The myth of doing things ‘for the people’

Is there really such a thing as doing things purely for the common good? I keep seeing and hearing it everywhere — people evaluating politicians based on their intention to be makatao or “for the people” when they win the right to serve in government. I also see a lot of calls to contribute to the progress of the country by being selfless and generous to the “less fortunate”. Presumably this means giving away what are supposedly our surplus resources to those who have a deficit of the same. It seems to me like the term “surplus” here, used in the context of the way even some friends of mine pontificate about civic duty, is used as a kind of an admonishment and meant to push some guilt buttons. So “surplus resources” in this sense refers to more than what is essential for living and, thus, should be given away.

That notion had gone viral long before “viral” in the sense of the way we use it today even existed. That is why people we admire as “heroes” are those that gave a lot away. Our most celebrated heroes are marty-like in character. Mother Theresa gave her life in the service of the poor in India. Jose Rizal gave his life in the name of Philippine nationalism. Ninoy Aquino “sacrificed” his life supposedly to incite rebellion against the dictatorship of Ferdindand Marcos. The list goes on. It was all supposedly “for the people”.

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But are the people who insist that they do what they do “for the people” or “for the common good” really the true movers and shakers of history and the ones that make the really big differences in people’s lives? If we look around us and take stock of the things that touch the lives of ordinary Filipinos, I realize I’d be hard-pressed to come up with examples of things that are products or results of the lives of “selfless” people.

On one hand, Henry Sy’s shopping malls provide airconditioned bliss to hundreds of thousands of shoppers, and tambays. San Miguel products, its beer specifically, are the centers of many people’s great memories of social get-togethers and youthful experiences. Philippine Airlines, PLDT, Globe Telecoms, Skype, and Facebook provide the OFWs’ lifelines to their family and friends. Jeepney and tricycle drivers out from dusk ’til dawn to scrounge their paltry livings transport ordinary folk from their jobs to their homes everyday. And, to state the obvious, all of the above and others like them provide gainful employment to millions of Filipinos.

On the other hand, when it comes to people like Rizal, Ninoy, and Mother Theresa, it seems that people have to be constantly reminded of what they supposedly did for us. If it weren’t for the efforts of museum curators, “public service” announcements in the media, legislation, and the awareness campaigns of a handful of eclectic Rizalistas, for example, I’m sure most Filipinos will easily see years pass with hardly even a couple of second’s thought spared for their national hero.

So when I observe how politicians spend mega-millions campaigning during an election and then insist that the aim of all that is to be “of service” to the people once they are in office, why does the word bullshit come to my mind? It is because in my opinion, everyone has a personal agenda — and it ain’t all about “the people”. Indeed, I’d hazard a guesstimate that the sum total of all contributions to the lives of ordinary Filipinos of every single politician who campaigned on a platform of governance and reform “for the common good” will simply be dwarfed by the immense way even just one or two of those supposedly “greedy” industrialists have touched Filipinos’ lives and made the Philippines the country that it is today. At least those industrialists we love to hate don’t even pretend that their actions are motivated by anything more than self-interest.

I think benign0 put it quite well…

Great nations were not built on good intentions. They were built on business sense. Real change in Pinoy society will never be achieved through the “sacrifice” of altruistic “heroes”. True change will be driven by people who find no shame in expecting a buck for their trouble.

Maybe when we Filipinos learn to be beholden less to those who dole out stuff under the pretense of being “for the people” and instead look to those who only give to those who’ve earned what they get, will we become a truly progressive people.

19 Replies to “The myth of doing things ‘for the people’”

  1. I just have to correct that the notion of Rizal dying for Philippine nationalism is wrong, as his objective is not independence but reforms on the colonial government. In fact he wants Pinas to be a part of Spain, not just colony.

    But if you mean that Rizal dying for Philippine nationalism is the common perception of most Filipinos, then ok.

    1. Related to that, I’d like to link this blog entry:

      And quoting something from that link related to this article:

      There are three kinds of nationalists. For want of a better term, I shall classify them as A, B, or C. The ‘A’ nationalists can tell gold (freedom or human rights) from the gold-plated trinket (political independence). They buy the gold because they know the intricacies of the market well enough to profit, and not lose from their investment.

      The ‘B’ nationalists, on the other hand, cannot tell one from the other. Neither do they have the panache of a seasoned trader. So, they get easily conned to invest in trinkets whose glitter feeds their illusion that they have a treasure in their hands.

