Choice: The real point of being a democracy Noynoy supporters miss

Stupid and honest. That’s what Filipinos want. That’s a conclusion one can draw based on the context of where the following over-used quote I found in one of those other blogs is cited:

Between a fellow who is stupid and honest and one who is smart and crooked, I will take the first. I won’t get much out of him, but with that other guy I can’t keep what I’ve got. – Lewis B. Hershey

Indeed, from the way things are going in the lead up to May 2010, it seems stupid and “honest” is what Filipinos will get.

One political “expert” or the other latches on to it (what I shall henceforth call the Hershey Quote) the way one would to the sort of over-simplifications that speckle typical Philippine election campaigns and misguide the national “debate”.

I kinda like the Hershey Quote to be quite honest. It serves as an elegant model of how the Filipino mind works (or perhaps, not work). It reduces the national “debate” to populist simple. It harks back to primitivist comfiness — the motherly admonition most Filipinos are familiar with: “wag kang pilosopo” (“don’t try to be too smart if you know what’s good for you!”) and the holy biblical underpinnings (you eat from the Tree of Knowledge, you get kicked out of Paradise).

Stay dumb and keep out of trouble. Try to be smart and you lose your way. Philippine National Philosophy 101 in two sentences. Brilliant!

A more subtle regard for how the Hershey Quote models the Filipino mind lies in how it highlights our society’s focus on people. Those who subscribe to the message of the Hershey Quote in the way it applies to the choices available for this year’s elections go by the thinking that a “crooked” president necessarily translates to a crooked presidency, and an “honest” president necessarily translates to an honest presidency. But, see, that kind of thinking would apply if the Philippines were an absolute totalitarian state (I’ll go into that later into this piece). However, the Philippines is a democracy. Its system of governance consists of three branches (one of which the Presidency belongs to) that check-and-balance one another. Officers in two out of three of these branches are elected by popular vote.

In short, the democratic system (specially the one we choose to apply to ourselves) is convoluted by design to ensure that even crooked officers are kept honest. Indeed, in a democracy, we can be assured that each government official is either or — more likely — both (a) mandated by the Vote and (b) kept honest by the system of check-and-balances.


Item (a) implies that said officer reflects his constituency. The character of officers of the government — specially those elected by the Vote reflect the character of the people who voted for him/her.

Item (b) implies that the system is inherently complicit to the actions of each officer. The range of actions of each government official reflects the range of behaviour a system tolerates in the elements that compose it.

What does all this mean? It means that all the trouble we go through and invest in to be a democratic people is to make quality of governance inherent to a system we each have a stake in by virtue of our ability and right to participate in its operation. That, in effect, makes us accountable for the sort of leaders it produces and the quality of governance it delivers. Democracy is a lot of trouble, specially when comparing it to the relative simplicity of just stepping back and subjecting ourselves to an absolute ruler. In a democracy, we need to think and be accountable. Under absolute rule we simply heed and follow. Thus under absolute rule, there is greater if not absolute certainty that an honest ruler will deliver honest rule and a crooked man will deliver crooked rule.

In a democracy where everyone has the opportunity to participate, it’s not quite that simple. The convolusions of a democracy makes it difficult for a single man — even the President — to characterise his government. As I wrote in my recent article, Choice:

[…] one can be excused under an authoritarian government for seeing politicians and Government as being the primary source of all of one’s problems. But living under a democracy is not too different from enjoying free market economics. People have choices in a democracy, and therefore there is, in principle, less latitude for a democratic people to make excuses about their misfortunes. Freedom has a price, it requires those who partake of it to use their heads. When one is faced with choices, one needs to think.

And so, as I wrote way back about that hypothetical one-good-president ideal that Filipinos now see in popular “presidential” candidate Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III (quote below with some modifications to make it relevant);

If we manage to find among our lot of 80 million souls a truly [good leader], then there is no point in being a democratic country [because a democratic system’s convolusion will hinder delivery of his goodness].

Now if we find that the whole point of democracy is not being realised, i.e. it does not mitigate degenerate exercise of power by less-than-benevolent leaders as what is happening, say, in the Philippines, what do you think is the logical next step?

The “logical next step” lies in considering this: If we are so hell-bent on finding that one good man to be our President to assure us an “honest” rule, or if we are so certain that a “crooked” man will necessarily result in a crooked rule, then we may as well forget about the notion of us being a democratic nation. That is because we do not and cannot see the point in the trouble we take to be one.


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19 Responses to Choice: The real point of being a democracy Noynoy supporters miss

  1. ben says:

    Actually something I’ve been thinking about lately…

    People do not realize that we are already a democracy. The cries I see from Noynoy supporters that “democracy needs to be taken again” is just a bunch of crap. These are the lazy people: spoon feeding is what they’re after.

