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.