That is a hard question the Philippines’ would-be social media “activists” and “citizen journalists” need to ask themselves again. The current administration of Philippine President Benigno Simeon ‘BS’ Aquino III has been used as a backdrop to the purported rise of these new media organisations and “movements” as voices to contend with in the country’s political chatter. Unfortunately there is no clear reliable way to measure how much of this technologically-enabled political chatter actually influences political outcomes.
The topping of the polls in the 2013 mid-term elections by Senators Nancy Binay and Grace Poe despite being slammed by social media activists, the earlier for her supposed lack of qualifications to be a senator and the latter for running on a showbiz pedigree platform, pretty much put activist chatter on social media in its proper place in the bigger scheme of things. Even today, Vice President Jejomar Binay, the much reviled (if we are to believe all the mainstream pundits) but popular top contender for the presidency after Aquino steps down in 2016 is being subject to a gruelling trial-by-media and a demonisation campaign by the usual suspects on social media. How much of this will result in a dampening of his chances at becoming president remains to be seen.
The trouble with the social media “activist” mob is that it behaves like a cattle herd — stampeding towards wherever the prevailing groupthink directs them. Step back from the social media noise and regard the political landscape with an objective eye and we will find that pork barrel thievery remains the most important issue that impacts Filpinos the most broadly and deeply. Step back into the deafening din of tweets and status updates rippling across the timelines and newsfeeds of the Philippines’ “politically passionate” and one would be forgiven for being led to believe otherwise — that the most imporant issue is really more around the who’s-who of “presidentiables” clambering over one another for that coveted seat in Malacanang.
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Yet, time and again, it’s been proven that presidents don’t really matter to the average Filipino. They are basically all the same. Indeed, as we have pointed out many times before over many years, they and the “political parties” they are members of don’t actually stand for anything at all. There is no real evidence of a strong causal link between the fortunes of the average Filipino and who a sitting president may happen to be. The real causes-and-effects may happen at the executive suites and salas of the businesses and homes of oligarchs whose fortunes ebb and flow with those political convulsions — which is why that false perception that presidents matter prevails, because the big media businesses they also happen to own tell us so. The reality is that the lives and dramas of these oligarchs and the 5 percent of the Philippines’ population whose abilities to afford the latest iPhone depends on all that are not even close to representing the interests of the 95 percent of Filipinos who will be casting their votes in the next elections.
The fact that Filipinos, to this day, engage in a powerfully-resonant debate on whether or not things are actually better under today’s post-Marcos democracy is a case in point. The regime of former President Ferdinand Marcos is the de facto benchmark against which all political reform, improvements in social justice and economic progress is measured. In short, the real test of whether or not presidents matter to ordinary Filipinos is to ask the simple question:
Has the fall of the Marocs regime really mattered to the ordinary Filipino?
If there is one single confronting question that cannot be convincingly answered by any one or the other political “movement” or organisation today, that would be it. Fast forward to the 21st Century and its much-hyped technology after that seminal milestone in 1986. Despite social media “activism” being touted as the silver bullet that will empower Philippine democracy’s supposedly most important component — the people — one would be hard-pressed to show any evidence that Filipinos are any better at applying themselves more productively and intelligently in their country’s political exercises. In short, if Filipinos cannot even find a difference between the quality of life (1) under a reviled “dictator” and (2) under any one of the presidents who followed his fall, what hope is there of finding any difference between one or the next Philippine president today?
One thing that social media has helped achieve (if it can be even called that) was to commoditise news reporting — something traditional media has for so long regarded as its primary bread and butter. But the commoditisation of “news” has only placed a bigger premium on what continues to be an exceedingly rare product of the information industry: insight. We had for some time now been led to believe by social media’s cheerleaders that we can look to social media “activists” as the primary source of these golden nuggets of information. In the Philippines, we have yet to see that happen. More often than not, the Philippines’ top social media mavens and cliques trumpet the wrong information the loudest and uphold and propagate, on most occassions, the wrong arguments. Suffice to say, the problem does not lie in the technology. It lies in who wields said technology and the thinking they apply to that task.
On account of the way Filipinos have misused democracy since they “regained” it in 1986 and turned it into the utter sham we see today, there is good cause for Filipinos to pause and reflect on whether or not we are using the best technology the 21st Century has to offer to the best of our interests. So far, the evidence at hand fails to convince us that we are moving in the right direction. The challenge for today’s social media “activists” is to demonstrate that they are better than this — by putting the thinking back in the equation (if it ever has been there), purge the scene of the old tradition of using personalities as currency for “debate”, and doing something different for a change.
Think, focus on ideas, and be original.
Is that really hard considering we are presenting that challenge to a community who claim to be the nation’s foremost “thought leaders”?
Abangan ang susunod na kabanata.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.