Fixated on the past, or looking to the future?

Are we a people fixated on the past (retrospective) or focused on the future (prospective)? The way that we as a people seem inclined to regard the coming 2010 presidential election provides some insight into how we might answer that question.

We seem to be generally retrospective in the way we evaluate our candidates. The thing with being retrospective in our evaluation is that it is easy. Data is readily available. As such retrospective approaches to evaluating political candidates abound on the Web. The retrospective approach is so prevalent that it utterly dominates the national “debate”. I have classified these into two Type categories:

TYPE 1: The curriculum vitae (or resume) approach

grad A most recent example of this kind of outlook is MLQ3‘s blog “Comparative records” where a “comparative chart” of candidates’ backgrounds is built around education, pre-profession, military service, and judicial, legislative, and executive experience. It is quite a comprehensive stocktake of politicians’ professional backrounds and supposedly is provided “so that readers can take a look at past presidential biodatas, for the purpose of evaluating those seeking the presidency in 2010”.

Previous to that (and I later hazard a bit of speculation around the motive behind the publication of this article), is Manuel Buencamino‘s “Noynoy’s record” on which is lifted (as I said, it’s easy) from “the blog of Carlos Celdran“.

As I said, I take a bit of speculative liberty to suppose that all this was presented in a lame attempt to counter that candidate’s glaring lack of a platform of any consequence. I clarify that observation with a bit of detail in a comment I made there:

Here is the “platform” section of Noynoy’s website (shout a little yodel into the page and you might hear an echo), and two recent articles (here and here) published by the PCIJ describing his background, not to mention that on-line CV Buencamino built for his manok (he calls it a “track record”. I wonder why the word “platform” is nowhere to be seen there in all of those. Hey wait! Perhaps it is because they are all no more than descriptions of, well, track records and backgrounds, and NOT really the elusive platform that everyone is holding their breath for.

Lots of information, to be sure. But nothing that tells us anything about how any candidate plans to govern and lead.

Give me something real to work with, folks!

TYPE 2: The brand equity approach

laban This one is easier than easy as it draws upon basic marketing and brand management principles to make an assault on very primitive human thinking faculties. Build upon recognisable symbols that ellicit powerful emotional responses — the crucifix, the hammer-and-sickle, the swastika, “L”-shaped hand gesture, and the colour yellow.

Indeed, the strategy makes easy pickin’s on the vacuous mind because, as the venerable Conrado de Quiros writes in his recent blurb defending his Good-vs-Evil pitch for his manok:

It’s not just Filipinos who think that way. The power of myth, symbol, archetype—chief of which is the storyline of Good vs Evil—overwhelms every race, creed and belief.

De Quiros, in that article, was also not above invoking that eh bakit sila? appeal that works wonders in a society still suffering from its famously debilitating brand of colonial mentality:

That was the storyline of the recent American elections. Barack Obama didn’t just represent an “alternative” to George W. Bush, he represented an end to centuries-old oppression, breathtakingly embodied by Bush. He represented the long journey of Kunta Kinte to freedom, armed with Martin Luther King’s dream, “We shall overcome.” If he did not, he would not have brought tears to the eyes of the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Oprah Winfrey when he won. If he did not, he would not have won.

You know what, anak? Just because you occassionally see mommy and daddy naked in bed does not make it right for you to do the same with your schoolmates.

The whole trouble with de Quiros’s comparing a primitive society with an advanced society along those limited lines is that he ignores a whole range of advantages — in culturally-ingrained thinking approaches, general quality of education received, and overall maturity — in, well, advantaged societies, that contribute to mitigating unbridled human nature. While driving a car, a sixteen-year-old may share with a thirty-year-old a primal need-for-speed. But between the two, who would you think would possess the presence of mind and sense of responsibility to overcome that primal need?

Deductive vs inductive evaluation

De Quiros’s and his ilk’s approach to thinking is the worst kind of deductive thinking — one based on incomplete data or information that is deliberately framed along narrow lines. It is the kind that routinely adds to the ballooning miseries of this world — from the assumptions made based on historic “trends” that resulted in horrific financial crashes to the it-can’t-happen-again attitude that characterises the safety strategy of the Philippines’ passenger shipping industry.

In the above examples I cited, incomplete bases are proposed for voters, pundits, and “experts” to make a deductive analyses of how a candidate may perform in office. And that’s me being a bit generous, because the latter type (the Brand Equity Approach) barely fits the criteria for any kind of thinking for that matter (I lower the bar a bit in consideration of the Philippine context of this article). It’s like reading about how Germany and Japan started World War II and then concluding that World War III will most likely be started by those two countries.

In light of the above, the question then for The Filipino Voter is this:

Are you going to vote on the basis of what a candidate was or what past events he/she is associated with? Or are you going to vote based on what a candidate envisions the future to hold for us?

Why be content with deducing the future from a candidate’s background and past performance when we, as voters, can DEMAND that they clearly articulate their vision for us in unambiguous terms.

Simply put: Platform, plez.

With a platform available to the public, voters can take a more inductive approach to evaluating a candidates vying for public office by:

(1) examining the platform; and then,

(2) validating its consistency with past performance; and,

(3) using it as a talking point in intelligent dialogue with said candidate.

In that light, I am in favour of Carlo Ople‘s challenge to bloggers:

Unlike a lot of other people in the country, bloggers have the opportunity to sit down and talk to politicians for a lengthy amount of time and discuss literally anything under the sun. Even traditional press people only have a few minutes when it comes to press conferences. In blogger events we usually extend to hours upon hours. I fondly remember the blogger event with Senator Mar Roxas. It was supposed to have been a 5:30PM-6:30PM engagement, but we ended up closing discussions at almost around 8:30PM. I’ve been to blogger events with Senator Villar and Senator Escudero and it’s pretty much the same as well. We always end up extending.

