Rejecting elitism in Philippine elections
Riding on a populist platform of government and capitalizing on strong personal charisma, Joseph “Erap” Estrada won the presidency in 1998. A self-confessed womanizer and known slacker, he successfully wooed the “masses” into electing him to the highest office of the land, to the chagrin of the intelligentsia. Simply put, his personal and professional profile make him, at least insofar as his political opponents are concerned, unacceptable to lead the country.
As soon as he assumed the reins of power, his political adversaries, including the economic elite and middle class, the media, church hierarchy and the academe, went into overdrive and revved up to whittle away his “credibility” as a leader, no thanks to scandals hounding his administration. Until finally he was ousted in Edsa II, charged with plunder, convicted and imprisoned.
His incarceration and “woeful” performance record as president did not make a dent on his popularity with the masses. In this year’s midterm election, he again ran and defeated a formidable opponent in Mayor Alfredo Lim, the incumbent mayor, for the top post in the premier city of Manila. Despite an acrimonious contest, with his political rivals hurling the most vicious personal attacks at him, the Erap charisma once again proved invincible, albeit not necessarily infallible.
To the intelligentsia, the Erap phenomenon merely exemplifies the irrationality of the unthinking, uneducated and uninformed “masses.” They decry the Filipino electorate’s political immaturity and lack of critical thinking in choosing candidates who are not one of them or do not measure up to their set standards; treating with disparagemnt candidates with no political pedigree, experience, or lacking in educational attainment and yet are consistently being elected by the people.
To this class belong those whose “only merit” is their celebrity status and political connections although seemingly lacking in “substance.” We have seen this in the case of some actors-turned-politicians and in the recently concluded elections, in the case of Nancy Binay who is now the target of so much vitriol in the social media and other fora because of her supposed lack of work experience. The perceived immaturity of the “masa” is the excuse for the intelligentsia to make it their mission to save the masa from their abysmal ignorance.
But is it right to dismiss outright the choice of the masses as the choice of the ignorant?
The article posted in the Internet by the Christian Union for Socialist and Democratic Advancement (CRUSADA) entitled, “The Myth of the ‘Bobo' Voter” debunks the myth behind the seemingly flawed political judgment and immaturity of the unthinking masses. CRUSADA (disclosure: one of its leaders is a close relative) rejects the idea that the intelligentsia or the “enlightened” should impose their version of the truth to the “unenlightened.” And to this I fully agree. Let me quote liberally from the article:
Objective knowledge is impossible because how we think is conditioned by who we are. Our ethnicity, socio-economic class, age, gender -- all of these factors condition the way we think and act. A teenage boy who grew up in Forbes Park would think differently from a middle-aged Aeta woman. They have different values and concerns because of who they are. To say that one way of thinking is superior to another is absurd because there is no objective, unconditioned rationality to compare these ways of thinking.
To claim otherwise is to legitimize -- and reinforce -- the violence committed in the name of The Truth. This claim justifies the violence done by the Stalinists in the name of Communism. This is the logic of those who claim that indigenous people need not be consulted because they are uneducated and ignorant. This is the logic that comes into play when labor unions are silenced. To claim -- and treat -- voters as ignorant by virtue of being “uneducated,” then, is to legitimize the logic that has led to social injustice throughout the ages.
The article, however, dismisses the notion that the intelligentsia is harmful to democracy. The intelligentsia may be classified into two kinds: one that pretends to possess objective knowledge and one that does not. To the latter class belong those who instead of being frustrated with democracy, lives and thrives within it. And,
“Instead of closing off the political space to the “uneducated” masses, they create, expand, and open up that space so that it could help nurture and let flourish their ways of living. They go down from the imaginary plateau traditional intellectuals set themselves upon and interact with the masses, therefore making education more dialogical rather than monological.”
“The key difference, then, is that the “enlightened” intellectual speaks to the “masa” while the other kind of intellectual speaks with the “masa”. In fact, the new intellectual finds the “masa” label to be totalizing while the "enlightened" intellectual reinforces it. The goal of the “enlightened” intellectual then is to homogenize the many when they should really be creating space for plurality.”
Let me add by saying that democracy, for all its flaws and imperfections, is essentially the rule by the majority without necessarily alienating the minority. It is respecting all opinions and views in the marketplace of ideas even those that espouse opposing views. It is in an atmosphere of mutual respect that democracy thrives.
History tells us that intolerance, bigotry and suppression always result in the distortion of truth and spawn human misery. Apartheid, dictatorial and totalitarian governments wreak havoc because the political and/or economic elite are allowed to arrogate unto themselves the truth and are allowed to impose this concocted truth on others. This is why elitism must be rejected.
In a democratic setting, the will of the majority prevails. And therefore, the persons elected by the masses are a reflection of the collective will and sentiments of the society. This is the cornerstone of the democratic principle Vox Populi Vox Dei (translated: The Voice of the People is the Voice of God). This is not to say that the persons the so-called unenlightened elect are the best and the brightest but in a genuine democracy setting, the choice of the majority must be respected.
If the voters choose candidates whom the intelligentsia think are undeserving of our mandate, it is basically because the campaigns of our desired candidates have failed to convince them otherwise. One can always argue that our restrictive electoral system, characterized as it is by goons, guns gold and glitter, will always hamstring free choice to prevent the “good and deserving” candidates from gaining access to power. This may be true. But time and time again, we witness how the Filipino masa is able to transcend above and beyond unlawful and cheap political gimmicky to elect individuals who defy the electoral norm and the conventional.
In these cases, the electorate chose to see elections as an exercise of citizenship rather than succumb to the lure of patronage and clientele politics. We see in the just concluded midterm elections how some of the well-entrenched political dynasties (who have been lording it over their bailiwicks for decades, if not for a century), were trounced by the unheralded and non-traditional candidates. This is true in CamSur and Olongapo to name a few.
Although it is safe to say that there is still a long way before the Filipino electorate can attain political maturity, at least by the standards of Western democracies, Philippine elections, with all their shortcomings, are still the most viable exercise of democracy.
If at all, our electoral experiences, even by electing the candidates whom we think are underlings, always contribute to our political maturity, no matter how frustrating their progress might be to many. People learn from these experiences, good and bad, even if the learning process is excruciatingly slow. Until then, the Filipino electorate will always elect candidates with “questionable credentials.”
The best and most healthy recourse then is, again quoting from the article of CRUSADA, “Only by seeing and treating our 'unequals' as equals, do we become equal. Only then will we have democracy.” The correct approach is, quoting from the article, not to push away the masa but to “work with them in dismantling the structures that oppress us all;” using knowledge to “let other discourses from the traditionally silenced demos flourish, opening spaces for debate and disagreement instead of closing it off.”
To persuade another with whom you disagree with is not to give him a disparaging look or shout him down, but rather to use convincing reason in the next elections. - Rappler.com