This week, we not only welcome a New Year. We also welcome a New Decade. It’s 2010, another election year for our hapless “democracy”. In less than five months we will be marching to the booths to lock in our choices. As such, I got to thinking: If there were only three things that I could recommend that the average Filipino keep in mind over the next five months leading up to the next Fiesta Election, what would they be?
I came up with these:
- Popularity does not necessarily equate to validity.
- Standards of excellence must be the new Filipino ethic.
- We are here to elect a leader and not a mere administrator.
And lest I be, in all ironies, accused of stopping at mere platitudes and motherhood statements, I go further and expound on these.
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Choosing popular options and biting at emotional hooks
The presidential elections in the Philippines comes down to a simple principle: The most popular candidate gets to be president. It can’t get any more complicated than that. What are the implications of this simple principle? Simple as well. The righteousness of The Vote is premised on the concept of the righteousness of what is popular or what is widely accepted in our “democracy”.
But stop to consider the things that are popular in our society. The television show Wowowee holds wide appeal and is, as such, popular. In contrast a program of more substance such as The Discovery Channel commands a smaller following (specially in the Philippines). But then between the two shows, which one would you say is a more reliable source of valuable information?
Or take a simple choice between reviewing for a Physics exam tomorrow or hanging out with friends at the mall. Which of the two is the more emotionally appealing option? That’s a no-brainer of a question, isn’t it? And, indeed, an even bigger no-brainer is the implications of your choice on what the future holds. The path to progress is not always the more emotionally appealing path. It is usually the path that requires sober deliberation to tread that leads us to long-term and sustainable success.
What sets apart humans from their closest primate cousins — chimpanzees, orangutans, gorillas, and bonobos is the ability to exercise restraint in the face of stimulus that beckons an emotional response. Progress is marked by our species’ individuals’ ability to restrain themselves from killing one another, stealing one another’s food, and mating with another’s spouse. The goodness or badness of the societies we build are measured by how inclined these are to wage war, how frequently the weakest of their members are exploited, and how widely accessible its collective resources are. The inclination to violence, exploitation of the weak, and hording of scarce resources are all emotional responses that are legacies of our animal origins. But our humanity is an ongoing exercise to suppress this with reason.
Likewise in these coming elections, our ability to progress — no, evolve — in maturity as Voters lies in our ability to suppress our responses to the emotional hooks extended by our candidates’ campaigns.
Standards: Taking platforms to the next level
For the first time in a Philippine election, issues-based platforms have become a significant subject of debate. What we are seeing now are the larval stages of a truly intelligent democracy. We have come a long way from lamenting non-platforms and gone-platforms to highlighting the existence of some rudimentary (some even intelligence-insulting) token platforms. That’s a bit of progress in just three months to be quite fair.
Now that we have politicians and their handlers scrambling to cough up token platforms, the next challenge is quite obvious. We need to now start applying standards. Standards make Filipinos’ knees tremble. That is because we have a sorry track record of upholding them to the highest degree. Credit that to our rather sad pwede-na-yan culture. But I digress. Kaya nga challenge, e. Challenges that matter are hard. And seeing the current crop of token platforms that have been fielded, we are in for a bit of a slog. But there is hope. If we could accomplish the next-to-impossible but groundbreaking task of highlighting the importance of platforms in a Philippine election, I believe we could meet the challenge of making those that have so far appeared a bit more useful.
In a response to Manuel L Quezon III’s expose’ of known campaigns in the Filipino political universe “Published Platforms“, I enumerate the following quality standards that we need to hold politicians’ platforms to:
(1) Clear articulation of the current (as-is) situation to serve as a context for Points 2 and 3 below and from which priority ISSUES are identified and defined;
(2) Clarity of POSITIONS taken on specific issues pertinent to the articulation of situation (Point 1);
(3) Clarity of ACTIONS to be taken to realise goals based on positions taken on identified issues (Point 2); and,
(4) Structural/relational coherence of a FRAMEWORK tying together the issues, positions taken, and actions to be implemented identified in Points 1 to 3 above.
Note how the above make use of four mutually exclusive but collectively exhaustive concepts — issue, position, action, and framework. Together they describe the whole point of what it means to be democratic and free: an ability to regard our problems, take a stand on them, and do something about them in an as efficient a way as possible.
Right role = right accountability
This goes back to the whole “debate” on whether a Philippine President is considered to be a mere administrator or a true leader. Among the first bloggers to fall into the trap of demoting the role of leader of the Filipino into a mere custodian of our laws and by-laws is the esteemed blogger Marck Rimorin in his article Excellence of Execution. While some clarity was achieved in my subsequent comprehensive response to the potentially misleading views Rimorin expressed there, the Elderly “Expert” himself Abe Margallo chimed in recently to deliver his two cents’ worth on the matter:
The president’s role in the process is administrative in nature (i.e., execution of those policies) except where other presidential powers are granted or recognized by the Constitution.
Unfortunately for the forces of primitivism, our experience in responding to Rimorin’s earlier snafu made coming up with a response to this moronism quite easy.
In short, our check-and-balance democracy (which originated in America’s own founding fathers’ phobia for tyranny) makes it easy for our officials to dilute accountability. Rather than take a categorical stand on a specific vision or direction that our country should take, they defer to the nebulous concept of “the people’s will” as their source of “guidance” and “inspiration”, in effect setting themselves up for a comfy no-results administration (in its most literal sense).
There is no true leadership in maintaining comfy and administering the status quo. Real leaders are those that are able to exhibit the courage to lead his people down difficult paths. A real leader is so respected by his people that they will be willing to follow him out of their comfort zones and into the unknown.
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Perhaps five months is too short a period for Filipinos to learn lessons that escaped us for the last twenty five years of being a self-described “democratic” society. But considering the option — seeing the same results yet again, we may as well look to the next twenty years as an extended term over which our continued efforts to become a people worthy of the title democratic can be applied.
Happy New Year!