    If Noynoy wins, and people would then witness the “old mess, different person” situation that they put this nation into, then I (with some friends) will be making a T-Shirt saying: “I Voted for DICK!” 🙂

    *gasp* The stress I have to deal with on a daily basis in this country.

  2. Aegis-Judex says:

    Merit, people, not fame, MUST be the basis for elected officials! Why? Because they WILL serve the people; it IS their duty!

  3. benign0 says:

    @ ben, spot on! The standard emo tagline is that we need to “fight” to “regain” our democracy. But then, hey, did we “lose” our democracy to begin with? I think Pinoys need to ask themselves that question before they start wearing yellow shirts and waving their “L” hand gestures around while dancing the ocho-ocho on Edsa.

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    An excerpt from Arnel’s introduction of his newest initiative:

    ABS-CBN, GMA7, The Inquirer – they all are the mass media’s “elitest” of the elite. Among the three of them, they have the power to change this nation. And within them, personalities such as Maria Ressa, Ted Failon, Anthony Taberna, Mike Enriquez, Arnold Clavio, Jessica Soho, Solita Monsod and a few others have the direct influence on our agenda for the future. The question is, are they using their power for our country’s good?

    Honestly, I cannot say that they do. For if they are actually looking after the good of this nation, we wouldn’t have been in this mess.. But I cannot blame nor judge them, they are running a business and they are too much inside the forest as to see the trees. I cannot see what is in their hearts nor do I conceive what they would do in the future. All I have before me are the fruits of what they do, the facts I could gather from what I see. The media elites have been given too much freedom to rein in on issues without the checks and balance that each of us practically should have. So I thought, unless someone put them to task or at least look deeply on what they do, they won’t realize the need to improve themselves.

    Read the full introduction here!

    Log on to The Philippine Daily Inquirer Front Page and help us keep the HONEST!

  4. boombox says:

    The Ironies of Conrado de Quiros… wayyyyy back from 2004..

    The ‘wasted vote’ by Conrado de Quiros, Inquirer: 19 Feb. 2004

    ON SEVERAL occasions these past weeks, friends have raised the issue of the “wasted vote.” Raul Roco, they say, may be out of the running, having already slipped to third, if one goes by the Social Weather Stations survey. Whatever the reason, he may soon be hard put to catch up with either Fernando Poe, Jr or Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. A vote for him would be sayang. Better if one just voted either for Fernando Poe, Jr or Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, depending on who one thinks is the lesser evil.

    Well, first off, the premise is wrong. I myself suspect this line is something the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo camp is peddling, its strategy being first to take Roco out of the running in the public eye, reducing the contest to a choice between Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo or Fernando Poe, Jr, and second to drumbeat enough fear of Fernando Poe, Jr–he will be Erap Part 2–to drive the voters to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

    I myself do not buy it. I’ve already advanced my theory on the last SWS survey which had Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo climbing to second and Roco slipping to third. I think it was the combined result of Noli de Castro running as Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s partner and Roco having near-zero visibility in media for a couple of months before the survey came out. The last time Roco landed on the front pages of newspapers was when he launched the Alliance of Hope on National Heroes Day. Since then, nothing.

    The next surveys may yet produce changes in the rankings of the presidential candidates for a couple of reasons. First, the Noli factor would already have been factored in by the public. It would have lost its novelty and impact. And the perception that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is resorting to dirty tricks–ousting Fernando Poe, Jr through the citizenship issue, appointing two known scalawags and diehard supporters to the Comelec, prosecuting the Kawal officers for saying she ordered her favorite generals to derail the campaign of the other candidates–could boomerang on her, bringing her back to the same position she occupied before.

    And Roco has been gaining media mileage of late. His visibility has increased.

    If the question were merely “winnability,” I should think the wasted vote would be the one thrown to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. I can’t see how she can win against Fernando Poe, Jr. Like I said before, she has never topped a survey. And despite campaigning for three and a half years (that is what she has been doing all this time, with those giant billboards proclaiming her virtues) and resorting to below-the-belt tactics (these elections are threatening to become dirtier than when Marcos sought a second term in 1969), all she has to show for it is that she is now “within striking distance” of Fernando Poe, Jr. In past presidential contests, the incumbent was the candidate to beat. All the rest tried to be within striking distance of him. This is the only case I know where the incumbent is claiming to be within striking distance of a challenger.

    But far more importantly, I don’t buy the concept of the “wasted vote.” The only wasted vote as far as I can see is the one you give to a candidate you do not believe in simply because you think he or she has a chance to win. That is boundless waste, not least because it stands to waste the country. To this day, I do not regret not having voted for Erap in 1998. To this day, I do not see that I wasted my vote voting for somebody else. If there was any “wasted vote,” it was the one that went to Erap. That is so not just because he never got to finish his term but because people voted for him simply because “he was going to win anyway” whatever they did. People who do not want to appear like fools by voting for a “weak candidate” are on a straight path to it.

