What is really the crux of any effort to ‘educate’ Filipino voters? To design a solution you need to clearly define the problem. And for us to clearly define a problem, we need to understand its true nature by taking stock of the situation that surrounds it.
Much of the initiatives that aim to “educate” Filipino voters come from influential people who shape the Philippine National “Debate”. So a good starting point is to reflect upon the quality of this debate. Way back in 2000, an “admired Filipino economist, based in New York” hit upon what has remained a consistent and enduring characterisation of the quality of discourse in the Philippines. “What ails the country is that Philippine society is intellectually bankrupt.” she “dolefully intoned.”
“They are droll and unintelligent, focused on the trivial or the irrelevant.” When the issues are of some significance, it’s the wrong arguments that prevail, the wrong side wins. Logic and common sense take the backseat to political arguments and the views of the poorly-educated. There seems to be some bases for her disenchantment.
Consider the EDSA People Power TV debate during its last anniversary celebration: “Is the People Power revolution still meaningful?” The TV audience voted it was no longer meaningful! And the winning argument articulated by a former Marcos’ boy was: “Are you better off now after EDSA People Power?” as if the one magical event in the world’s struggle for freedom in which the Filipinos were the acclaimed heroes had something to do with the contour of the stomach, instead of the shaping of the soul.
Her conclusion, groundbreaking at the time, is now a widely-accepted given in any discussion about Filipino culture…
There’s a weird culture in our midst: our jocular regard for our national problems, great crimes, villainous scams and calamities. Note that Filipinos are notorious for making fun, creating a joke of their misfortunes. The cellulars are full of them now. In other countries inhabited by serious and sensitive people, they mount crusades, indignation rallies or nationwide relief campaigns to meet such crises. They would weep or stomp their feet, or explode in anger, or demand punishment for the criminals or misfits. Here we tend to laugh at scams, crimes and natural calamities, as if they are part of the usual TV noon comedy shows, the Pinoy’s daily diet.
It’s very hard to be intellectual if you aren’t serious. And so far the clear evidence is that we are not a serious people. Worse, we don’t like to think.
HYPOTHESIS: Filipinos suffer from an acute stunting of mental faculties when it comes to evaluating relevance, maintaining a serious regard for sorting out the issues and remain imprisoned by their petty politics.
It does not take a rocket scientist to test the validity of this hypothesis.
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The Inquirer editor encapsulated the the essential skill Filipino voters need to acquire to earn their right to be called real participants in a true democracy — an ability to “separate substance from form, real issues from easy palliatives”.
Unfortunately politicians on the campaign trail are the true experts when it comes to making themselves relevant to voters, by giving to them the only tangible thing that makes their wretched lives worth living — entertainment. Indeed, an ability to draw crowds the same way German Moreno would is what is considered to be a “successful” campaign by the Philippines’ most revered “thought leaders.” In the recently-concluded circus brought by “Team PNoy” to northern Mindanao, for example, “social news network” site Rappler reported how “thousands of voters responded enthusiastically to questions of candidates on stage and swayed with the jingles of the senatorial bets booming from the speakers.”
The star of that song-and-dance, according to “reporter” Natashya Gutierrez was “senatoriable” Koko Pimentel who “enthralled his hometown and added to the lively spirits by singing to the crowd.” The jubilant Pimentel explains to Gutierrez in an interview following the event, “I want them to be inspired.” The report’s conclusion was quite simple. “The crowd lapped it up.” That pretty much answered the rhetorical question that was the piece’s title: “Is Northern Mindanao in the bag for Koko?”
Hold on… It seems the admired New York-based economist, had it wrong when she said “[logic] and common sense take the backseat to political arguments and the views of the poorly-educated”. Rappler reporters are, after all, supposedly anything but poorly-educated!
The perils of beholdenness to formal education nga naman talaga. Yale, right?
But that’s just the way it is in Da Pinas. Everything is politicised — specially during the elections. So in an exercise such as the 2013 elections, you can’t take the politics out of the real issues. And so the real issues will never be regarded without the politically-motivated intermediaries that colour them.
To begin with, the country’s “noble” mass disseminators of information are imprisoned by the politics of their owners. New-comer Rappler and the way its self-appointed “thought leaders” take their cue from its shadowy cadre of shareholders is a no-brainer of an example and a clear write-off when subject to the criteria of objectivity. Let’s not even get started with the ABS-CBN mafia…
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The problem statement to frame the effort to “educate” voters, in light of all this, crystallises thus:
PROBLEM: How do we motivate voters to regard the issues from an apolitical perspective?
Defined this way, it is easy to see how media outlets like Rappler are anathaema to political maturity and an affront to the voter education effort. How can any “voter education” initiative succeed when it is up against the Goliath that is mainstream media and “social news networks” under the control of shadowy shareholders?
The first step in solving a problem is getting a realistic idea of just how untenable it is. Not to worry though. Just think outside the square and you will find that there really is only one thing (albeit a gigantic one) that stands in the way of us seeing a more enlightened Filipino public. It is the one — ironically revered — institution that purposely miseducates the Filipino people: Philippine Mainstream Media. In my book, I cited the prescient words of the venerable Isagani Cruz in a 2006 Inquirer article…
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 nationâ€™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.
Thus the way forward becomes obvious:
Filipinos need to dismantle and restructure the country’s traditional information dissemination infrastructure.
Think about it. Traditional media is to voter education as the jeepney is to modern and efficient mass transit. Purging Philippine streets of the jeepney has always been seen as an impossible solution. Yet it is the obvious one. Same principle applies here.
As Albert Einstein was said to have said:
You cannot solve problems using the same thinking that created them.
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