In my recent article on GetRealPhilippines.net, “The promising decline of Philippine demagoguery“, I celebrate evidence I see of small steps being taken down a different path in the way we as a people regard the coming presidential elections. That is, at least, from the vantage point I have over the small section of the Philippine blogosphere I participate in and that part of mainstream media that I regularly monitor. We are seeing some promising signs that there is more attention being put to what the candidates — and the political parties they are affiliated with — stand for.
Over at The Noted One‘s seminal blog post “Good Frodo and Evil Gollum“, a commentor who goes by the handle “Engr. Jojo” cited the following reasons for supporting popular presidential candidate Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III:
1. He is Intelligent ENOUGH
2. He is Diligent and Hardworking ENOUGH
3. He is VERY Sincere, Honest, Humble, and God-fearing
4. He is VERY Clean and Untainted with Corruption
5. He Advocated Accountability, Transparency & Good Governance
6. He Knows How to Listen & Advocate of Participatory Democracy
7. He has a VERY good Breeding
8. He has No Political Debt
9. He has No First Lady to Appeased with
10. He is A WINNER
The reason I cite this gem is that it gives us a convenient peek into our recent past — when the landscape of thinking amongst the electorate and, worse, the best of our most well-regarded “thought” leaders — was still stuck in the demagoguery of Margalloism and Buencaminoism. This was a time when the best pitch a politician could make to the electorate was an appeal to their gut, where the “debate” amongst the “experts” revolved around politicians’ form over their substance (if any), and how the “reality” of Philippine politics will make any effort to raise the profile of platforms and, God-forbid, the ideas and plans articulated there an exercise in futility.
That’s fair enough, to be honest. Winnable politicians win elections in the Philippines. It’s as simple as that. It’s because Filipino voters make do with the kind of “reasons” that people like “Engr. Jojo” come up with. Whatever works for each individual voter, I suppose, though I did have this to say to “Engr. Jojo”:
Have you ever been on a blind date and then get asked later by your friends if your date was pretty?
The above stuff you wrote about Noynoy at best is the equivalent of that safe answer “Hindi naman panget” [translated: “Well, she wasn’t ugly”] (which we all know means only one thing…).
To be fair, hindi naman panget is a glass-half-full position. Very positivist. And positivism is what makes winners, right? Indeed, these “reasons”…
[…] can make one conclude that those qualities will make a good president out of Noynoy. As I said those are my reasons and for that I am very optimistic that HE IS, HE CAN and HE WILL BE […]. NO ONE CAN CONCLUDE THAT SOMEONE IS A HEINOUS CRIMINAL UNLESS HE DOES THE HEINOUS CRIME. benignO be OPTIMISTIC!!! There’s nothing wrong with it and it is not IDIOTIC […]
…adds “Engr. Jojo” standing by his “support” for The Popular One. It did not seem to occur to him, however, that one can argue too that one cannot conclude that someone will be a good president on the basis of these “reasons” he gave. That’s the trouble with “supporting” some bozo on the basis of what he won’t be instead of what he could be.
Wouldn’t we be better off instead evaluating politicians on the basis of whether they could:
– kick serious rebel/insurgent/bandit ass in Mindanao;
– kick serious diplomatic ass overseas when negotiating for Philippine economic/security interests;
– kick serious cabinet secretary ass to make sure he shows them who’s boss consistently over his six-year term;
– kick serious Congressional ass to ensure that he is able to get stuff he wants to implement passed in the legislature; and,
– kick serious ass when addressing various sectors in Pinoy society to ensure they do not bicker amongst one another.
Now step back and see if you can imagine your candidate being the kind of fellow who could do any one or more of the above from 2010 to 2016.
Does your candidate pass The Kick-Ass Test?
* * *
The reality of traditional Philippine politics of course still enjoys immense inertia, and until presidential candidates — and, of course, the electorate and the boys club of political “experts” they depend on for thought leadership — shift their sights to the issues and away from vacuous platitudes there remain two big roadblocks that the forces of modernism and progress need to crash through:
“Politics-as-usual” reflects the flawed nature of the way the electorate drive politicians’ behaviour.
What key concepts underpin the politics-as-usual of the moment? Here are some that readily come to mind:
- Winnability based on pedigree platforms;
- Anti-Arroyoism (or more generically, anti-incumbentism); ignores the fact that whoever sits in Malacanang seems not to make a difference to the lives of a big chunk of the Filipino population. Indeed, the whole debate around charter changed was framed around anti-incumbentism.
- Indignation over “corruption”. Is removal of corruption the real issue? For that matter what exactly does “removal of corruption” mean?
- “Good” vs “Evil”. Back in World War II, the “good” and the “evil” were quite easy to distinguish. In 21st Century Philippines, however, “good” depends on who says so — specially during the campaign period.
- “Hope”. Entire campaigns were built around some nebulous concept of “hope”. Hope in what exactly? The prevailing or triumph of “justice” and “conscience”? What exactly does that mean exactly?
