The Decline of Populism, Pacquiao, Polls and other P words

[NOTE: This article has also been published at the Inquirer’s Eleksyon 2007 blog.] 

There are two observations about the elections which at first seem disconnected but are in fact intertwined. And when you bring these two together, it points to a paradox that is disturbing for a young democracy such as ours: People are becoming more capable voters, but less people are voting.

How do we work our way out of that? Let us first go through the twin phenomena informing this paradox.

All that glitters isn’t gold

First, celebrities don’t seem to fare as well as they used to. Montano, Gomez and Pacquiao are all bankable names but apparently people haven’t been as quick to vote for them. Even Singson, who I consider a celebrity more than anything else, hasn’t fared well beyond the Ilocos provinces (the results of which would be telling once we get them). And while we have yet to see how the votes for Visayas and Mindanao shape Montano’s and Gomez’s tallies, the trend in Manila is clear and I called their defeat months ago.

Pacquiao, who took quite a beating here in my blog, is now taking a real beating from Darlene Custodio as well. My interest in that battle was not a matter of politics; I’m not voting in that district after all. My interest has been more of an observer, wanting to analyze why people such as Pacquiao persist and arguing why they shouldn’t. I admit, there is some vindication to be had here but that is meaningless until the people of the 1st district of South Cotabato find they change they seek. It just happens that Pacquiao is not one to give it.

People were wise enough not to trust a boxer who had nothing much besides hard work, discipline and an overly confident “Maybe I can do it” heading into politics. After all, in voting for popular candidates such as these, people invest their trust, a currency that hasn’t proven enough in the past to ensure political change. Look at what happened with Estrada. In closing this point, the following excerpt from an Inquirer report summarizes this aspect of the decline of populism quite well.

Educator Bro. Manny de Leon said the emerging poll results would indicate that popularity alone would not spell victory in an election. He said that Custodio was no match to Pacquiao in popularity but she compensated for that weakness by using her solid machinery.

“The political machinery of the Antoninos is still strong. They had a well-organized campaign down to the purok level and they sustained it up to the finish line,” De Leon said. “I am inclined to believe that people want nothing but real change. But we have no choice. The people are wise enough to vote for (one) who is more competent.”

According to De Leon, another drawback of Pacquiao’s political bid was the perception that he was a yes-man of Malacañang. De Leon’s view was supported by Fr. Angel Buenavides, spokesperson of the Diocese of Marbel.

Counterintuitive democracy

The second observation to be made is the decline in the voters’ turnout which is pegged at 75%, down from 77% in 2004 and 85% in 2001. This also goes for the overseas absentee voters where there is a drastic drop from 65% in 2004 to a dismal 15% now. A caveat has to be made about the OAV however, since voter mobility (workers moving from one country to another) is one major reason why a lot didn’t get to vote.

Citing some articles now,

In the first issue of “Election Forensics 2007”, Professor Bobby Tuazon of the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) said the continuing decrease in the turnout of voters showed that the people are getting more disillusioned.

The cause of disillusionment, according to Tuazon, include reports of missing or misplaced names, missing precincts, unreadable master list, harassment from supporters of candidates, police and the military, and violence.

“With recent surveys showing 70-percent of Filipinos predicting the occurrence of massive fraud in the mid-term elections, there is a high probability of an increasing number of the electorate staying away from the polls. This pessimism and other factors would explain the possible low turnout in the May 14 polls,” Tuazon said.

(source: Advocacy group cites disillusionment for low voter turnout)

Only 78,360 out of the 504,110 overseas Filipinos who registered for the May 14 election, or 15.5 percent, actually voted.

But Ambassador Generoso Calonge, vice chair of the Overseas Absentee Voting Secretariat, said the fact that more than half a million overseas Filipinos registered for the poll exercise was already a success.

“The election is composed of two things, registration and actual voting. The fact that 504,110 availed of the privilege to register is a big accomplishment..they may have not chosen to exercise that [voting] right but they signified their intention to vote,” Calonge said.

