So Philippine politics has become more like a teleserye nowadays. The men of the hour are presidential candidates Rodrigo Duterte and Mar Roxas. The earlier is emerging as the top contender for the throne while the latter is struggling to rise from the bottom of the polls. Nonetheless each one has threatened to slap the other over petty issues that have nothing to do with the Philippines’ strategic future interests.
What is going on here? Philippine media has long been criticised for dumbing down Filipino minds for profit. In this instance, rather than elevate the national “debate” the Philippines Big Media outlets have focused their scrutiny on the minutiae of the mudslinging between Duterte and Roxas. Perhaps, indeed, Filipinos deserve both their media and their politicians.
Ironically, one of the key stars in this politico-serye, Duterte, is running on a platform that promises Filipinos a return to the golden age of Pinoy-style authoritarianism, complete with vigilante patrols, lots of salvaging (a Marcos-era law penal approach), and a broad-based strengthening of Executive powers over legislative and judicial jurisdictions in the spirit of streamlining processes and reducing governance red tape. Control over the media is that other essential ingredient to ensuring the unencumbered implementation of these new measures once Duterte is in power. Perhaps, then, the long-sought-after reforms in the Philippines’ media and entertainment industries that have, for so long, stunted the collective intellectual growth of Philippine society may be at hand. Most prosperous states in southeast Asia, after all, owe their prosperity to strong state control over the media.
Indeed, the idea that the Philippines’ entertainment industry is a massive contributor to accelerating erosion of the collective intellect of Filipinos has long been a widely-accepted fact in Philippine society. As far back as 2006, Isagani Cruz wrote about this in an Inquirer article. I cited the key excerpt in Cruz’s article in my book…
Benjamin Franklin said that if the people misuse their suffrages, the remedy is not to withdraw the precious privilege from them but to teach them in its proper use. The entertainment industry, which has the most available access to the [Filipino] people through the movies, television, radio and the tabloids, is instead purposely miseducating them.
The Philippine entertainment industry is not only a vast wasteland, as television has been described in America, but a vicious instrument for the abatement of the nation’s intelligence. The shows it offers for the supposed recreation of the people are generally vulgar and smutty, usually with some little moral lesson inserted to make them look respectable, but offensive nonetheless. On the whole, they are obnoxious and unwholesome and deserve to be trashed.
The indiscriminate audience eagerly laps them up because it has not been taught to be selective and more demanding of better quality shows for their pastime. In fact, the easily satisfied fans have been taught the exact opposite reaction — to accept whatever garbage the industry offers them and, to add insult to their injury, to pay for it too. The leaders of the entertainment industry are supposed to be responsible people but they have evaded their duty to elevate the taste of their mostly unthinking supporters. They have instead cheapened them into a mass of automated individuals whose ultimate joy is to roll up in the aisles at the lewd jokes of potential senators.
Strangely enough, Duterte has been far more adept than the bumbling Roxas at using mass and social media to expand his audience and voter base. Duterte’s performance during an interview with popular Filipino comedian Vice Ganda back in July this year became a top-trending topic on Twitter and further endeared him to the Filipino public. Roxas, on the other hand, seems to subtract from his political equity with every word he utters before the cameras. When it comes to media management, Roxas is cursed with a reverse-Midas-touch while Duterte is pure gold.
Suffice to say, today’s politics are a product of the character of the average Filipino voter. Despite how the Philippines’ intelligentsia lament the new depths being plumbed by the political discourse today, the broader public either don’t mind or are completely unaware of the existence of alternatives to the slapstick-dominated national debate they gleefully participate in. How can they be aware of anything deeper when slapstick content is pretty much all that their media pipe into their screens everyday?
A return to authoritarianism, Mr Duterte says? Millions of his followers evidently subscribe to his juicy proposition. The thing that people will have to understand is that with authoritarianism comes the mandatory clampdown on the quality of media content as well. Part of discipline, if we recall our childhoods, is a restriction on the types of stuff we watch on TV. Perhaps it is high time that Filipinos be treated the way they deserve to be treated by their government — like children. In that respect, Rodrigo Duterte is the man for the job.
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