To be fair, religion has long been an effective way politicians reach the masses. Indeed, even the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) are not above using “pastoral letters” as a means to deliver political messages to their flock who loyeally tune-in dressed in their Sunday best. Thus, one cannot really judge politicians who epal (grandstand) their way into religious rituals like this Nazareno feast.
The current Black Nazarene procession is no exception as it is an event packed with Filipinos conditioned to believe. That folks who flock to religious events are more likely to be wide open to tricks of persuasion is a sound hypothesis to test. Devotees of rituals like these make up a sample that represents a subset of the Filipino public who are likely to be significantly predisposed to messaging that is highly-emotional.
In that regard, think then to the many initiatives that had been kicked off to uplift the quality of the Filipino Vote. That most election campaigns are literally songs-and-dances where candidates are wont to display their dancing and singing prowess over and above any semblance of a strategic vision, legislative agenda, or intelligent governance platform is a testament to the emotional nature of the decisions that go into choosing a candidate. Why waste time thinking when you are better off virtue signalling, right?
Stepping back further, what election candidates choose to focus their resources on is, at the end of the day, a business decision. In short, whatever works is what gets the funds. The mathematics are quite straightforward. A large majority of Filipinos are religious, they are highly-emotional, they like watching their politicians sing and dance, and most get “nosebleeds” when complex and imporant concepts are being explained to them. Statistics will also show that Eat Bulaga pulls in the ratings and “AlDub” hashtags consistently trend on Twitter. And, in this instance, the Nazareno feast literally pulls in the crowds in much the same way fans fatally stampeded their way into an episode of the now-defunct Wowowee TV show.
Democracy, after all, is a popularity contest. The smartest politicians don’t necessarily win and the most valid issues and topics don’t necessarily get the air time. Big Corporate Media cannot be counted on to be the Intelligence Police. They will follow the stampede with their cameras even if this stampede goes off a cliff. The Roman Catholic Church itself is like a media organisation as it effectively wields a signal channel through which it pumps its superstitious and politically-laden drivel.
Still, an effort applied to being a better voter and a more responsible participant in the Philippines’ fledgling democracy can best begin at the individual level. We can start by being a bit more critical about what politicians do on the outside and develop a more acute ability to judge how authentic they are. Do they practice what they preach? Is what they are saying today consistent with what they said the other day? We all have it in us to be wiser voters. It begins by seeing past the song-and-dance and all the phoney piety they exhibit when in front of the cameras.
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