That is what politics-as-usual means to me — an inability to move forward beyond the above meaningless platitudes to imagine a specific, more targetted, and clearer goal for our society; goals that are tangible and whose attainment can be measured. Blogger BetterPhilippines (BP) provides an example of how Mainstream Media takes its cue from an electorate that responds virtually instinctively to the above keywords. BP cites as an example Part Two of GMA Network‘s Isang Tanong Forum where various representatives of the boys club of political “experts” have a go at testing the wit and intelligence of our presidential candidates. The outcome of the show, not surprisingly, is again disappointing. And the cause of disappointment has its roots at the flaccid level of expectation we place upon the shoulders of those who presume to aspire to lead us:
The main problem lies in the questions that were asked. With the exception of a few, the questions mostly delved into past concerns such as Former President Joseph Estrada’s conviction for plunder. Some were just plain weird like the one asked by former MMDA Chairman Bayani Fernando, which was “What is political will in Tagalog?”
I don’t know why but some people just can’t seem to grasp the simple, basic truth about elections. Elections are all about the future; when we talk of the future we should talk of plans; therefore we should ask the candidates about their plans. Of course, there is also that differentiation between promises and plans, which I will address later.
Anyway, with lousy questions we can expect lousy answers. I can say again without hesitation that majority of the answers provided by the candidates failed to give the voting public a clear view of how they plan to achieve their campaign promises. We’ve heard them all before but to refresh our memories here are a few the most popular ones: education for all, affordable (if not free) healthcare for all, peace in Mindanao, and everyone’s favorite an end to government corruption.
It comes across like a chicken-and-egg riddle. Do our clique of “expert” interviewers do stupid because they reflect the people who look up to them? Or does routinely doing stupid themselves become the source of widespread stupid in Philippine society? Regardless of what it is, exactly, that makes stupid a deep-rooted social cancer in Philippine society, the fact remains that:
So far in our history, Filipino voters have rewarded demagoguery.
We latch on to the meaningless deliverable of uni-dimensionality — platitudes — and embrace ambiguous “solutions” that are products of scapegoating — those “wars” against [place bogeyman in this space]. Small wonder that to the increasingly cynical Filipino, politicians and their politics have become a blur of undifferentiated personalities and rhetoric. And as such, the presidency has become a mere abstraction, far removed in relevance to the average Filipino. The collective fixation on who the next one will be (as evident in the highly-profitable media frenzy routinely whipped up during Philippine elections) seems to contradict this assertion, but that is more a function of how the “opposition” always successfully spins a picture of the incumbent of the time as a scapegoat — Demagoguery 101 — and builds a campaign upon a “movement” to insitute “change” towards some ambiguously singular ideal — Demagoguery 102.
The promising decline of Philippine demagoguery (from which much of what this blog post is about is taken) is a manifesto of what our next steps should be now that a focus on what the candidates stand for (as opposed to a focus on form) is starting to gain some steam in Philippine society and its politics.
(1) The electorate and their political analysts have to keep their eye on the ball: the issues, platforms, and IDEAS of candidates rather than the noise their “supporters” and publicists spin around them to mask their vacuousness.
(2) The candidates have to start referring to their party platforms (if they cannot come up with individual ones that take their parties’ one step further in detail). How can this be done? By those who engage with them (again, the electorate and the Media among others) framing ALL (as in ALL) discussions with our candidates around these published statements/platforms.
No matter how lame these platforms are initially, it is through dialogue between electorate and politicians that is firmly grounded on and guided by these platforms that will FORCE the evolution of said platforms. In Darwinian terms, the selective forces should be geared towards the ideas (read memes) in these platforms (to progressively improve them from their lame state today by rewarding soundness and robustness).
Right now selective forces in Philippine politics are more around the personalities and the hollow romantic “ideals” played up by traditional media and party lines. So it is no surprise that party and individual platforms have atrophied into virtual non-existence. But because we’ve made some headway re-directing attention to platforms, some effort has been put into fixing them up. Indeed, many have already started crawling out of the primordial soup, and hopefully this represents the start of a kind of a Cambrian Explosion in the evolution of Filipino thinking.
To cite the important ones that should be on everyone’s watchlist:
– The Nacionalista Party (no known party platform)
Some downright lame, others well-developed, and maybe some even bordering on brilliant. But what is striking about a list such as the above, is that the nature of the competition becomes a lot clearer. As such, it becomes crystal clear what getting back to the whole point of elections is all about.
These platforms are better than nothing. The journey to electoral maturity starts right there in the above list of four — with evaluating candidates’ platforms (in contrast with evaluting their dance moves like we traditionally have). Where individual candidates have failed to cough up an individual platform or vision we could get them to refer to (at least acknowledge) the one issued by their own party. This is a point Ben Kritz drives straight through in citing how the Liberal Party does indeed have a platform but with no one standing upon it. Indeed…
despite the fact that a reasonably-detailed platform has been published by the LP, the supporters of the party and standard-bearer Noynoy Aquino seem not to have gotten the memo, or chose to ignore it […]
* * *
Are we sick of politics stuck in the primitivism of intrigue, mudslinging, and personal attacks? The solution is obvious. Change the rules of the game, and move to a new playing field. We — the voters, the political analysts, and the mass communicators — are in the best position to do just that.