A democracy by name recall
We lambast Pulse Asia and Social Weather Stations surveys for mirroring to us our perennial folly — running a democracy by name recall. In fact, the image is accurate — popularity and notoriety are the key factors for electing our public officials. No wonder our politicians are contortionists, acrobats, media-huggers, photobombers and selfie-natics.
A local politician gets into national television by emblazoning his name on women’s underwear for his campaign.
A human rights lawyer, an aspiring Skywalker, does a Darth Vader, joining the Dark Side, to have a shot at a lifelong senatorial ambition. The traditional candidate toolbox of guns, goons and gold expands to also contain girls, glitter, gimmickry and gore.
To add insult to injury, we blame the people for being uneducated and unsophisticated. How else can people judge politicians strutting before them? With so many politicians cavorting in front of television cameras, and polluting social media and the traditional media with fake news that make them heroic and all their enemies demonic, we have deprived our people of a reasonable ability to distinguish good from rotten apples.
Then we have quaint pseudo-democratic principles. If you are charged with a crime but the people elect you anyway, you are considered exonerated, as if voters had any capability of determining criminal guilt or not. The courts themselves are complicit in setting the stage for “participatory” justice, where justice becomes a self-help commodity.
In these expensive, convoluted election exercises, where is the performance and platform data on which the candidates will be evaluated? As legislators, secretaries, undersecretaries, local government officials; or as private sector entrepreneurs, social development workers — where are their comparative data on achievements? We go through our elections blithely, pretending as if the parade of reports, much of which is self-serving, that flashes through TV and is documented in print can automatically register as plus and negative points in the mind of the voter.
So much contaminated data, so little useful voter information.
Hell, many of our legislators and our people do not even fully understand what it means to be senator in the context of the republic. Senators are supposed to be national-level statesmen, collectively and individually capable of conjuring a vision for the nation as an organic whole, and not just for the parts that compose it. They move the nation toward that vision with the engine of legislation, braking with the principle
of checks and balances.
To do this, senators must be educators who present ideas, insights and information in forums and through media. They must be advocates for resolving critical issues of the day. They must be experts in some key area of governance. But, above all, they must all commiserate with the lot of the poor, the vulnerable, the marginalized, the disadvantaged and the voiceless — all those people who are huddled at the base of the pyramid, so aptly visualized for us by photos of crime suspects, normally out of sight, packed in horrible, squalid jails even before they are convicted.
If this is the role of a senator in the Republic of the Philippines, then why would senators who have embarrassed themselves in this exalted office for being hauled to court for plunder be allowed to run again, threatening to “vindicate” themselves? And for those who have yet to embarrass themselves, why would he President’s butler rely primarily on deep pockets and presidential influence to run for senator?
Well, we have simplified our politics to name recall. That is the extent of the wisdom of our democratic process. In this republic, only politicians win. They expect that the people who later receive the “balato” through pork barrel and other blandishments will be ecstatic about it.
Not so fast. If we insist on this changelessness, we will continue to inflict on the body politic pestilent El Niño-like cycles. The Marcos and Duterte regimes are merely the opening numbers.
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