Fellow GRP writer Arche wrote a few days ago about Miriam Defensor Santiago (MDS), and he likened her to a modern day Pilosopo Tasyo. She is obsessed with the law, and probably knows it better than most other lawmakers currently in the Philippines. One can be forgiven for saying that her obsession with the law borders on fanaticism. However her brutally frank delivery, high-pitched accent and voice, and her not-so understated lack of patience for stupid people are a put-off to quite a few. Well, tough luck. MDS is not only the bitter pill to swallow for imbeciles like members of the prosecution team, but also for balat-sibuyas, mayabang, and stupid Pinoys who prefer to stay ignorant about things, and scoop up by the balde everything that mainstream media feeds them. Too bad she’s about to leave soon for the International Criminal Court (ICC); it’s less fun in the Philippines whenever there’s one less person reminding us Pinoys just how stupid we can get.
For this write-up, let’s explore the other side of the spectrum. Senator Santiago represents one extreme end, one who has, as mentioned above, an obsession and respect for the law bordering on fanaticism. This being the Philippines, we will also find among the senators one of them who represents the other extreme: someone who admitted he/she has totally no knowledge of it. In other words, this senator represents the ultimate in ignorance of the law – “ang kasukdulan ng kamangmangan sa batas“. This someone claimed to be humble and voted with conscience. This someone supposedly represents millions of other Filipinos who are similar to him/her. It is no surprise then that Filipinos were applauding his/her speech. This senator is none other than Lito Lapid.
In particle physics, there are what are called fundamental interactions between elementary particles. Basically there are four types: the strong nuclear force, the weak nuclear force, electromagnetic force, and gravitational force.
In the Philippines, we will be able to find a fifth fundamental force. As stated in the title, it is called ignorance.
Ignorance sort of behaves like gravity here in the Philippines. Whenever there is a large mass of ignorant people, they suddenly have a lot of weight in society. It attracts from an infinite range. Ignorance cannot be absorbed, is difficult to transform, and is something that cannot be shielded against. Ignorance is also responsible for keeping unwitting people in orbit around a “sun” whose sole aim is to exploit the “planets” for whatever they’re worth. Unlike gravity though, it can be repelled, but it would be extremely difficult, and yes, painful. The question is, are Filipinos up to the task of overcoming it?
I could not help but wince during the speech Lito Lapid gave before handing out his vote in the Corona impeachment trial. Many people considered it heartfelt, honest, and humble. Yet he did the one thing nobody raised a stink about: he basically laid bare his ignorance of the law for the whole Philippines to see. And he stressed it over and over as if it was something to brag about. If you ask me, the fact that Lito Lapid and other showbiz celebrities are even among the senators is a clear indication that the profession of law-making has been cheapened to a primp-and-preen fashion show. Ever since Pinoys discovered voting in elections, we’ve been voting dominantly by name recognition, instead of by platform. That we prefer to stay ignorant about what the people we put into office stand for, if any, says volumes about our propensity as a people.
What makes ignorance such a powerful force in Pinoy society? To be fair, everyone is born knowing very little. However, is our society one that is inherently unjust? There seems to be a cycle happening all over again. In the past, the friars did not want the indios to learn the Spanish language, for fear that they would eventually learn how to rise up against them. Similarly today, the oligarchs are depriving many Filipinos of better-quality media by producing opium-like matter that keeps them “illiterate” and addicted to trash. Are they afraid that their bottom line will be affected if the masa suddenly asks for more? Are they afraid that if they need to step up their quality, they can’t meet the demand? It is ironic that the few in whom the power to shape society lies prefers not to do anything about it. For both the masa and the oligarchs, ignorance is bliss.
Lito Lapid claimed to be voting with his conscience. He didn’t make the claim to base his decision on any existing law. And that’s where the problem lies. If your conscience, or intuition, is not informed, then you run the risk of being influenced, or being swayed, by external factors that ultimately amount to noise. While this remains circumstantial evidence at best as to why Lapid voted guilty, surely crossing his employer ABS-CBN, who happened to be one of the influential forces against the defendant, and wanting to keep a probe by the Ombudsman into his wealth from blowing up, would have some effect on swaying him. So much for informed intuition there; if you know what’s good for you, you will do as the powers that be say.
Ignorance fits like a glove in Philippine society. It meshes well with the ever-present mentalities of mediocrity (pwede-na-yan syndrome) and fatalism (bahala-na syndrome). But the world is changing rapidly, and ignorance of how to keep up with the times is not in our best interest. Unless Pinoys and Filipinos learn how to resist this fundamental force, we will forever remain Asia’s basketcase and sick man.
The good news is, ignorance can be resisted. The first step is recognizing that the problem exists. The second step is to question what is doubtful to you in society. Just because something has been done the same way for a long time does not mean it is the best way. Definitely, popularity does not equate to being right.
Ignorance pins us down, and keeps us forever in a political, social, and economic cocoon. And we don’t want to forever remain that way, do we?
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