It’s a numbers game

Governance should not be a numbers game, but it is. In a representative government, representation is measured by numbers. The majority vote dictates, even if it is not qualitatively superior. The “vox populi, vox Dei” saying does not come from the Bible despite its reference to the people’s voice as the voice of God. In fact, its earliest recorded saying seems to be in the year 798 (8th century) in a letter to Alcuin to Charlemagne which, translated to English, went this way:

“And those people should not be listened to who keep saying the voice of the people is the voice of God, since the riotousness of the crowd is always very close to madness.”


But political wisdom in a democracy will not dare to debate on superior quality because it can be endless in a temporal setting which needs more tangible basis for decision. In most instances, the majority opinion becomes the unerring justification for political action. And this includes the majority opinion even of a mob.

Who can fault a political system that wants to favor the majority over a minority? What would be its alternative—a benevolent and wise dictatorship? After Marcos, dictatorship is equivalent not only to violence by the state against its own citizens but cronyism and plunder as well. It does not make it any better when Transparency International, as of 2007, places Marcos as Number Two on the list of the World’s Most Corrupt Leaders, estimating his loot between $5 billion – $10 billion.


In the foreseeable future, then, governance will remain a numbers game. The only way that governance will favor wisdom over numbers is when the numbers themselves will anoint the wise, or the marriage of wisdom and numbers. This improbability becomes a possibility when country slides to an emergency situation and a well-respected and popular personality becomes an option to the majority.

A numbers game and patronage politics naturally go hand in hand. I refer to patronage politics, not thievery or plunder. In a system that seeks the approval of the majority, it is asking the impossible for those in power not to court the majority. Patronage politics traditionally means appointing into government positions, even if qualified, persons of their choice. The President of the Philippines, for example, appoints thousands into office. By law, only the President can appoint individuals of his or her choice into specific positions, especially into the most important or strategic. That is why I wonder how patronage politics can ever be eliminated in a democratic governance.

A representative democracy seeks majority opinion and support. How does the political leadership at any one time not bend towards what the majority wants? This usually means the preferred projects and programs that the majority would appreciate in the most priority. This could include government promoting an industry or industries which would employ the voters of a majority government—or appointing personalities representing or attached to those industries.

The pork barrel system was born from patronage politics. Pork barrel simply means government spending to benefit politicians and their constituents in return for their political support. In the most simplistic of definitions, patronage politics is the continuous courtship of approval of targeted audiences—which translates to votes during elections. The pork barrel system has nothing to do with graft, nothing to do with fake NGOs or ghost projects, nothing to do thievery and plunder. A system of benefits towards politicians and their constituents defeats itself if the benefits are pocketed by the politicians and little or nothing gets to the constituents.

When the public becomes less emotional and more rational, it may realize that it is the majority’s priority needs that patronage politics caters to, through politicians who represent the majority vote of different constituencies. The public, in fact, will quickly vote out of office the politicians who stray too far away from the priorities of their constituencies. It is the public support for politicians who serve their needs that is the backbone of patronage politics.

The core concern is less the pork barrel and the patronage politics it serves, the core concern is whether a politician or a government bureaucrat has the character to behave morally, act honestly, and work with a level of ethics that elicit public trust and approval. The core issue is about the law and its violation, about the public servant and his dishonesty, about a system and its lack of transparency. Today, it is also about the confusion of a people about the core concerns and issues, mixing them up liberally and ending up attacking one instead of the other.

For as long as elections are decided by the majority of votes, for as long as candidates seek the sympathy and support of their constituencies, for as long as the Executive Branch has to seek the majority approval as well of the Legislature and the constituencies that vote in barangay chairmen, mayors, governors and the Vice-President and Vice-President, and for as long as the Constitution directly awards to the Legislature the power of the purse, or the power to approve and disapprove the budgets of the Executive Branch, candidates for office and especially the ones who are elected by the majority of their constituencies will play patronage politics. And in the exercise of that patronage politics, in different words, in different terms, and in different ways, a pork barrel system will naturally evolve.


The sooner and the clearer this will be understood by the general public, the sooner and clearer it will be able to design and put into practice a monitoring system of any pork barrel and activate the needed participative citizenry who are the most powerful instrument of what is moral, legal and ethical—if not technical and professional as well. We cannot legislate patronage politics into oblivion, only ensure that it remains honest and faithful to its purposes with an awakened and active citizenry.

We may not like reality, political and otherwise, but we never will until we, the people, become the reality.

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TAGS: democracy, governance, Political wisdom, Religion, Representative Government, Transparency International
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