      The ‘C’ nationalists are not nationalists at all. Pseudos, they prey on the ‘B’ nationalists’ penchant for glitter and build their fortune selling them their trinkets, which they claim cost them their lives mining, smelting and designing them. The ‘B’ nationalists glorify these quacks as heroes for such sacrifice and look askance at the ‘A’ nationalists whose keen eyes they do not have and whose safe way of acquiring their gold through reputable shops is, to them, cowardly, not heroic.

      These buyers of trinkets–the B nationalists, snigger at the class A nationalists–the ‘mere reformers’ and men of peace like Jose Rizal whose revolution is not a violent, bloody one; whose weapon is the pen and not the sword; whose battlefield is the psyche of both tyrant and slave; whose ideology is liberty, not political independence.

    2. And i could not agree with the notion that Ninoy “sacrificed” his life for the people. I think he gambled his life for his ambition.

  2. Selflessness is basically a most noble deed by a person especially in the most appropriate time it is needed. However, this is just a slogan and an effective tool for politicians to deceive the nation for their purely selfish agenda. My apology to those sincere and honest public servants.
    First and foremost, what are the congressmen, senators and other political leaders doing with their pork barrels?
    Decaying government buildings, offices and facilities; outdated office equipment and fixtures; hazardous and hardly passable provincial roads and bridges, acute shortages of school classrooms and facilities, no regular program for mosquito fogging, very dirty ditches, canals, rivers and waterways, and many more.
    But what do these politicians persist? To be addressed as “honorable”, and proudly display their expensive suits, latest car models, multimillion pesos worth of houses, and royal accommodations for them and their families every time they spend vacations anywhere in the world anytime they wish.
    They keep on making laws but never care whether its enforced as appropriately required.
    They keep a blind eye to the very filthy environment which make it a healthy atmosphere for dengue, malaria, leptospirosis,grossly undisciplined citizens, bribery and extorsion in guise of obscure and chaotic business licensing processes, etc.
    Aside from these politicians hoarding most of the nationally allocated money each year they ensure that the government processes are so obscure and unpredictable for the citizens to follow and adhere to in order to make more money for themselves!
    In the middle some telecommunication companies consistently make your prepaid load evaporate that by the time you need to call it’s all gone.
    Some directors of huge so called charitable institutions are procuring huge properties which is impossible for them to do so by just through their legal company compensations.
    At the end of the society string are the so called poor. They demand pity. However, does majority of them deserve what they arrogantly crave for? Obviously, they don’t. If given the house they would sell it and return to where they illegally squat. Once they get even just a little money for their daily subsistence, they will squander it all in just setting of liquors and pulutan for their so called friends, for the sake of pakikisama.
    Even Jesus Christ Himself despised these similar kind of people in His parable of ten talents: Matthew 25: 29-30; For the one who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough. But the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless slave into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
    The Philippine society is getting much richer of parasitic people: the gluttonous politicians on the top and slacker minorities at the bottom.
    What this country have then for brighter future? Senator Tito Sotto even arrogantly declared in his most recent speech that “the country is not over populated”?
    The last hope for Filipinos is a miracle to awaken them from their delusions, that this country is progressing and that P32 is enough for a days meal for one family as what one of Gloria Arroyo’s Secretary once declared.

    1. Come to think of it, our form of government now doesn’t really work out for a small country such as the Philippines. It would seem that the duties and responsibilities of a senator, congressmen, mayor and governor is redundant given the size of the Philippines.

    2. That’s what I am trying to say in the article. At the end of the day, it isn’t really ordinary people that are the engines of history. It is really the wealthy and influential and their squabbles among themselves that determine the course of history. Philippine history, for example, is not a story about ordinary people, rather it is a story of chieftains, rulers, and imperialist interests and the conflicts they waged against each other.

      Politicians are “glutinous” because they invested a lot to get to where they are. Maybe the idea that democracy would change the nature of power is a big lie. If kings and tribal chiefs acquired their power by the sword (or the spear), politicians in modern democracies acquired their power on the back of money. Nothing’s changed: there was still a big INVESTMENT involved. And where there is a big investment, there will always be a goal to recoup that investment once in power.

      History will always be written for the rich and powerful. The plight of the masses is just too boring. That is why celebrity magazines are so popular. People want to read about the elites and not about the humble aspirations of Juan de la Cruz.

      1. Then such notions invalidate Justice in the first place. That less inequality is but impossible.

        We need great men that are self-centered to achieve “greatness”? No wonder we’re fucked up!

