While Filipinos still suffer from the adverse effects of the pandemic, some politicians are already mounting their election campaigns. Their advertisements (‘paid for by friends’) clutter the airwaves, television, and the social media. They know that many of our countrymen vote by name recall, so they want to assure their victory by etching their names in our mind through continuous exposure on various media platforms.
Scratch the surface of many election campaigns, and you will see the enormous influence of capitalism. Modern capitalism is no longer concerned with the production of goods. It now focuses on producing signs, images, and symbols, which 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.
So, today, many politicians employ advertisers who invent or reinvent their image just like any commodity. By ramming this image into the people’s mind through posters, giant billboards, and repetitive TV, radio, newspaper and social media advertisements, people begin to mistake the image for reality.
This is why even crooks, thieves, and suspected criminals run for public office. They no longer worry about their misdeeds being exposed by their opponents. Their advertisers will dismiss those crimes as fake news perpetrated by their enemies, who are in turn labeled as mudslingers.
Another potent form of election advertisement is the much publicized results of surveys. Surveys are perceived to be powerful determinants of public opinion. It is a case of numerical might is right.
The trouble with surveys is that they present one generalized view of reality and subtly absolutize this as the legitimate view, or worse, the only view we must accept. “That’s the way it is,” says one survey firm. But the subliminal message is: “That’s the way it should be.” Many surveys condition us to vote for candidates who are predicted as “winnable” regardless of their qualifications or moral qualities.
We also see the ugly head of capitalism in the way rich businessmen serve as power brokers in an election. They invest huge sums of money in a candidate in exchange for special concessions for the former’s businesses. Usually, they would invest not only in the leading candidate, but also in his or her rivals.
No wonder, members of one family could fight for the same public office in one election. Win or lose, power stays in the family and they monopolize the contributions from competing donors and patrons.
The late Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, who tried to raise the bar of credibility and respectability in the Senate, once revealed that although senators received a measly monthly salary, unscrupulous and corrupt senators end up richer by at least 100 million pesos at the end of their term because of the perks, travel allowances, commissions from projects, and budgets for their respective offices. This could be one reason why many senators want to be re-elected.
Election in our country was once an arena for exhibiting the nobility of the human spirit. But today, many politicians, utilizing money and a well-oiled election machinery, have transformed it into a means to buy respectability, a mass unlimited power and wealth, or obtain public absolution for their past misdeeds.