AN all-too-common feature of political campaigns at every level here in the Philippines is sloganeering that makes some reference – usually in the form of some mildly amusing wordplay – of the candidate’s commitment to “service.” To better connect with the “masa” electorate, of course, this is almost always in its Spanish-derived Tagalog form, “serbisyo.”
Because political offices have been so abused by those who occupy them, it is unlikely that any prospective voter actually believes their candidate’s professions of enthusiasm for “serbisyo.” That is not necessarily to tar every candidate with the same brush – undoubtedly there are at least a few somewhere who are sincere – but we suspect that those who really are sincere are more inclined to demonstrate it with action rather than glib slogans.
And even if the claim of “serbisyong totoo” is not actually as cynical as it may sound to many voters, it reveals a bit of a misunderstanding on the part of both candidates and voters of what the role of an elected official should be, and as such, perpetuates bad habits and misplaced expectations on the part of both.
Indeed, there is a significant “service” component to any elected position, in the sense that there are certain job functions that need to be carried out; a legislator, at whatever level is “serving” by showing up to legislative sessions, participating in debates, and casting votes. An elected executive is “serving” by appropriately managing, or overseeing the management of, the administrative organization of the government.
All of that should be considered a given; a candidate’s assurances to the voters that he or she will, in fact, show up to work according to a reasonably reliable schedule and carry out the basic tasks associated with the job should be minimum qualifications that voters can assume the candidate has, not a value-added proposition. Unfortunately, many candidates do not understand it that way, and that is in part because many voters do not. Instead, the relationship between elected officials and constituents is far too often one of dependence, with “service” being understood as largesse – assistance with medical or funeral expenses, “livelihood programs,” local projects like drainage repairs, basketball courts, or waiting sheds provided “through the efforts of Mayor or Councilor or Congressman or Barangay Captain So-and-So.”
Yes, our country needs people who will “serve,” but it needs much more than that.
The country needs leadership!
Leaders are needed from the level of the smallest barrio to the halls of Malacañang. Leaders have vision. Leaders have ideas. Leaders understand that their “service” should not only to fill a job position, but help to create the conditions that allow their constituencies to grow and prosper.
“I will take care of you,” is not a leadership message. It is: “I will do my part to create a community where everyone has fair access to choices about how to best take care of themselves.”
“I will put a stop to crime and corruption” is not a leadership message either. Nor is “I will solve crime through the expedient of shooting those suspected of committing it.” But “I will seek solutions to the underlying causes of crime” is.
Whether the voters believe the messages from the candidates they prefer are actually about leadership is something everyone can judge for himself. It is not too late in the campaign, however, for every candidate to assess whether he or she is simply promising to fill a position, or offering a vision that will make a real difference.