Politicians and other fantastical beasts

Long-familiar political names again dominated the recent survey results of potential candidates who have a “statistical chance of winning” in the 2019 senatorial elections. We will see recurring names like Estrada, Marcos, Osmeña, Cayetano, and Villar in the new batch of senators next year, if we are to believe the latest Pulse Asia survey results.

It perplexes many people longing for change why the same families continue to have a stranglehold on important elective posts. It frustrates a lot of people to see scions of political families like the Marcoses and the Estradas still winning elections, even if their patriarchs had been found liable for massive corruption.


It also exasperates many people that Lito Lapid is again in the winning circle, even if his past stint in the Senate is viewed as wasted years. And it vexes people that Manny Pacquiao won a seat in the upper chamber even if the fitness he possesses is incompatible with the fitness required of a senator.

There’s a strong perception of a visible disconnect between the competence and character requirements for elective posts, and the competence and character possessed by those whom that Filipino electorate vote into office.


Why do we keep electing persons who defy the yardstick on corruption, who ignore standards of morality, or who are bereft of the competence required for positions of power?

The conventional explanations offered by political analysts include name recall, sheer popularity, political illiteracy of voters, patronage politics, and money. All these factors certainly influence voter behavior.

But there’s an unconventional explanation that provides anthropological enlightenment on why voters behave irrationally in electing leaders who violate norms that are strictly applied when it comes to ordinary citizens.

The common Filipino sees political leaders as gods who are exempt from the rules applicable to ordinary mortals. Politicians are viewed as mythical creatures of the spirit world to whom good and common values do not apply. This is the reason Filipinos accept leaders who flaunt their adulterous lives, whose corrupt practices are tolerated, and whose lack of competence and skill are brushed aside.

Filipinos consented to special prison accommodations for Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Jinggoy Estrada, and Bong Revilla. Many rush to have photos taken with political figures even if they are embroiled in notorious shenanigans.

President Duterte is the quintessential leader treated as a mythical creature by the common Filipino. He curses, makes casual mention of his wives, brandishes his misogyny, boasts of his involvement in killings, and yet people look the other way and still continue to support him.

Politicians are viewed as fantastical beasts who can be benevolent or malevolent, and people generally let them be, just like they do with good and bad spirits such as the engkanto, tikbalang, and nuno sa punso. Ordinary people go on with their lives even while they are ruled by wayward politicians whom they deferentially treat like deities of the spirit world. People feel they have no choice but to live with these mythical creatures. It doesn’t occur to them that they can do away with these creatures of folklore—and herein lies the disconnect and the reason we end up with leaders who defy morals and ethical standards.


But what is even more lamentable is that politicians themselves believe that they are gods exempt from the rules applicable to ordinary mortals. Like the gods of Mount Olympus, they quarrel, steal, foment bloodshed, indulge their whims, and engage in extramarital affairs among themselves. They view the people who troop to them for help as pilgrims who seek their blessings.

During the recent barangay elections, some candidates depicted themselves as superheroes by superimposing their faces on photos of Avengers characters. Candidates will get voters to recognize them with more familiarity if they portray themselves as engkanto, kapre, or nuno sa punso.

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