“The mission of government is to provide the opportunity. Like in a highway, even if there is no car passing, you provide the opportunity for a better environment for driving,” Calonge said.

Colange said the low turnout this year may have been due to the high mobility of overseas Filipinos, particularly workers, who transfer from one employment to another and from one country to another.

(source: Absentee voter turnout only 15.5% — DFA)

I think it is quite counterintuitive to argue that a decreasing voter turnout is good for democracy. Even if the results are more manageable, can one really advocate that less people vote, or worse, that only capable and intelligent voters vote? Do we allow the less determine what is good for the more? This may sound absurd but the strange thing is that there is some merit to this argument — if we were in the 18th and 19th centuries and limited suffrage to certain elites, colors, faiths and genders.

I always say that we are a young and learning democracy, but I couldn’t take myself to say that we must devolve our democracy. After all, the problem with Philippine democracy is not with the people who value it but with the institutions that manage it.

The recent elections have made this clear: Many people really wanted to vote but not many of them could. A lot of people couldn’t find their names or their precincts. And as stated in the CenPEG study, people weren’t too optimistic about how their votes would be handled. People are not pessimistic because they are simply being pessimistic; the system simply did not give them enough reason to believe that their votes mattered.

The right to vote

So people are becoming more capable voters, but less people are voting.

Now, more than ever, the right of suffrage must be guaranteed. By guaranteeing that right, it isn’t enough to “provide the highway” as Ambassador Calonge would say. That highway must have signs to guide drivers to their destinations, and should allow fueling exits and emergency shoulders. It is one thing to put up a highway, it is another to put up a highway that works. Just take the old North Luzon Expressway before and after its rehabilitation; people don’t mind paying the higher toll fees since it works pretty well.

Taking off from this metaphor now, reforming the COMELEC is a foregone conclusion. But as to why we can’t take confident strides into automating our elections is beyond me. The cynics have come to the most reasonable conclusion — that perhaps this will jeopardize many candidates’ monopoly on cheating. This is a political psychology we must simply transcend and we begin that by injecting new blood into the political system. I hope the youth catch my challenge here.

But beyond reforming the COMELEC, another solution can be gleamed from one of the most effective management dogmas: play to your strengths and manage your weaknesses. And the greatest strength of Philippine democracy would be our people. Deep down, we believe in democracy. The ethos of our political culture can be summarized in two words: People Power.

The way forward I propose is something that will take time and effort. What our general public needs is a political education that will enlighten them on various democratic process and principles. After all, half the reason why people give in to vote buying or cheating is because they cannot perceive the wrong they do when the do so. (The other half is that they need to put food on their table, so I’ll let the economy — and its support groups — do its work.)

I volunteer every election for the PPCRV and I really wish that more work be done in teaching the voters how and why they should vote since that is the first thing that comes to mind with the phrase ‘responsible voting’ (RV).

There really is so much we can do to make our elections work. Let us not allow our institutions to be the excuse why our democracy fails. In the end, it’s all about the people. Many are willing to vote, but not many can’t. I don’t know about you, but that’s half the problem solved. The real paradox here is how badly we want our democracy to work but not many are willing to pitch in.

That’s where you come in.

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9 thoughts on “The Decline of Populism, Pacquiao, Polls and other P words

  1. I had a little chat with one of my fellow roleplayers who happened to be from the United States and is of voting age. I was utterly surprised when he told me that the deceased voted in the U.S. — I thought only our political system was that bad.

    So, the U.S. has the same kind of people running for power as it is here and (in my opinion) everywhere else; essentially power-hungry and selfish. However, the U.S. is better-run than the Philippines, no doubt about it. So what’s the problem with us?

    I think the determining difference between the United States and the Philippines is the “them and us” factor between government and the people. People in the U.S. are so involved with their leaders that they have so little room to step wrongly.

