It seems to be becoming a showdown between the much-vaunted “power” of social media “activism” and the traditional institutional power of a Senator of the Republic. The most recent news report on the brouhaha over allegations of plagiarism being directed against Philippine Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto III screamed “Netizens refuse to let Sotto off the hook.” As to how effective this digital pressure may prove in the presumed effort to unseat Sotto from his lucrative Senate seat, that remains to be seen.
Indeed, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile observed:
â€œWe cannot be questioned anywhere for what we say inside this chamber. Not because we are a special breed but because that is the immunity given by the sovereign people so that we can speak on any subject under the sun,â€ Enrile told reporters.
â€œYou cannot be questioned by anybody outside this chamber. How can you be questioned if you say anything here? Thatâ€™s constitutional law. Not because of any arrogance of power [but] those people who do not understand it [are] ignorant of the very Constitution they are supposed to espouse,â€ he said.
â€œThey can file a case â€¦ [but whether] they can get enough senators to vote in their favor, thatâ€™s the problem. As long as we have this system, itâ€™s a question of numbers.â€
This means that these outraged “netizens” will have to decide what happens when and if all the noise they are making gains some traction across the broader swath of the Philippine public.
The reality of democratic politics, as Philippine President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino III loves to point out is that voters are The Boss. The key question therefore that outraged netizens need to ask themselves is quite simple:
Does the Boss care?
After all, as most experienced professionals will tell you: If your boss does not care, why should you care?
It is this simple principle that will determine whether the majority of Philippine Senators required for punitive action to be effected versus Sotto will materialise. As Enrile points out, “a two-thirds vote is required before a senator facing an ethics complaint could be meted disciplinary action.”
Indeed, it is quite evident that Sotto’s real failure as a professional politician in a country whose leaders and legislators are elected by popular vote is in his own contribution to the noise stirred up by what he himself described as “only” a bunch of bloggers. Perhaps had he remained quiet and simply ignored the din of chatter in both new and old media, the issue will not likely have been inflammed.
Social media “activism” in the Philippines is notoriously fickle with most of its prominent content producers lacking strong philosophical underpinnings. As such, efforts to organise Filipino bloggers into some kind of “united voice” or bloc of influence have consistently fallen flat on their faces. Filipino bloggers also have a strong track record of falling into lockstep to the marching tune of Big Business as evident in their avid participation in the various “blog award” events organised by major corporations like Globe Telecommunications. And with traditional-media-site-disguised-as-social-media-phenomenon Rappler.com now seen by many to be Filipino social media coolness defined, it is unlikely that diversity of ideas in the Philippine social media “activism” scene will likely endure for long.
Consider too that with much of online Filipinos (who make up less than half of the population) engaged more in the pursuit of consumerist aspirations, entertainment, and personal gratification when logged onto social networking sites than in more meaningful endeavours, it is possible that the true overall influence of the noisiest clique of online “activists” had consistently been overestimated over the last several years.
Plagiarism, after all, is not exactly the sort of concept that resonates amongst ordinary Filipinos. Filipinos, have exhibited a long tradition of being the foremost copycats of the world. Originality is not one of the Filipino’s strongest points. More to the point, plagiarism is not the most heinous of crimes nor the most offensive of indiscretions either. When one considers how Filipino voters have long tolerated more serious inadequacies like incompetence, banal philandering, thievery, crassness, and impunity in their politicians you’d wonder: How all the more accomodating could Filipino voters be with politcians accused of mere plagiarism? Think Erap, Jalosjos, the Dutertes, President BS Aquino and his pet of the month Grace Padaca, and the whole bunch of other politicians who somehow get elected to office despite being walking antitheses of everything considered decent and sensible by most normal people.
For every idiotic politician removed from office by the stirrings of the Philippine intelligentsia, there will be a hundred others voted into office by virtue of the ballot of millions of Filipino voters. Seems like we are all barking up the wrong tree.
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