Similar dream, different lives
The latest survey showing Jejomar Binay as still the front-running presidential candidate has stirred the middle class and the rich (the “nonpoor”) to again mouth their pet refrain: The poor are to blame for all that ails this country because they are unintelligent voters who allow corrupt leaders to rule.
The nonpoor are bewildered, annoyed even, as to why Binay (29 percent) and Joseph Estrada (12 percent) continue to be bestowed with a formidable combined support of 41 percent—courtesy of the poor—in the latest Pulse Asia survey, even after an entire piggery has been thrown at Binay and notwithstanding the plunder conviction of Estrada. It exasperates the nonpoor why lawmakers, governors and mayors touted as corrupt are continuously getting elected.
When the poor and the nonpoor vote, they share the similar intention of improving their lives through their choice of leaders. The similarity ends with the intention. The lives they wish to improve are vastly different, however, and this is the reason for the divergence in their choice of leaders. Similar dream, different lives.
When the nonpoor vote, they do so with permanent jobs behind them, three meals a day guaranteed, all kids on board the diploma train to college. And they are sheltered in their own homes. When they vote, they vote for someone they expect would add luster to their already nonpoor living conditions.
The nonpoor expect the poor to follow their voting preference by wrongly assuming that the poor have the same nonpoor living conditions enjoyed by them. This is the cause of the nonpoor’s lamentable misreading of the poor.
When the poor vote, they do so while struggling with abject survival from day to day. They are constantly striving to achieve three meals a day. Their jobs are seasonal or “contractual.” Their dream for their children is a high school diploma. They are slum dwellers or landless farmers.
The poor vote for someone who will ensure their survival from one day to the next, someone who is a reliable go-to when survival needs of food, medicine, school costs, and death arise. For voters who constantly live under fear of hunger, joblessness, sickness and eviction, issues of corruption have lesser resonance compared to the primal issue of survival. An election candidate touted by the nonpoor as clean and honest will have lesser appeal with the poor compared to a candidate who has proven to be a reliable purveyor of survival handouts, corruption issues notwithstanding. Whether the money handed out is dirty or clean is less important. All that matters to a grumbling stomach is a meal.
The nonpoor vote with their gaze fixated on the future. The poor vote with their sights drooped on the here and now. Insecurity about the future worries the nonpoor. The possibility of hunger at the moment haunts the poor. The economic incapacity and powerlessness of the poor to look beyond the present is folksy, illustrated by the thriving business of necessities sold in sachets. Sachets of shampoo, coffee, etc. are so much more costly compared to larger container packs, but the poor cannot afford to buy and provide beyond their present needs.
This present-future divide between the poor and the nonpoor influences their choice of leaders. A candidate who promises a better future captures the imagination of the nonpoor, while a candidate who guarantees a better present is endeared with the poor.
There is a pained sense percolating in the minds of the poor that candidates espousing a mantra of a better future are out to advance only the interest of the nonpoor. For how can the poor look to the future when they are constantly gasping to even survive the present? Candidates must calibrate their aspirational promises with a profusion of programs that will address the survival needs of the poor, over and above their assurances of a better future, if they are to stand any chance against populist contenders.
It doesn’t help that of the five presidents who came to power after Ferdinand Marcos, four were anointed by the nonpoor: Cory Aquino, Fidel Ramos, Gloria Arroyo and Noynoy Aquino. The poor have only managed to defy the nonpoor with a single president (Estrada), and even then his term was a short-lived three years as his ouster was orchestrated by the nonpoor. The succession of nonpoor anointed presidents and the achievements they made—higher GNP, credit rating upgrades, soaring stock market prices, malls in the provinces, and call center jobs aplenty—have improved only the lives of the nonpoor. The lives of the poor remain unchanged.
The results of next year’s presidential election will reflect the kind of life that predominates in this country—lives that aspire for more wealth or lives that are clinging on for sheer survival. The results of the election will be another barometer of the rich-poor divide.
Mocking the poor for their choice of political leaders—a choice dictated by sheer survival—amounts to mocking their misery and destitution. It is about time the nonpoor realized that the way to achieve the political change they long for is to work for the economic uplift of the poor.
Joel Ruiz Butuyan is the managing partner of Roque and Butuyan Law Offices, which has been described by an American lawyer as “the most troublesome small law firm in the Philippines.”