I lived in Norway for a few years. What a great place it was to live in! An enduring memory is of one Saturday afternoon wandering around a fairly exclusive area of Oslo, basically window-shopping, when my wife decided that she might like to try some fur coats displayed in one of the shops. We went into the shop and indeed she tried a few on, all of which were extremely expensive, anything up to about $20,000 each. I was in no position to buy one, nor would I particularly have wanted to. However, the wife was quite taken with a couple of them and as women do, took them off and put them on again, trying to decide which she preferred.
After about 20 minutes of this—although it seemed much longer!—the lady in the shop just said, “Why not take them both home, try them there and if you don’t like them just bring them back on Monday.” No suggestion of any payment. She didn’t even take note of our address other than the area in which we were living. We said thanks all the same but didn’t take the coats as we were not really intent on making a purchase. Now could you imagine that happening in Manila!? You’d be lucky here if they even let you into the shop to try them on. And as for letting two unknown foreigners take two of these valuable items away to try and choose at home—it is an act that would be seen as total lunacy here in the Philippines (not that many fur coats are sold here anyway, but that is beside the point!).
The example narrated above is about trust. Had I taken one or both of the offered coats away with me I would of course have returned them on the Monday. Had the coats been damaged whilst in my possession, I would have reimbursed the shop that had so kindly loaned them to me. Had I been of a mind to actually buy one them, being allowed to take them home in such an informal sort of way, may well have encouraged me to actually make a purchase.
The Philippines is a society without trust, or if there is trust it is in isolated cases. Basically very few people believe a word that anybody says, particularly if they are a stranger and even more particularly if they are unfortunate enough to be a foreigner. Even more odd is that people don’t really seem to expect others to believe a word of what they say. It’s all just a sort of bizarre game.
Driving into the car park at Festival Mall on Sunday, right in my face was a car with a big “A framed” tarpaulin on its roof showing photos of the property in Batangas supposedly secretly owned through dummies by the Vice President. Of course I was already well aware of this accusation along with most other residents of the Philippines—it has certainly been well publicized.
Philippine politics is a truly dangerous area and the competition for power and influence knows no bounds. Competitors get shot—there is a reasonable market for bullet-proof cars, being jailed on flimsy evidence, and disgraced also on flimsy or what may even be totally contrived “evidence.” Particularly now with the wide use of social media, it is open for people to assert and publicize the committal of almost any “crime” by a competitor in order to gain advantage, even to the extent of producing witnesses and documentary evidence to support the assertion. Whether any such claim represents the truth or not is irrelevant to the case; the objective of blackening someone’s character can be easily achieved and competitive advantage secured through the simple expedient of lying, and if done well, it may be possible to take the competition out altogether by just locking them away.
How on earth can any semblance of democracy operate in such an environment of skulduggery and mistrust? Of course it cannot. The winners will be those who are most adept at, on the one hand, developing false accusations and on the other, defending themselves against such accusations. This type of political character assassination begets a culture of lies and deception. Acting ability backed up by a bit of reasonably intelligent manipulative skill must be prime criteria for success.
What I find slightly amusing about the current overheated accusatory political environment is that it is almost all focused on corruption—“he is more corrupt than me” sort of thing, I have the high ground (the high “power” ground, hardly the high moral ground) and I will use it to maximum advantage to drive my competitor into the dust. The point here, as I have written before, is that relative corruption is not really seen by the electorate as a particularly important discriminating factor. All Filipinos know how the political system (democracy!) operates here and it is just accepted “coz that’s the way it is.” Many would even think that to be able to siphon off public funds for personal benefit is an acceptable perk of the job at any political level.
To strive to make the Philippines a place of widespread trust and integrity is clearly an elephantine undertaking which would take many generations to achieve—it could be several hundred years before you could go into a store in Manila and be invited to just casually take some expensive item home to try it out on the understanding that it would be returned in a few days. So for now the Philippines, although it has a democratic system, cannot be said to be a democratic society.
I believe that at the masa level, little attention will be paid to allegations of corruption amongst politicians. Votes will be cast for who they think will do the best thing for them. Unfortunately, though, they often seem to consider that the best thing for them is a payment for a vote and it’s not difficult to find conversations about who is paying most for an individual vote.
But in order to try to raise the vote-catching game just a bit above the level of giving out money and possibly t-shirts and free food, perhaps the politicians could try to demonstrate to their constituents their actual track record of past achievement, for this would speak far louder than these endless and tiresome allegations of corruption, much of which the mass of voters don’t really understand anyway. If, however, an aggressive political contender were to show that the competition had a history of beheading children, poisoning grandparents or some similarly outrageous and totally indefensible atrocity, then they may score a few points in the battle of words. But to use corruption as a discriminator, forget it, nobody knows what to believe around here anyway!
Mike can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.