    To further illustrate: in the U.S.A., people get easily outraged; if their governors embezzled great amounts of money from their taxes a lot of taxpayers will be outraged and will use their rights to the fullest extent.

    Here in the Philippines, however, only a few people will actually care and even fewer will react. People here, instead of being easily outraged, are “matiisin” and fatalistic, which alienates them from government affairs, even those concerning the tax money which they worked hard for.

    You said it’s People Power that manifests the mentality of the people here. However, the terms themselves are corrupt. When a person thinks of People Power, he does not think of his involvement with the government; no, he thinks of rallies with politicians as master puppeteers. This further alienates the people from the government.

    Of course, other causes of alienation include hunger and poverty mixed in with the fact that these political dynasties have the nerve of flaunting their sports cars around. But that is beside the point, since hunger and poverty can be overridden by good education.

    So, uh, my point: I support Sir martin wholeheartedly in his point that people should be more educated in the matter so that they will become more involved with the government because alienation from the government, in my opinion, is the sole cause of our current status. America has politicians that are no better than ours but they are well-off because their people are more involved.

    Yes, the way I wrote my opinions made little sense even to myself, thank you very much.

  2. you cannot immediately generalize that American politicians are on the same level as ours. If the only difference are the people they rule, then the gap should not be as wide. The people in charge make a big difference.

  3. Distrust of the government in terms of Voting? Go anarchic. Use that wildcard called ‘People Power’, or call a plebiscite to Vote upon the form of government you want.

  4. Sir Martin and to All people who are criticizing for his candidacy as Congressman in Gen San,

    Matanong ko lang “SINO KA BA PARA HUMUSGA SA KANYA?” “PANGINOON KA BA?” SI LORD HINDI NAGHUSGA SA ATIN KUNG SINO TAYO PERO IKAW ANG GALING MONG MAGHUSGA NG TAO” ALAM MO BA KUNG ANO ANG LAMAN NG PUSO OR INTENSYON SA PAG TAKBO NI MANNY PACQUIAO? WALA KANG ALAM! KAYA TIGILAN MO NA YONG PAGSUSULAT NG ARTICLE MONG EVIL OPINIONS!!!!!!!!! HUSGAHAN MO SI PACQUIAO PAG KATAPOS NG TERMINO NYA KON SAKALI MANG MANALO SYA… HINDI AKO BUTANTE NG GENSAN PERO NAAAWA LANG AKO KAY PACQUIAO SA MGA COMENT NINYO SA KANYA. BAKIT MAPAG HUSGA KANG TAO? SIGURO PRO-ANTONINO KA NO? KAYA NGA TAYONG PILIPINO HINDI UMAASENSO DAHIL SIRA-AN TAYO NANG SIRA-AN AT MAPAG HUSGA PA, PARANG KUNG SINO …BAKIT HINDI KAYA ILAGAY ANG MO SARILI SA SIDE NI PACQUIAO, YOU HAVE THE INTENTION TO HELP THE PEOPLE BUT, I WILL PREJUDGE YOU THAT YOU’RE NOT CAPABLE OF THE SAID POSITION, ANO KAYA ANG MA FEEL MO? HINDI KA KAYA MASAKTAN, YON ANG DAPAT MONG ISIP-ISIPIN “GaGo”. SA TOTOO LANG GALIT TALAGA AKO SA MAPAGHUSGANG TAO BAKIT HINDI MO KAYA HUSGAHAN YONG MGA OPOSISYON NA YAN, WALANG NAGAWA YAN GULUHIN ANG BANSA NATIN… MAYBE SA TUWING MAY LABAN SI PACQUIAO, HINDI TUMAYA KAY PACQUIAO TUMAYA KA SA KALABAN NO? KASI PARANG WALA KA TALAGANG EFFORTS NA I PRAISE SYA SA KANYANG MGA NAGAWA… SI PACQUIAO SA TUWING NANANALO DINI-DEDICATE NIYA PARA SA BANSA NATIN AT NAG SHARE PA SA PERANG NAPANALO NYA… KUNG IKAW KAYA SA SIDE NYA MAG SHARE KA KAYA? IWAN KO LANG… YON DAPAT ANG TINGNAN MO, WAG MO PALAGING TINGNAN ANG NEGATIVE SIDE… IF HE RUN FOR A CHANGE, THEN WE WILL RESPECT HIS DECISION DO NOT CRITICIZE HIS INTENTION “KAHILAS NIMO SIR!!!” IKAW SIR ANO BA ANG NAGAWA MO SA BANSA NATIN? MAGTURO KA NGA NA WALANG BAYAD PARA MAY MAGAWA KASI ANG GALING MONG COMMENT SIR… TINGNAN MO MUNA ANG SARILI MO BAGO KA MAGHUSGA NG TAO, KAYONG LAHAT!!! ANG SA AKIN LANG, IWASAN NINYONG MAGHUSGA NG TAO KASI HINDI NINYO BAKA MALI KAYO TAPOS NASASAKTAN YONG TAO… KAHIT ILAGAY NINYO NA LANG ANG INYONG SARILI PAG KAYO ANG NASA SIDE NIYA… I’M ONE OF THE FANATIC WHO BELIEVES HIM HIS SINCERITY FOR RUNNING IN THEIR PROVINCE AS CONGRESSIONAL REPRESENTATIVE. SANA MAY NATUTUNAN TAYO AT TANGGAPIN MO NA MALI KA SA MGA GINAGAWA KUNG HINDI WALA KANG KWENTANG TAO.

