We need a new generation of innovative activists to fight pork barrel popularity using new approaches

The trouble with democracy is that it is premised on the assumption that people know what is good for them — a sad reality that people like current Philippine President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino III owe their victory at the polls to. In a democracy, majority rules as they say. As far as fundamentalist democracy apologists are concerned, when the “people” have “spoken” what they speak of is ncecessarily the right way forward.

Consider then what to do next now that it’s been found, thanks to the wisdom of Pulse Asia’s recent “survey” findings, that 55 percent of Filipinos still prefer to have the pork barrel retained. This despite the same study showing that 90 percent of them are aware of the institutionalised thievery surrounding it. What this means for anti-pork activists is that they can no longer rely on traditional “people power”-style mass actions to get their messages across. It also means that it is likely that nebulous notions of “freedom of information” or “Internet freedom” will not have any significant bearing on what paths Filipinos will choose with regard to resolving the issue of pork barrel thievery.

Time to rethink: Costumed circus acts and religious undercurrents in Ph activism
Time to rethink: Costumed circus acts and religious undercurrents in Ph activism

Freedom to be stupid will trump freedom to access information and freedom to use the Internet anytime. Indeed, these Pulse “surveys” say it all. There is enough information accessible to Filipinos to prove that their politicians are stealing them blind using the government’s pork barrel dole out system. They access that information freely and exchange and share it freely. Yet, the outcome of all that “access” and “sharing” remains categorically stupid. Filipinos still want their pork.

Just like the “surprise” victory of Grace Poe and Nancy Binay during this year’s Senate elections, the eventual outcome when all the noise raised by anti-pork activism dies down will be the persistence of pork barrel and its politics in Philippine society.

The popular argument will win — not the right one.

After all, democracy in the hands of Filipinos is like a blowtorch in the hands of a four-year-old. Filipinos have just about burnt their own house down playing with their toy.

Pork is here to stay. Politicians see pork “commissions” as the whole point of “public service”. Voters see pork as their ticket to easy money. The business community rely on the commerce stimulated by pork to prop up their five-year business plans. In short, Filipinos are stuck with pork because pork is at the centre of a win-win triangle linking public officials, business taipans, and Pinoy voters in a lucrative pyramid of social dysfunction.

The only way to break that triangle is to yank the pork out from within it. How do we do that? Well, saying “Please Mr Politician, could you find it in your little black heart to do the right thing?” certainly will not work. Millions of pesos at stake is worth the little black stain in their consciences. Asking voters to vote wisely has a poor track record of delivering results. And, yes, asking the business community to throw their resources behind a movement to “scrap pork” has proven futile as the Ayala rallyist a couple of weeks ago have discovered.

Where do we go from here then?

Parenting is not a popularity contest and parents who try to be “buddies” with their kids are pretty much setting them up for a life of chronic failure. So if activists want to pitch an unpopular but right solution to a country spoiled-rotten on a diet of democracy candy like the Philippines, they cannot use methods that require popular support — certainly rallies whose success is measured by crowd numbers can only go nowhere.

So we have to find a better approach to activism and put a stop to the same old costumed clowning around, idiotic poetry, emo appeals, religious diarrhoea, and social media triumphalist posturing that traditional “activist” leaders are so hung up on. In fact, perhaps it is high time a new generation of activist leaders whose minds are not imprisoned by 1970’s populist commie rhetoric and 1980’s and 1990’s “people power” telenovela melodrama to step up and replace the Old Guard.

Indeed, Philippine activism has for so long appealed to and even mirrored the renowned dukha loser mentality of Filipinos. We need activist leaders who apply ideas that appeal to real winners.

[Photo courtesy Reuters.]