There’s the Rub

Educated

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YOU CAN say a lot of things about Miriam Defensor-Santiago, but you can’t say she’s boring. She said some pretty sparkling things at Far Eastern University last week.

The majority of the 50 million Filipinos who will vote next year, she said, are “not educated for voting.” That is matched only by the majority of the candidates who are “not educated for serving.” The law merely requires voters to be 18 and up and to have stayed in the country for a year. And the law merely requires candidates to be of a certain age and possess reasonably good character. Why does a cop need to have a college degree but not so a senator or congressmen?

“If a person is a borderline moron, why should his vote equal the vote of a college graduate? If majority of the voters are not educated, then there is no reason why one vote should be equal to another vote. Not all votes are equal.” The voters’ ignorance naturally favors movie stars. “They are voting for actors … [who will] continue their acting in the legislature, [who are] are little better than talking dummies.”

Like I said, she’s not boring. But she’s also not the best person to argue for her cause. At the very least, that’s so because if the Filipino voter is typically dumb and ignorant, how did she manage to nearly become the president of this country? Or to have actually done so, as she claims, except that she was robbed of it in broad daylight by one Fidel Ramos? Well, maybe she can say with typical aplomb: “I rest my case. Filipino voters are dumb and ignorant.”

At the very most, that’s so because if Filipino voters are dumb and ignorant enough to vote for movie stars, what does that make of those who serve them? What does that make of those who praise them to high heavens? What does that make of those who defend them to the death—or at least until another patron comes along? Lest we forget, that was what Miriam did, attend to Erap lavishly when he was president, defend him ardently when he was impeached, and exhort the unshod masses noisily to storm Malacañang when he was ousted. Until Gloria came along.

Beyond this, however, are the broader principles. There is no natural correlation between educational attainment and electoral IQ. Or between being highly educated and being “educated to serve.” Here in particular, if there’s one at all, it’s probably inversely proportional. You don’t need to look very far to see it. Ferdinand Marcos was one of the best minds in the country, and he wrote, or wreaked, the worst chapter in this country’s history. Aided by other brilliant minds representing various fields of study—law, public administration, engineering, history, the sciences, the arts, literature—that filled up his Cabinet.

I’m not surprised that we call a shyster or hustler “wa-is,” a play on the word “wise.” From experience, we do not naturally see the educated as “educated to serve,” we more naturally see them as equipped to screw.

History shows the wisdom, despite its manifold problems, of making voting universal. If you allowed only the educated (in the sense of schooled), or literate (or at least able to read and write), or intelligent (in the sense of IQ), you would not have had reforms, you would never have had change. The blacks would not been able to vote. Women would not have been able to vote. The tenants and sharecroppers and kargadors and obradors would not have been able to vote. Wealth and power would have remained with the landowners, the slave-owners, the gun-owners, the caciques, the compradors, the owners of fabricas and companias, with no end in sight.

Why should the poor and unlettered and unschooled not know—or indeed not know better—how a government ought to be run? That’s the reason I’ve been very supportive of the party-list system. And that’s the reason I’ve been very pissed off by the party-list groups being hijacked by groups that have no business being there. That’s corruption in ways that go beyond the theft of money, however gigantic. That’s stealing from the poor. That’s taking away food from a hungry mouth. It’s a crime, and a heinous one at that.

That’s also the reason I argue that the real party-list groups, the ones that truly represent the interests of the poor, not only need not but must not be represented by a lawyer, or relative of politicians, if not by the politicians themselves, or by a pedigreed or degreed individual. They can do the representing all by themselves. They can do the talking all by themselves. They can do the legislating all by themselves. The urban poor, the indigenous peoples, the marginalized and scorned.

The notion that they will be out of their depth in Congress, with its lawyerly talk, with its scholarly talk, with its jargon and argot, with its protocol and etiquette, is stupid. Why should they have to adjust to the sensibilities and mentality and ways of doing things of today’s congressmen? Of course they have to show some fineness, too, but who says they can’t? The poor do not naturally lack for kahihiyan and delicadeza and kagandahang asal. They often have it more plentifully than the rich—certainly more so than the majority of the current occupants of Congress.

In fact, why shouldn’t Congress have to adjust to them? Or to the public at large? Why shouldn’t Congress make its discourse understandable to the poor the way P-Noy makes his Sonas understandable to the public?

Who better to speak for the uplift of the poor than the poor themselves? Who better to care for the poor than the poor themselves? Who better to fight for making the poor less poor than those who have seen and felt and tasted the sting of hunger? Which is really what government is supposed to do. Which is really what government is all about.

In the end, who’s more educated to serve?

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