    SORRY AT PASENSYA NA KUNG ANO MAN ANG MGA NASASABI KO!!!

    WAG NA NINYONG GAWIN SA KAPWA NATING PILIPINO, IPAKITA NATIN NA KAHIT WATAK2X MAN ANG MGA PRINSIPYO BUO PARIN NATING IPAGMALAKI NA TAYONG PILIPINO AY MAGKAISA PARA SA KAPAKANAN NG LAHAT.

    SALAMAT PO… ITO PO ANG INYONG LINGKOD NA TAGA CEBU … NAG COMMENT LANG SA COMMENTS NINYO SA KAPWA NINYONG KAMPEON SA BOXING…

  5. To Al of Cebu– I’m really sorry but I must say I have not come across anyone more judgmental than you.

    I feel your pain but it is all misplaced. We all share our opinions in the spirit of free exchange, fearless thinking and hopefully engage each other in healthy deliberation. It is no one’s intention to destroy and attack though I cannot say this of the way you have expressed yourself.

    I have the greatest respect for Manny Pacquiao but I,too, don’t think he should run. That doesn’t mean I think he is worthless and not worthy of praise. It is just my belief that he is not the right man for the job. Obviously the thousands from his district who did not vote for him agree.

    Kudos to people who have the courage to speak their mind and make a stand. Because of them, we process our ideas betters and become more capable thinkers, capable voters. Thank God!

  6. You know I’m not a judgmental person not like you. Yeah, we have freedom to voice-out our opinions but we need also to limit a painless words coming from our opinions which I’m sure could someone else. I only hate words “shameless”. Why we call him shameless person? Wala namang ninanakaw si Manny? For his candidacy that’s why you called him “shameless”. Shameless word is not the correct word for him and Ano pa ba ang atin pinag debatihan tapos na ang laro “talo na sa siya” and I’m happy that it’s done already. It’s time again to unite and support him for his incoming success in his career and that success is not for him but for our country, for us “the filipino people”. Wala naman religion na nagturo sa atin na mag judge ng tao. Maybe kung kilala mo na siya pero pag limited lang ang info mo to a certain, wag mo na lang gawin baka makasakit ka pa… Sahi ra ba kon ikaw sad buhatan sa ingon… I’m now in cool mode.

    Thanks,

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