By FR. ROLANDO V. DELA ROSA, O.P.
It is often said, quite contemptuously, that the Filipino votes on the basis of a candidate’s personality, not on issues or platforms. But the Spanish philosopher and poet Miguel de Unamuno writes that there is nothing wrong with personality-oriented elections. After all, adherence to a person is the more common trend among people of various races or creeds.
So, why fault the Filipino if he votes on the basis of personality, and not on the platforms of candidates? The reason is obvious: the large number of imbeciles who win the elections, and a government that reeks of corruption and ineptitude. Our personality-oriented elections are a product of a flawed political process, and reinforce the image of the Filipino voter as someone who is easily fooled by charisma and false promises, or worse, easily bought.
If you come to think of it, Philippine politics has evolved into a function of capitalism. This is quite evident in our manner of elections. Modern capitalism is no longer concerned with the production of goods. With the exponential advance of communication technology, capitalism is now focused on the production of signs, images, and symbols. These are the new commodities to be sold and bought. Advertising lubricates the wheels of capitalism, not by promoting a product, but by manipulating people’s desires, tastes, opinions, and judgments.
Notice how election campaigns are mounted today. Advertisers invent or reinvent the image of the politician just like any commodity, with all the artifice that contemporary image production can command. By ramming this image into the people’s mind through posters, giant billboards, dubious election surveys, and repetitive TV, radio, and newspaper ads, people begin to mistake the image for reality.
This distorted personalism in politics is also being used by hidden power brokers (businessmen, landowners, dynasties, multinational corporations, etc.) who operate behind the scenes. They field candidates who will become their future surrogates and dummies in government. These invisible puppeteers perpetuate in our government leaders the mind-frame that continues to damage real democracy. The historian Glenn May describes such a mind-frame thus: “The leaders of Philippine communities have learned NOT how to serve government, but how to use government for one’s own interest.”
No wonder, although public service is the campaign slogan during elections, what assures victory is political machinery and the backing of hidden plutocrats who use their wealth and influence to get their surrogates elected.
Elections are based on an act of faith. When we cast our vote, we actually place our faith in the leaders we elect, and in our democratic institutions. But such faith need not be blind, otherwise, democracy becomes a dance of fools, and the electoral process sinks into erratic ritualism.
A new research published by the American National Academy of Sciences shows that human beings and chimpanzees share 99.4 percent of their DNA. If our electoral process remains unchanged, we will continue to be governed by politicians who belie the existence of the remaining 0.6 per cent that qualifies us as human beings.