She has held an elected post for nearly three years now with a number of bills under her belt. Prior to being a senator, she was appointed as chair of the country’s organization on censorship. She boasts a degree in Political Science from a university in the United States and has spent her elementary, high school, and part of her undergraduate, years in some of the best schools in the Philippines. Her biography will also tell you that she was quite an active student leader.
Whether Poe is indeed inexperienced or not is for voters to decide. But this focus on experience begs the question of what makes someone experienced enough to be “qualified” for an especially important social and political position. For that matter, who defines what constitutes the “right” credentials?
The penchant for credentials is nothing new in a class-based society such as the Philippines, where the large gap between the rich and the poor is made even wider by the tendency of major employers to favor graduates with higher education degrees; in particular, degrees obtained from the top-ranked universities in the country. High paying corporate positions, posts in elite universities, even some government jobs – employers battle it out for the most qualified applicants. If you have a diploma from one of those spanking universities, better yet, if you have one from abroad, then you’re good to go. You’re qualified. Just read the classified ads (where some companies even venture to say that graduates of those other universities need not apply). Mere possession of what society thinks are the right credentials – the right degree from the right university – will instantly open up opportunities for you even though you might have just breezed through schooling because of connections. With these credentials, one is immediately assumed to be worthy of high wages or capable of taking on such important responsibilities.
The significance of credentials has even extended to the idea of what makes a prestigious profession. The diversification of corporate jobs that came with BPO and call center expansion has paved the way towards hiring on the basis of skill, rather than on the basis of where one has studied. But in these instances, the positions are not deemed as prestigious enough. Very rarely will one find an executive who made it to the highest rung of the ladder mainly through experience. That individual would also most likely possess a degree from a top university.
In such a credentialist society, it is a wonder why many consider Poe to be inexperienced. She certainly has the credentials. And her social class gives her the power to define what it means to be qualified. However, in the context of the elections, the notion of ‘qualified’ seems to have been redefined to favor experience, which, in Poe’s case, refers to number of years in service. But consider this: a fresh graduate from the best university and an older, more experienced individual who has worked for some years but studied in an obscure college, both applying for the same position in a prestigious corporation. Credentials vs. experience. In most instances, the former would win.
It is thus worth thinking through the ways that society values credentials. Major employers put a premium on where one has obtained one’s degree because of the assumed potential instilled by the university on the individual. In politics, on the other hand, length of service seems to carry greater weight (although it has not stopped certain politicians from exaggerating their educational accomplishments). However, the insistence on Poe’s inexperience, which also suggests that she may not be competent enough to take the helm of this country, becomes problematic in the face of the supposedly more experienced (read: immersed in politics for a much longer period) candidates whose reputations do not speak of competence at all.
Academic degrees and educational qualifications are obviously not the only indicators of one’s potential to perform. Further, credentialism prioritizes formal education over non-traditional means of skills acquisition, and as such, ignores differential access – that not everyone is on a level playing field to begin with. But in Philippine politics, experience does not necessarily translate into laudable performance either. How then do we strike a balance given the kind of society that we have?
One final detail. Prior to Poe’s bid for the presidency, many have urged her to consider running for vice president instead. At the same time, some pundits note how she seemed to be “channeling her inner Chiz” as she responded to the questions during the debate. Had Grace Poe been male, would inexperience be an issue? Is the presidency seen as a man’s job that, under normal circumstances (not the revolutionary kind that lifted Cory Aquino, a housewife, to power), requires those ‘masculine’ qualifications defined by this patriarchal society as ‘experience’?
Featured image taken from this site.
 Her male vice presidential running mate, perceived to be a more seasoned public servant, albeit with a reputation as a “traditional politician.”