The latest “viral” photo of a politician being portrayed as “simple” and doing something “out of the usual” is of widow and congresswoman Leni Robredo of Camarines Sur. The photo supposedly shows her waiting for public transport along a major highway, instead of having a special ride. Some might be reminded of another “simple” politician, Jose Mojica of Uruguay, also the subject of “viral” articles and photos for his simple lifestyle. Another recent photo showed the Irish president lining up at an ATM instead of cutting in front.
While these politicians might be doing well, the celebration of their being “good” and “simple” may actually be the indicator that something is wrong. Now what is wrong exactly? Think of this this way: are you supposed to receive pictures, shares and accolades when you don’t jaywalk and when you throw your trash in the bin instead of litter?
This is also the reaction of Filipinos to things like when a taxi driver or janitor returns money left behind or other lost things. That kind of thing goes into the papers often. Many people would argue that such things should be celebrated, to really honor “good acts.” But the question is, why should it be so hard to return something or be simple? Shouldn’t good acts be expected of everyone every time and not just for special occasions?
Some people would retort, “why don’t you praise them for doing good! You should praise them for doing good, because if you don’t, they’ll do bad!” And that’s the problem. It would mean people would do good only for praise and reward – and that would not be doing good. That is only fishing for compliments in order to serve one’s ego. It can even be opportunism. Because of lack of respect for the public space, as Jorge Mojarro wrote, some Filipinos believe it’s their right to dupe others around them. They believe they should do wrong to others unless there is a reward. Thus, we have rampant crime, rape, abuse of privileges and resources, and simple rudeness and douchebaggery from Filipinos.
For the politicians’ ops, perhaps the practice stemmed from President Ramon Magsaysay’s image as a “man of the masa.” When you see politicians doing things like joining the poor in farming or helping build houses, they likely took a a page from Magsaysay’s book. Even President B.S. Aquino tried to build a “simple” image early in his term by banning “wang-wangs,” the sirens on government vehicles, among other things. He even defended his smoking habit, which he probably likens to ordinary people’s habits. Mar Roxas himself tried so many things like carry onion sacks, direct traffic and lately, ride a motorcycle in a storm-hit zone (although that didn’t turn out too well). Mar and Grace Poe-Llamanzares were also shown riding the MRT during the recent brouhaha over it. The problem with the presentation of these photos and actions is that the politicians were, as fellow blogger Ben Kritz had it, “appearing to try too hard.” They are just trying to look like leaders rather than actually become leaders. If they are really good leaders, then photo-ops only serve to diminish their achievement.
But the popularity of this method of image-building tells something about the Philippines; there’s a wide gulf between the leadership and the led. The led are looking for people who are ordinary, like themselves. President Aquino tried to come off as this, but he fails. He and his ilk are just too firmly entrenched in their lofty class statuses to actually understand those they are trying to “lead.”
This leads to another idea about these “simple people” photos: that Filipinos still believe in the “divine right of kings.” What do I mean? That privileged people, like politicians and rich business people, are seen as a class above the rest. They are thought to deserve the privilege of having limousines, servants around them and the “right” to cut in line or something like that. So when one of these privileged people do something like “go down to the level of the poor,” they are praised, because it’s seen as a one in a million thing.
Let me draw from this principle: if there are more anti-corruption laws passed, it means that country is more corrupt. Likewise, it’s an indication a country is experiencing a moral crisis when someone doing a simple good deed (like returning lost things) is praised as doing something incredible. It means that Filipinos are failing to expect the right things from their leaders, and their moral compass is messed up. This needs to change. Filipinos need to have higher standard of leadership and behavior, both from leaders and themselves. “Being ordinary,” following rules, helping people when they are in need and more, are not special actions. They need to be expected of our leaders every time, without accolade or reward. Because that is what they became leaders for!
Once we have politicians and citizens doing good even when no one is looking, only then can we be “proud to be Filipino.”