MANILA, Philippines -- Looking for politicians ?of real qualifications? and finding none, an activist-environmentalist yesterday presented himself as an aspirant for the presidency.
By his act, Jesus Nicanor ?Nick? Perlas III said he was showing his faith in not only his experience of working with farmers as well as foreign officials but also in the readiness of Filipinos to vote for change.
?There are many Filipinos who have grown tired of elections where there are no real choices. We are tired of always having to choose the lesser evil. This is why I am announcing my intention to run in the 2010 elections,? Perlas told some 50 friends and supporters at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani park in Quezon City.
Asked if he could win, he said: ?Yes, absolutely!?
With that envisioned victory, Perlas said he would ensure a ?tight case? against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
?She has damaged this country so much, and I want justice,? he said.
Perlas said he had been offered full-time government posts, including the environment portfolio in 2003, but that he had turned these down.
?I am a private person,? he said. ?I don?t want to be in the limelight.?
But having grown tired of waiting for change, and after being assured of the support of friends and family, including his wife Kathryn Carpenter and their 19-year-old son Christopher Michael, he made the ?painful? decision to seek the presidency.
A million volunteers
Perlas, 59, is the latest in the list of personalities projected as alternatives to traditional politicians.
They are his friends, he said, referring to Pampanga Governor Ed Panlilio, Isabela Gov. Grace Padaca and Olongapo Councilor John Carlos de Los Reyes of Ang Kapatiran party.
Perlas is also aware of wealthier and more popular presidential aspirants.
He hopes to match their machinery and campaign funds by mobilizing a million volunteers and operating on the idea that money ?cannot buy hearts and minds that dream of something better.?
?No one really steps up to challenge the system the way I can challenge it,? he said.
But who is Perlas?
In a statement distributed during yesterday?s event, organizers said that while Perlas was ?not a familiar name to most Filipinos,? he had spent the last 40 years ?in dedicated and quiet public service.?
The man is known for opposing the operation of the fraudulently built Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) and the plan to build 11 others during the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.
He served as consultant of the Presidential Committee on the Philippine Nuclear Power Plant and of the Philippine Council of Sustainable Development during the Aquino and Ramos administrations, respectively.
He was a member of the steering committee of Kompil II, a civil society umbrella group that helped oust President Joseph Estrada in 2001.
He also served as co-founder and spokesman of Pagasa 1.0, which was among the groups that called for Ms Arroyo?s resignation at the height of the ?Hello Garci? election fraud scandal in 2005.
Perlas said he had spoken with Panlilio and Padaca about his planned run for the presidency.
He is open to a ?selection process? to unite the so-called Third Force ?as long as the process is credible.?
?It will be fantastic if we can unite,? he said.
Perlas observed that Panlilio and Padaca?s ?expertise on specific areas is limited to the local level,? whereas he spent 10 years ?briefing policymakers abroad.?
Because of his work against the BNPP, Perlas was forced to leave the country in 1978. He did not return until 1987.
?I really did not want to leave,? he said. ?But my family told me not to return, because the military under Marcos was waiting for me.?
Even on ?forced exile,? Perlas continued his anti-BNPP work. Having gathered the signatures of 15,000 people opposed to the project, he presented their sentiments to the US Senate.
He returned to the country after the fall of the Marcos dictatorship.
If he is elected, Perlas said he would focus on poverty reduction by stamping out corruption to be able to draw local and foreign investments.
Filipinos, even the poor, have the ?entrepreneurial spirit,? he said, citing his experience as chairman of Lifebank Foundation, which has served some 230,000 people through microfinance.
Perlas, who holds an agriculture degree from Xavier University, is credited for championing sustainable agriculture, which he defines as agricultural practices that are economically viable, ecologically sound and socially just.
He chose to pursue agriculture instead of his other option, nuclear physics, so he could work closer with the poor. He completed his master?s degree in environmental science at the University of the Philippines Los Bańos.
In 2003 Perlas received Sweden?s Right Livelihood Award, considered the Alternative Nobel Prize, for his ?outstanding efforts in educating civil society on the effects of corporate globalization, and how alternatives to it can be implemented.?
In 1994, he received the Global 500 Award from the United Nations Environmental Programme and the Outstanding Filipino Award from the Philippine Jaycees and the Insular Life Assurance Co. for his campaign against the use of poisonous pesticides by Filipino farmers.
His campaign led to the banning of 32 harmful pesticide formulations in the country.
Of his achievements, Perlas is proudest of the ?societal three-folding? framework he drafted, which was later adopted by the United Nations as a strategy in achieving the Millennium Development Goals.
The framework integrates the government, the business sector and civil society in nation-building, he said.
Perlas first used the framework in crafting the Philippine Agenda 21, a blueprint for sustainable development, during the term of President Fidel Ramos.
It was presented and adopted during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in 1996.
Perlas is disappointed that while the framework is being implemented not only by the United Nations but also by advanced economies, the Arroyo administration has ignored it.
He said that while Ramos and Estrada attempted to integrate business and civil society in governance, Arroyo had not.
?The government alone cannot do the job if the business sector and civil society are not involved,? he said.
Perlas has never run for an elective position. But he expressed confidence that ?if the people will see we are different in our agenda and in our processes, they will be excited.?
He observed that the election in 2007 of Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, who is in detention on rebellion charges, was ?a symptom that people are willing to act.?
He also noted that a popular actor such as Cesar Montano and such big election spenders as Prospero Pichay and Luis ?Chavit? Singson failed in their candidacies.
Perlas said he would choose his running mate based on the response he would get after his formal announcement yesterday. He invited the public to visit his website -- www.nicanorperlas.com, which was put up specifically for his planned candidacy -- to examine his qualifications.
In an e-mail to his friends last week, Perlas said he would ?work very hard to win? the presidency in 2010.
?That is part of my nature and who I am, that I work with total dedication and devotion to any cause that I freely commit myself to,? he said.
Perlas said he would give way should he find a ?more qualified? candidate.
?[But] so far, from my perspective, no one has appeared who can truly lead this country to a new and better future,? he said. With a report from Cyril L. Bonabente, Inquirer Research