In every election campaign, we see many kinds of candidates – from the competent and God-fearing politicians who really have the country’s interests at heart, to the grossly incompetent who seem clueless on what it takes to be an excellent public servant.
Also out campaigning, or at least putting up a semblance of a campaign, are unsavory characters and the unprincipled opportunists whose motivation is not public service, but to get some concessions or sizeable campaign donations for personal profit without any real intention of winning at all.
On the other side of the political spectrum are the voters, On one hand are the conscientious, civic-minded and very discerning voters who value suffrage as a sacred right. On the other hand are what many tag as the “bobotantes” or those deemed incapable of distinguishing between the good and bad candidates and, thus, are blamed for the poor quality of elected public officials.
That many undeserving candidates can easily get elected is a sad testament to our political dysfunction and the many ills it nurtures: patronage politics, fraud, vote-buying, overspending, election-related violence, misuse and abuse of power, nonchalance to issues, and many more.
“How do we fight evil in our society where vote-buying is common? Don’t sell your votes. Discern before voting,” an outspoken Church leader once said. “Our vote can bring either heaven or hell to this country.”
But should the poor and the so-called “bobotantes” who sell their votes be blamed? Should they be faulted if they cannot see elections as a means of change to improve the quality of their lives?
Many are frustrated about the absurdity of our political dysfunction and the capability of “bobotantes” to impose their collective will on who should lead our communities. Yet many others believe the poor and uneducated voters must not be solely blamed for the mess our country is in.
In the past decades, we had many elections for national and local posts. While elected leaders have been changed over the years, the rate of poverty incidence has mostly remained almost statistically unchanged with millions of Filipinos still impoverished.
It’s not unusual, therefore, for the impoverished to eagerly cash in, literally, on elections because they feel their misery is bound to continue whoever wins. For them, election time is payback time – not to get rid of bad politicos, but to get a share of what is generally perceived to be stolen from public coffers.
Indeed, why would the impoverished care about political platforms or candidates with “character, competence, and integrity” if elections don’t bring lasting relief to their miserable lives? Day-to-day survival challenges like getting the next meal are what they would care for.
Amid their surrounding desolation, what matters to them are candidates who they think can really help them. “We may think that the Filipino voters support the likes of Lito Lapid out of ignorance or out of a failure to distinguish between characters played in the movies and those played in real life. But, no, many vote for such candidates because they see them as approachable and compassionate protectors of the poor, so different from the ones with a pretense to high-mindedness and competence but keep their distance from the people,” a noted sociologist once wrote.
How to ferret out candidates who are “compassionate protectors of the poor” as against those “with a pretense to high-mindedness and competence but keep their distance from the people” is essential indeed in understanding the Filipino voter.
In my Teleradyo program Sagot Ko ‘Yan last Sunday, I had an interesting discussion with Dr. Edna Franco, of the Ateneo de Manila University Psychology Department’s Center for Organization Research and Development, who authored a research article focusing on what Filipinos look for in a leader.
She said the qualitative research she conducted, along with graduate students, among people in various sectors of society, from executives and professionals to tricycle drivers and market vendors, showed the need to look at the “head, heart, and hands” of our leaders.
Looking at the head would give a glimpse of the leader’s competence and knowledge. She said a preferred leader would be one who is “matalino, malawak ang kaalaman (intelligent, with vast knowledge)” on various issues affecting the entire nation and communities. A good leader can certainly make good use of intellect and vast knowledge in finding solutions to pressing problems.
The heart of the leader, Dr. Franco said, would reflect how he or she is “mabait, makatao, maka-Diyos (good-natured, pro-people, God-centered).” She said that voters prefer leaders “na mayroon takot sa Diyos (God-fearing)” in the belief that those who fear the wrath of God would stay away from evil deeds.
In the “hands” of the preferred leader, one would see the track record of courage, conviction, and being action-oriented, she said. A leader needs to be firm to deal with undisciplined Filipinos, and firmness can be classified into two aspects – being authoritative on one hand, and having the conviction to pursue one’s goals and principles, she explained.
Using the guidelines formed from Dr. Franco’s research, voters can scrutinize national and local candidates in the 2022 elections. Are they suited for public office? Do they have a clear grasp of the workings of government? Will they use public funds with utmost integrity and efficiency? Can they get things done to help achieve inclusive growth, more jobs and livelihood opportunities, housing for homeless Filipinos, and other concerns that matter most to the poor? Answers to all these may be found by assessing the “head, heart, and hands” of candidates.
Email: [email protected]