Tuesday, February 27, 2007

There is a Season

The mid-term election season in the Philippines is this May and the topic once again turns to the supposed dearth of inspiring or even qualified candidates for the Philippine Senate and other offices. This tri-annual exercise of wailing and gnashing of teeth normally revolves around the following themes:

  • Nationally known but unqualified candidates
  • Traditional politicians and their relatives
  • Political turncoats.

The common conclusions after griping about any or all of these points are:

  • The country is destined to be run by fools who were voted in by imbeciles
  • The elections are a waste of time for any thinking individual because they are dominated by unthinking ones
  • One should leave the country for somewhere else, preferably where they appreciate critical thinking.

I can understand those conclusions from someone who was not able to receive a quality life in the Philippines, like access to housing, food, education, employment, media such as TV and newspapers, and so on. To get those reactions from someone who went to the same or a similar university to where I graduated from is simply embarrassing.

The university I attended was comparatively heavy on liberal arts courses, such as theology, philosophy, and history. The focus was on providing the students with the tools for critical thinking, to equip them not only with knowledge but also with a reasoned faith. The university was also the third most expensive in the country, increasing the likelihood that the best learning resources – cable TV, personal computers, internet connections, trips to other provinces or other countries – were available to the students.

For one to come to the conclusions listed above is to forget all about history and political theory, critical reflection and reasoning.

To avoid limiting officials to members of a particular class, our constitution requires pretty much only citizenship, residency, and literacy to qualify for an elected position. It's simply insensible to bitch about traditional politicians and actors at the same time, since that would imply espousing two opposing ideas.

Besides, what makes Manny Pacquiao, one who worked his way through national and international ranks to become one of the best and most profitable in his profession, any less eligible than a lawyer or a doctor? And we’re hardly unique, with the USA’s former actors (Arnold Schwarzenegger), wrestlers (Jesse Ventura), and, yes, basketball players (Bill Bradley). A notable example is Italy’s Ilona Staller, a former porn star.

Any reasonable evaluation of our previous elected officials would have to be done on their actions once they assumed office. For example, Ferdinand Marcos graduated from the prestigious University of the Philippines College of Law and topped the bar exam.

The essence of politics and governance, especially in a democracy, is to compromise between diverse and in many cases, opposing, interests. These interests may be any or a combination of class, sex, ideology, religion, or region. Shifting alliances and goals are an indivisible part of this activity, especially over decades. This was true with Manuel Quezon, Sergio Osmena, and Jose Laurel, who plotted with and against one another constantly and yet they are all accounted as among our greatest leaders. This twisting and turning are certainly true and no less valid in our own time, if one cares to note the careers of Jose De Venecia, Juan Ponce Enrile, and Blas Ople.

Furthermore, the unending dominance of political families tends to decrease or is absent in economically progressive areas. Compare Surigao del Norte, with brothers for governor and congressman, and Dinagat, with the related governor, congressman, and mayor of the capital. In Batangas, the governor, four congressmen, and mayors of the three chartered cities don't share any last names.

Perceived performance is also a factor. Closer to home, in the 2004 elections for the mayoralty of Quezon City, the first term incumbent, Sonny Belmonte, crushed the previous mayor, Mel Mathay. This was attributed to the difference in the city's delivered services and collected revenues during Belmonte's first term and Mathay's prior three terms. The same is said for the Fernando's dominance of Marikina City.

Why should we think that the pace of improvement is unacceptably slow? Elections are aptly described as a political exercise. PE is a worthy subject if only to teach us there is incremental progress after numerous and regular repetition. What can you expect if you go to the gym once every three years? We’ve been at it only since 1945, and we’ve had our limits on our membership between 1972 and 1986. Put it another way, Americans has been at it every four years since 1789, and they’d be the first to say that they don’t always get it right.

What is sad is that all this information is available for us to see and we have been instructed of how to use this information to come up with reasoned conclusions. What gives us the right to deplore the decisions and abilities of our less affluent and educated countrymen when we ourselves, with all our access to knowledge and opportunity, so easily retreat to mourning and weeping in our valley of tears?


Sef said...

So nice hopeful reasoning here... but are we improving or are we getting worse? Has elections really helped us in anyway at all?

Rizalist said...

Elections are better than revolutions, coup d'etats, or even, people power. At least in the long run.

TC said...

I always look forward to reading your entries, Bob. Great stuff as usual!

Just to add - to say that our elections are pointless because imbeciles elect buffons and incompetents anyway misses the point completely. Elections are a necessary exercise in a democracy. The vote is one of the few powers we as a people have over government, and essentially how we are to rule ourselves. To discard that right, that power, for something "better" is an illusion. We so easily forget that other people do not have that right. The fact that you have a voice, the power to change and influence the powers that be, that's pretty much as good as it gets.

True, we are a young democracy. It's a fact that most people forget. I'm confident we'll get it "right" sooner or later, whatever "right" means. The important point is to keep on doing it until we do get it right.

banzai cat said...

Nice one indeed, Bob. Though I do think that you give too much credence to the rational side of people, especially educated people. You also gotta take people's biases and situation in account.

For example, business-oriented people will always side with a current government no matter how corrupt if the said administration is pro-business. Ditto with the rich, especially those who were educated in private schools: why disturb the status quo when they're living fine? It doesn't matter to them that a majority of the population is living below the poverty line.

For those educated fellers who express disillusionment with elections, I can only say one thing: you don't use your vote then you lose any right to comment on the state of the nation. Elections are necessary because to do anything less is tantamount to removing the voice of the citizen.

You have any disagreement with those people running for elected posts, then you should express it by voting.

As for whether or not elections help at all, the fact that we can still vote after how many dark years of Martial Law (and that we're not like Myanmar or North Korea) says it all, yes?