Second of two parts. The first part appeared yesterday, Monday July 7, 2014.
I understand that this Carvajal column ran in the Entertainment section, but why does our newspaper of record publish such mindless, irresponsible opinions? I similarly understand that the subsequent portion of the article went on to list pithy, insipid statements by various entertainment notables warning actors from entering politics if they don’t wish to serve the country. But, shouldn’t that be obvious? Why is Carvajal touting this as relevant, insightful advice and why is our newspaper of record complicit in this, agreeing to its publication? This seems to me symptomatic of a lack of critical engagement with the nature and functioning of our political system and the willful suspension of true accountability on the part of our public servants.
The question then turns to why we have voted so many actor-politicians into office. To answer this, the elite and the public sphere often lay easy blame on the supposedly shortsighted, unmodern minds of the masa that vote for whomever of the candidates listed either gave them money or bear a recognizable show biz name. This narrative ignores three important factors in such v oting decisions. First, political parties play a huge role in the vetting and approval of candidates. Before the people vote, the parties have the power of evaluation and endorsement, and the parties should more seriously assume the responsibility of putting forth only qualified, committed, honest candidates.
Second, as the 2005 study “The Vote of the Poor” by the Institute of Philippine Culture at the Ateneo de Manila University shows, “many poor voters are indeed modern in their evaluation of candidates because achievements, qualifications, and the program of action of candidates are given due consideration more than their ascriptive attributes. Education and leadership experience as qualifications are seen as more vital than individual character or personality traits.” Indeed, “the poor appear to be guided by a meritocratic ideal.” However, though their ideals of leadership, service, and meritocracy are real, there is a vast discrepancy between the ideals of leadership and the candidates on offer, between the ideal functioning of our electoral system and the electoral process actually in place. The voters are not offered the leaders they ideally want, leaving them to make up their minds “on the basis of a limited and deficient pool of candidates.” Further, “the poor’s principles of leadership require intimate knowledge and trustworthy information about potential leaders. But the electoral campaign does not provide the means for generating such information and knowledge.”
In addition to the lack of high quality candidates and of ready, high quality, objective access to information upon which to base a sound evaluation of those candidates, there is too the socioeconomic and political reality felt on the ground. If our political system has historically failed to meaningfully improve the lives of the masa, should they have any faith that the system is working for them? So why not vote for the actor who convincingly plays pro-poor roles in his movies and already owes his fame and money to you? Additionally, in the calculation of reliable gains to be obtained from the electoral process, the money to buy your vote may be greater than a flimsy campaign promise that consistently fails to materialize. As the study reminds its readers, “the large amount of money that circulates, and the various forms of assistance and income-earning opportunities that abound during the campaign period provide useful resources to the poor.” These are resources that are often otherwise difficult to obtain.
The study found that vote-buying is universally considered improper and immoral, and seen as “resulting in corruption, and in a loss of dignity for the vote-seller,” but that at the same time “most participants will accept money if they can outwit the giver, particularly if their actual votes cannot be monitored. Acceptance of money is justified because the money is seen as belonging to ‘the people.’” However, if you are truly poor, and have no significant security in your life, how confident can you be when you go to vote that you can “get away” with voting against the person from whom you accepted money? There is a specter of power that necessarily intimidates you, coloring your perception of expected gains and risks.
Yet, as Carvajal’s column shows, it’s not just the masa that have naturalized the phenomenon of actor-politician and the politics of personality, and made normative rampant corruption. Our public sphere is accountable, our candidates are accountable, our political parties are accountable, we voters are accountable, and all those who abstain from critical judgment and reflection are accountable, as we allow this system to perpetuate and further entrench itself with no genuine, systematic reform anywhere in sight.
Nicole Del Rosario CuUnjieng is a PhD Student in Southeast Asian and International History at Yale University