I’m sure you've heard the terse resentment to an explanation why we have the kind of government we have—that we only get the government that we deserve. I got that comment in a post I made on social media recently and I replied saying I disagree. I explained briefly that we get the government that the system provides, a system that is quite limiting. This is what should be clarified especially since we are again nearing a Presidential election and one that is crucial as the next government will have to be able to offer concrete plans for the country to recover from the serious beating we have been getting from this pandemic.
There are a number of fallacies we keep on hearing and assuming whenever we talk about politics in this country, which has to be straightened out so that we’ll be better equipped to face the demands of our political system. If not, we will always be deceived by politicians and their handlers. We might as well understand the prevailing system we have, the rules that govern the prevailing system, if at all we can call it rules, so that we can use it and engage the politicians better. Give them a dose of their own medicine so to speak, so that we can at the very least try harder to get that government we deserve. We have been trying our best, everyone of us, regardless of educational attainment or socioeconomic status, we have been trying to get that kind of government, contrary to what others say.
Voters think. Of course, each of us thinks differently, but make no mistake, every one of us thinks and weighs what’s best for us whether long-term or short-term. That is precisely what campaigns are for, those running for office have to be able to convince the voter to support them, that it will be good for them to support them. There is no such thing as “bobotante”. In fact, it is quite elitist to consider that others simply are dumb, that they are always duped. I myself am guilty of this dismissive of a description of most voters, but the thing is, if you come to think about it, we are almost always duped, yes, including those who we think are sophisticated enough to choose the right person. Why? Mainly because we voters don’t have all the information and means to determine who really should be supported. Much of the information we have sadly are all but propaganda. Even before this information age, we have been dealing with propaganda and yes, fake news.
We get to identify and supposedly support a good candidate and still end up being disappointed. We seem to forget that a President is just an individual and that s/he has to run a humongous bureaucracy, even appoint thousands of people who for sure s/he would never know personally nor have a direct hand in recruiting or identifying. For this, we are all guilty. We see the President like a God who can practically do anything and everything and be responsible for anything and everything. This is the reason why we have long been advocating for system change but the resistance is just so strong and tremendously more powerful as they are the well-entrenched in the current system. The people then hardly see how fundamental the system is, and that it has to be designed according to our context.
Still, we never fail to try our best to choose who we think is the best out of the available choices when the time to vote finally takes place. We just have to look at how people have been voting and make sense of the tendency, if not a trend or theme, when voters choose, especially for national positions. This I have mentioned so many times for so many years now that if we look at who were chosen to lead since the first election under the 1987 Constitution, you will see that voters chose by following some pattern or theme. Popularity, for example, became the single most important qualification starting 1995, but then waned gradually by 2001.
It is the system that makes all of us choose “the acceptable” candidate. We cannot vote for just about anyone in the first place, but the system simply doesn’t “pre-” select the best candidates for us to choose from. In working democracies, they have mechanisms, the party system, and the electoral system works seamlessly to choose among each party first, and nominate who the voters will have to choose from. In our case, every election is like a lottery as we don’t know much to really say this candidate is the best, or even the best choice. Only those who have the resources can run in any position under the current very limiting
political system. All voters do their best to choose right despite the very limited information they have. There are debates between candidates but sadly, we don’t get any concrete, that is, specific program or position on issues but more of motherhood statements. What we have is still what Athens had hundreds of years back: the better speaker gets the people’s support. This situation then entices the not-so-prepared or not-so-intelligent candidate to dare try and run for office.
Only those who have the resources can run, which explains the fixation with popularity. Either the candidate has the resources because s/he’s popular, that s/he's got the resources because s/he is popular or that s/he is popular because s/he used his/her resources to become popular. For the longest time, only the elites consider running for office because of the need for considerable resources. Recently, there are those who do not necessarily belong to the old landed elite or old business but successfully got into politics, even besting traditional leaders. Some of these political leaders were successful in their profession and business and made it to the political circle. The question though is sustainability and expandability.
A friend mentioned that local elites have become more powerful, perhaps as powerful as during the colonial period as the trend is for them to have their relatives take control of more local government units and not remain limited to a particular area. This may be true but the explanation has never changed; it is simply a question of resources, those who have the resources have the chance to compete in politics, win and continue winning until they have dominated their area. This has long been the practice, perhaps it is only now that it has become noticeable as information has become easier to obtain. The bottom line is that while there may be a chance for a new political player, coming from non-traditional roots or political family to get elected, the question is how s/he can continue to compete. In our system, those who have been in power for a long time will always have the advantage of reach and stability.
Who would be satisfied with this kind of system? And so in every election, we call on everyone to vote by programs, but can we actually vote for programs, for specific and concrete programs of action that candidates offer? The answer so far is no. As has been already mentioned in the foregoing, the mechanism is simply wanting, there are no real political parties that could possibly help candidates prepare way before election time and formulate a good policy-direction if they win. Yes, there are “experts” who could be recruited by candidates to help, but there is no institutional support that could aid the formulation, say for example political party and institutional perspective. There may be time-bound perspectives if you get experts who have experience, but nothing beats having that resource readily available in a established political party that is run by professional party personnel.
So, can we expect candidates to discuss programs and positions on key issues? Yes, and we should really go out of our way to have them engage us with more substance. There’s hardly any certainty they would offer anything substantial, but given the circumstances, we have to just keep on trying. We cannot expect candidates to offer anything as concrete as a policy ready proposal however, again because of the system. That’s why, even if it is difficult and taxing, we just have to keep on egging, even badgering them to respond substantially and concretely on important issues. Elections are always just about winning under the current setup, policy making is always set aside to the time they are already in power. Candidates then would always prefer to have a clean slate dealing with issues that they would not offer and tie themselves to a specific policy position. This will prevent them from entertaining lobbying from stakeholders when the actual policy making and implementation happens.
If we put the foregoing altogether, we haven’t been really getting much in terms of choice of leaders. Only those who have the resources can run. Regardless how willing, prepared and sincere a person is, there will always be hesitation to throw one’s hat in the political ring. Without significant resources, there is no way one can run a good campaign and win. And with considerable resources, why even consider running when you can do what you can to help anyway, that is, if your intent really is just to help. As voters, we get to choose only from the limited options given to us by the system that generates choices only from the same socioeconomic strata. So, until such time we are able to change the system, these are all that we have.
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Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.