        Does a LEADER necessarily have to be like that to achieve?(given its relative definition)

        A rich man can be selfless in a way that he invest and build not merely for “wealth” but MORE for the sake of the people. No wonder Biblical Scripture is rational to put up that “it is better to give than to receive” because there is a ROI, and the prize for such is eternal life as it was written.

        It is actually a justified prize because can anyone with full confidence say “I can buy eternity?”

        Godlessness along with hypocrisy indeed has been the worst contraptions of a thought I have known.

        You’ve made your point on that “the wealthy and influential and their squabbles among themselves that determine the course of history.” But they can never do it without the cogs and bits of pieces which is the common “tao”(whether by a direct and indirect means). And I believe it is much justice “to give back”.


        I am sorry for my “rhetoric” but I just can’t in my conscience say that “doing for the people” is pointless! I just can’t…

  3. People claim something is for the common good because they will be believed not because it is true. We will believe anything, like Erap’s ever present slogan ” para sa masa” . Like anything else it’s reflection of us.

    1. Stepping back, it seems the way people present themselves in general follows that kind of attitude. We seem to be all under the notion that the path to gaining credibility is to be more positive and altruistic or “selfless” by default. And you summed it up pretty well – we do so because it is through that approach that we are more believed and well-liked.

      1. Most of us if not all of us were first subjected to religious concept very early in life , of self-sacrifice, by our icons to attain divinity and to be of service to a higher cause.”…for the people…” have a subliminal appeal even when we became adults, hence it is the best and proven propaganda tag-line, for anyone who wants to achieve his personal agenda by using a communal resource/s, for his own benefit.

  4. [blockquote>
    Is there really such a thing as doing things purely for the common good?

    If by ‘common good’ means the well-being of people as a whole, I think there is such a thing. Established government is proof that common good is a supreme goal of the governor by protecting and preserving the interest of the governed. The existence of institutions that encourages volunteerism and cooperation as well as protection and maintenance of the general welfare signifies the goal for the common good.

  5. Is it for the people that trapos put their faces and their names on everything? Is it for the people that they blatantly steal their money?

    I read a article on one of the national newspapers a few years ago about a municipal mayor in cebu, he is US-educated, can’t remember which one, and the article mentioned he was a new breed of politician, not like the ones we have now, ie the trapos. I saw a lot of hope in him and for awhile he seemed like he was of a different breed. This was until I saw his name and face on everything in his shitty little town. He even had one of those slogans with the initials of his name.

    New breed my ass.

  6. Ninoy Aquino,Jr. did not give his life to the Filipinos. He was sacrificed for the Hacienda Luisita; and for his secret deal with the NPA.
    Our politicians are mostly political opportunists, pretending to look after our welfare. Some even use the name of God and religion to get votes…

  7. As far as I know, Ninoy Aquino Jr., was assassinated because he went back to the Philippines with the intent to become president of the Republic of the Philippines. It is all about politics! Nothing heroic about it!

  8. “Politicians fascinate because they constitute such a paradox; they are an elite that accomplishes mediocrity for the public good.” -George Will

  9. Can I just share a quotation from a renowned economist writing on the the industrial might of central europe before WWI and the psychology of their capitalist society. I think that this supports your thesis.:

    “Europe was so organized socially and economically as to secure the maximum accumulation of capital. While there was some continuous improvement in the daily conditions of life of the mass of the population, Society was so framed as to throw a great part of the increased income into the control of the class least likely to consume it. The new rich of the nineteenth century were not brought up to large expenditures, and preferred the power which investment gave them to the pleasures of immediate consumption. In fact, it was precisely the inequality of the distribution of wealth which made possible those vast accumulations of fixed wealth and of capital improvements which distinguished that age from all others. Herein lay, in fact, the main justification of the Capitalist System. If the rich had spent their new wealth on their own enjoyments, the world would long ago have found such a régime intolerable. But like bees they saved and accumulated, not less to the advantage of the whole community because they themselves held narrower ends in prospect.”

    Excerpt From: John Maynard Keynes. “The Economic Consequences of the Peace.” iBooks.
    This material may be protected by copyright.

  10. “Tao naman.” Somebody used this line in his campaign. He is mayor now of Marikina.

    Squatter colonies have since sprung everywhere. Beggars and vagrants are slowly taking over the sidewalks. Watch car thugs have divided the parking lots amongst themselves. I think they are at critical mass now – they’ll be the ones determining who the next mayor will be.

    That slogan? Its all good investment. His reelection is already assured. Campaign budget can be eased up now.

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