    Correspondingly, the wasted vote is the one you do not give the candidate you believe in from the belief that he is “not likely to win.” That is a self-fulfilling prophecy, guaranteeing doom–and not just for your candidate. Like I keep saying, the only thing worse than being disempowered is having the power and not knowing you do. Or worse, knowing you do and abdicating it. The vote is a great power, and it is something we hold in our hands. The victory of candidates is not written in the stars, it is written in our hearts. The victory of candidates is not foreordained, it is decided by us. We do not vote for candidates, they do not win. We vote for candidates, they win.

    Even if the candidate you believe in is not a popular one, what of it? Voting is not just something you do for a candidate, it is something you do for yourself. Or to yourself. Elections are a test of character, but it is not just a test of character for the candidate, it is a test of character for the voter, too. It’s not just the candidate who’s on trial in elections, it is you, too. When you vote, you do not just decide the kind of life you want for the nation, you decide what kind of life you want for yourself. You can choose either the life of a lemming and throw yourself off a cliff because everybody is doing so or the life of a human being and act as reason and conviction tell you to.

    At the end of the day, you do not just have to live with the candidate you inflicted on the nation, you have to live with yourself and the wound you inflicted on yourself. You can’t be true to yourself, you can’t be true to the nation. Stop complaining about this country going nowhere. There is no vote that is wasted on a candidate you believe is fit to run this country, whether he wins or not. You do not win when you vote a fool or a tyrant into office because he or she is the “strong candidate,” you lose–even if he or she wins. Above all when he or she wins. And you do not lose when you vote for a candidate as your conscience bids, you win–even if he or she loses. Above all if he or she loses: It is but the beginning of struggle.

    The “wasted vote” is a spurious concept. You keep worrying about it, you’re wasting your time, your energy and your life.”

  5. Ryan says:

    Great article, and I’m certainly with you on that. That’s why the candidate I’m picking this election is one that respects the rule of law, the role of institutions, and wants to create an environment where people can help themselves, instead of casting himself as their saviour.

  6. ChinoF says:

    Apparently, hoodwinking the people that democracy has been lost with Gloria and herding these people to vote their candidate has been the oligarch’s plan with Aquino from day one for consolidating their power. The media has been instrumental is spreading this emo deception. It was so effective that once straight-minded writers like de Quiros have been brought over to the dark side. It is a big challenge then to fight this influence, but as they say, the bigger the challenge, the more enticing to conquer it.

  7. Pingback: Every Noy, Dick, and Manny is a Prisoner of Destiny | Anti-Pinoy :)

  8. Pingback: In the News: Conrado de Quiros on “the wasted vote” c. Feb 2004 | Anti-Pinoy :)

  9. J.B. says:

    “Smart and crooked” is not only the ogre why the people is scared and hesitant to vote for Gordon and embraced the least competent Noynoy.

    It is also because it’s getting a lot harder for a presidentiable in this contemporary times to actually make a noticeable difference to the economic standing of a common pinoy.

    In this regard, Gordon is not unlike Noynoy — both walang nagawang mabuti bago tumakbo (with exception of course the people of Olongapo and those directly working for Gordon who knows his abilities.

  10. guilbautedsookie says:

    First, I wanna begin this reply with a salute to my brave I-don’t-know-who-the-hell-they-are distant family members who-knows-where from my father’s side. I thought at the family reunion, where 90% of the people there are supporting yellow (I WAS FORCED, COERCED to wear the dreaded color but I kept my Gibo baller visible), I would be alone. But then came this clan and they were all wearing green, and without any fear they said…”Kilala niyo na susuportahan namin”. And I could see the angry faces of my uncle and my grandma and all the other Noynoy supporters that day. I was registration officer so I really got some ire from them.

    I love this blog post. It seems to be what I really want to say to my uncle, to my grandmother, to my residual schizophrenic aunt, and well, of course not in this technical way. I always try to milk from them what makes them vote for Noynoy besides his parents, his “religiousness” and his being “good” and the only excuse they can come up with is “para hindi sayang ang boto”.

    My professor in World History said that we have a wrong notion of democracy, believing that as a people, we are ALWAYS inclined to receive, and the government has to give. This was born out of our tumultuous colonial history. We saw the Americans, who gave us this and that and saved us from Claudia Moro-land, as the “good ones” and the Spanish “the bad ones”, so which is why Filipinos have grown up with a mindset that those who give are GOOD, and those who take away are BAD. Do take note that the GIVE part is exclusively GIVING. Give the poor jobs, give roads, give Christmas packages, and take note that the TAKE part refers to corrupt officials, and all government actions that are deemed questionable by pretentious officials claiming to GIVE. I really wanna elaborate on this point can’t just find the right words, so pardon my uh, analysis. I am open to opinions.

