Elections, popular culture and democracy

Mon, 04/09/2007 - 00:00
page 1

reprinted from "How to Win An Election: Lessons from the Experts", ASG-CSP and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung


Elections, popular culture and democracy

reprinted from "How to Win An Election: Lessons from the Experts", ASG-CSP and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung

Elections in the Philippines have legitimized governments and perpetuated two prevalent beliefs among ordinary citizens: the family or clan is more important than the government in securing individual and collective welfare, and ordinary people need the elective official primarily as a mediator through whom they can have access to goods and services form government.

A 2005 study by the Institute of Philippine Culture (IPC) on the vote of the poor, who constitute the vast majority of the population, shows that they consider elections legitimate exercises for selecting leaders even though “the campaign period is seen as a time of extremes and excesses.” The poor liken leadership to parenthood, and thus the ideal leader, like the ideal parent, is regarded “as provider and guide, and as one who thinks about the future and desires the good of the children.” The poor prefer their leader to be like a parent rather than a manager “because a manager is seen as impersonal, technical, and businesslike.”

For most Filipinos, what secures well-being – after a good God – is a family Even though the poor consider electoral participation “an affirmation of patriotism and of being a Filipino,” this does not necessarily indicate a strong sense of nationhoodor clan that is resourceful and cares for its own. Government is welcome when it is helpful to the family; otherwise it is undesirable yet inevitable like sickness and death. For half of the population who live in the rural areas, where the totality of values, customs and traditions is called folk culture, government can be distant and inscrutable like the supreme deity of both the pre-colonial natives and the contemporary adherents of folk religion. While people cling to their belief in the deity's goodness, they easily regard government as alien, impersonal, and unfriendly, owing to its complex rules, technical language, and intricate bureaucracy.

This alienation can be traced to the long periods of colonialism under Spain and the United States in which central government was imposed by foreign invaders. Even after national independence, however, a form of colonialism is still practiced by elitist Filipinos mostly from Metro Manila when they formulate and implement policies, and make decisions that affect local communities in the regions without the participation of the communities themselves.

Covert colonials, sometimes in the name of development, has greatly harmed local communities. Grand projects like dams, plantations, and factories that require capital-intensive technology are introduced suddenly and without dialogue with the locals, who then become impoverished because their environment and primary livelihood are destroyed. Likewise, the rapidity, the magnitude, and the harshness of the change dissolve local solidarity networks and demoralize people,

Continuing colonialism reinforces the sentiment that the State does not have sufficient moral authority to oblige ordinary citizens to make personal sacrifices such as paying more taxes for the sake of the nation. Such weakness of the State is both cause and effect of the weakness of the people's collective conscience, which gives more weight to national interest over personal interest whenever the two clash. Even though the poor consider electoral participation “an affirmation of patriotism and of being a Filipino,” this does not necessarily indicate a strong sense of nationhood since there are other civic duties besides voting. Some simple duties that are neglected by many, both poor and rich, include respect for traffic rules, respect for the flag, proper disposal of litter and trash, and involvement in civic organizations and public forums.

The role of religion

Another major cause of this weak sense of nationhood is the historical connection between the Roman Catholic Church, the country's dominant religious institution, and the colonial powers. To both the political and religious rulers of Spain, it was important that the Philippine Islands, named after the absolute monarch Philip II (1556-1598), be colonized and evangelized at the same time. The Spanish missionaries and friars blessed and legitimized the colonial enterprise. In turn, the colonial Church gained from the Spanish crown martial protection, support for its missionary efforts, resources for constructing churches, control over colonial education, and large estates from which much wealth was derived.

Add new comment