Ika nga ni Uncle Ben, “with great power comes great responsibility”. Fellow bloggers, you have a voice. I urge you to use it. Stop being passive and actively take part of nation building by pushing for candidates who share the same values and agenda that you hold dear.

However, I believe that the effectiveness of such events, for that matter, the whole process of engaging with our politicians lies in their providing us with a proposal as to how they plan to work for us.

The challenge for us is to become more forward-looking in our regard for our national fortunes and therefore become more prospective in our approach to evaluating options — whether they be aspirants for public office or options around the way we plan to conduct ourselves.


Blogger Cocoy sums it up pretty well:

The next election is not about good and evil. This is where the Philippines is. It stands on a crossroad between embracing a new frontier or to remain standing still. It is a choice between ending the quarrel of our past and present or continuing on the same tired path. The election of 2010 is a War between The Armies of Cynicism and Pragmatism versus The Forces of Hope and Willpower in an epic battle for Tomorrow.

Are you an AntiPinoy?


About benign0

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10 Responses to Fixated on the past, or looking to the future?

  1. Pingback: Retrospective or prospective? « Filipino Voices

  2. I am doing a radio program originally in hopes to educate the masses about the coming elections and how to select their candidates. However, knowing that even De Quiros and other columnists seemingly have it wrong makes me realize that I do not necessarily need to educate the masses. I need to educate the educators, which in our case are those who write columns and those who blog about our country. And which I think is what you are doing here as well. I think whatever our “educators” learn, the masses will learn too, even subliminaly. (When I say, I educate, I do not say I lecture them. I am not even competent enough to lecture my children. What I do is I present all the ideas, and let people decide for themselves which is better.)

    One of the recurring topics in my broadcast is how do we or should we evaluate the candidates. When I interview politicians to evaluate them, I usually ask them first about their personal life and their past positions on different issues. For me, if a candidate cannot pass fair scrutiny even on this initial salvo of question, it is not worth asking them their platform.

    But maybe it is the same thing.. you use the platform to evaluate the candidates and then review his/her past if it is consistent with the same. And needless to say, every politician who seek public office “should” indeed have a platform (and detailed at that).

    (Tonight, my program, Sentro ng Katotohanan, will feature the Ang Kapatiran Party. We will be talking precisely about their platform. Listen to DWBL 1242KHz TTh, 8-30-9.30PM)

    PS. Perhaps it is time to put your thoughts in other venues such as on radio. If you are interested to help me evaluate candidates and educate voters, please do e-mail me.. thanks.

  3. ….to say “not voting for noynoy” is a disservice to ninoy’s legacy is kinda partial. ninoy’s biggest legacy to filipinos is democracy, but it doesn’t stop there. i believe “democracy” is a means to the end, which is “progress”.

    as a person given the democratic right to vote, i believe the best manifestation of this right and ninoy’s legacy is to ensure the philippines will move past this “martial law era mentality” and embrace the future with realism and a concrete plan.

    i believe a vote for noynoy will make us stuck in the past. i want a president that has a believable plans to propel us forward, not dwell in the past.

  4. BenK says:

    I’ve been asking everyone this same question: What, in practical terms, is the Aquino legacy, exactly?

  5. lester2k1 says:

    ive been neck deep in work until end of the month so ill resume blogging (actually singit lang to sa ofc time ko. harhar) benign0, there was a study by the ateneo school of govt related to the elections that indicated the masa is thinking more, however their primary source of info is still mass media. we need to get to the tipping point soon with platform plez to really make a difference.

    • Indeed, mass media is still king maker in our country, more specifically ABS-CBN and GMA7. Since GMA7 seems less keen on taking sides, it seems more like ABS-CBN only.

      Any ideas on taking control of them? Is there anyone here rich enough to buy them or compete with them? : 0

  6. benign0 says:

    @ Arnel,
    Thanks for your interest. I think you are sport on with the idea and the message we are trying to convey. I’m not emphasizing platforms because I think they are the only thing that matter in an election. I am emphasizing it above everything else because it is the most neglected aspect of an election in the Philippine setting. And though it may not be particularly effective in swaying the vote of the masa, it is something you’d expect the “intelligentsia” to frame their debates and evaluations. I think one of your people is already coordinating with one of us on possibilities regarding your radio program, so I’ll defer to that for now. 🙂

    @ king,
    Yup, “martial law mentality” is another way to call this fixation on this over-used concept of some kind of “laban” against some kind of ambiguous “evil” that is allegedly gripping our society. Though there is still much bad stuff to fix, I believe the institutions and processes are all largely in place to do the job. We just need to apply them properly.

    Keep on asking the hard questions folks. It’s time we stop treating our “democracy” with kids’ gloves and slathering it with nonsensical romantic notions of some no-longer-existent “laban” of some sort. Pinoys need to get off their arses and start using brains instead of “L”-shaped gestures and yellow ribbons. Only those who take the effort to think earn the right to be truly democratic and free.

  7. nice post you got here! makes a lot of sense!

  8. Pingback: The Official Profile of Benigno “Noynoy” Cojuangco Aquino III | The Anti Pinoy :)

  9. lester2k1 says:

    ive been neck deep in work until end of the month so ill resume blogging (actually singit lang to sa ofc time ko. harhar) benign0, there was a study by the ateneo school of govt related to the elections that indicated the masa is thinking more, however their primary source of info is still mass media. we need to get to the tipping point soon with platform plez to really make a difference.

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