    Like a person with borderline personality disorder, Filipinos are splitters, and that is not good. We tend to idealize only those who give, those who are “one with the masses” and we tend to hate those who have plans but are not what we want, cause it makes us feel they are taking away power. For example, my bet, Gibo. He is not as pretentious as Noynoy, and he finds no problem of not being born from Tondo. He has good plans, but people hate him, cause they feel he will take away this and that. Noynoy, even if he has no plans or even ambition or even a normally-functioning brain, he is LOVED (clarify) because he plans to giv power to the people by ending corruption, nothing else. As long as there is GIVE, the people side to that person. That is why Willie’s ego is now taller than Burj Khalifa.

    I am really guilty of the splitting at times (for both dimensions, well, don’t ask). My friends are. Like we have this prof who was fun, and when she had to let go of them because they now had a new prof, they hated her. And when that prof had an attitude change some of my classmates began hating her like they never liked her. Here in my city, New York–MAKATI kidding lol people were like idealizing Binay for his projects and then Mercado made a sob story people are now forgetting that Binay gave their kids free schooling (though it was Elena Maccay who penned it and Yabut who started it).

    That is why maybe the push for independence was not really much of a good thing. It was rushed. Filipinos have not outgrown this splitting attitude and it interferes with our logical reasoning in selecting a leader. We have grown up with the mindset that “okay siya dati, pero ngayon nagbago na. Kasi eh, tumakbo pa wala namang plano” to deflect the blame from ourselves. That’s another democracy faux pas. GOVERNMENT IS TO BLAME, NOT THE PEOPLE BECAUSE THEY JUST DID THE JOB OF VOTING. THE REST IS UP TO THE GOVERNMENT. PEOPLE KNOW NOTHING, JUST FEED US YOU KNOW CAUSE THAT’S YOUR JOB.

    Maybe that is why many politicians are leaving Gibo for Noynoy. They can see that for now, he has the capacity to GIVE cause he is projected to win. But when he becomes president, they will try to point out the TAKE so he will come out as evil and they now will be heroes and then run blah blah it’s like a vicious cycle. Also, the urban poor of Manila has that unfavorable attitude. “Noynoy tayo, kasi hindi corrupt. HINDI MAGNANAKAW. Wag kay Villar, MAGNANAKAW YAN pambawi. Si Gibo naman, BAKA MAGNAKAW” O kay Erap na lang, MAGBIBIGAY pabahay ulit. Ah basta kung sino MAGBIBIGAY ng trabaho. P’re nomo”

    It’s sad, but we’re guilty of it. We have a democracy, but our idea of it is so faulty that now Brazil will host the Olympics. Because of that attitude, we are perhaps the only country in the world to decline. We were almost there…where Brazil is right now, and then because we split Marcos, forgot the good things he did and chose Cory who would do nothing because she would GIVE independence, we have just fallen from the top. I envy Brazil. The 1950’s was their hardest. Now, they’re hosting 2016. Us, we were there, and we feel down like an apple. Yeah, we’re an NIC. But with an attitude like that, we’ll just be an NIC.

    Sorry for this comment. I know my points are not really that uh, pounding. Just wanted to vent out my frustrations.

    • usi says:

      why do you like Gibo so much when he hasn’t proven himself yet? why not Gordon if you really envy Brazil??

      • guilbautedsookie says:

        Maybe to you he hasn’t but to me he’s proven himself capable and directive. I like Gordon too if it makes you feel any better.

        Let’s just agree on one thing–being the son of a deposed president who did not do any better would not bring us up to prominence again. It’s because of family-centered beliefs. Just because Cory prayed seven times a day and carried rosaries it already makes her son holy? Hell no. What he is doing is not holy. We have to change the notion that parents are responsible for 100% of their child’s behavior. It’s something multifactorial.

        I don’t want my opinions to really be divisive. I’ve been to Olongapo and stayed there for some time and it’s one hell of a city so Americanized and I love it there. To me Gordon did a good job, but he’s my second. I wanna see more from him. I don’t think first-world is really at our grasp. Maybe in the same level as the BRIC would be more realistic. Either way, Gibo or Gordon are the right ways to go.

  11. Keyser says:

    “His mother’s death in August triggered a huge outpouring of emotion from the electorate, which resulted in Noynoy Aquino’s sudden elevation from an unremarkable lawmaker to a presidential candidate who, in a recent poll, had won the “big trust” of seven out of 10 voters.”

    – Washington Post

    NOYNOY. It’s right there in his name. You have two “why’s” and a no-no.

  12. guilbautedsookie says:

    So does this follow na kapag namatay nanay ko I’d be less of a bitch na hehehehehe (knocks on wood)

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