Grassroots & Governance

A recent report from Social Weather Stations reveals that majority of voting age Filipinos say that they do not want to vote for candidates who are corrupt. This probably has the public confused because the list of leading candidates in the public opinion polls includes controversial characters like Jinggoy Estrada, Bong Revilla, Lito Lapid, and Imee Marcos, all of whom have been associated with issues of corruption, with the latter perhaps merely a beneficiary of her father’s well known and proven massive corruption, based on judicial decisions here and abroad.
Meanwhile, incumbents such as Bam Aquino, who so far, has kept his name clean, is trailing below the likely to win 12. Reelectionist JV Ejercito, who seems to take his legislative work seriously and has not been accused of corruption, is trailing behind his half-brother who is out on bail for a case of plunder.
Cognitive dissonance is an interesting description defined in a Google search as ”the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.”
My Jungian psychologist friend says that the Filipino voter is “not conscious.” Perhaps what she means is that we seem to “think” if you can call it that, with our hearts or stomachs, rather than our heads. Candidate Chel Diokno reminds us that the work of legislators is to pass laws, not to sing, dance or clown around. But it is difficult for serious legislators or candidates to get voters’ preference because, since most voters are governed by their subconscious, they tend to favor those who entertain them. We could, he says, be in danger of going down an abyss. Imagine a Senate dominated by comedians and liars. But, as Sarah Duterte says, honesty is not an issue in the election.
Are we over-entertaining our people? Or is it merely cognitive dissonance? How do we deal with this?
Integrity was once a buzzword in assessing politicians’ worthiness. Integrity, or “the state of being whole and undivided” or “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles, moral uprightness,” is no longer raised as an issue.
There is so much going on that challenges the thinking voter. What do we do when a presidential candidate promises to ride a jetski to the Scarborough Shoal and plant the Philippine Flag there? Now that Rodrigo Duterte is the president, his spokesman explains that the candidate was only joking. There is nothing, he says, that we can do about it. This is so shameful, because the Vietnamese and the Taiwanese managed to fend off China’s aggression in the maritime territories claimed by them. And they had not even filed nor won a case in the UN Arbitral Court the way we have.
Our government criticizes a few patriots’ courageous decision to file a complaint at the ICC (International Criminal Court) against Xi Jin Ping for harassing our fishermen and depriving them of a mere subsistence livelihood. After all, this government has already withdrawn our membership in the ICC. Aha, but the ICC complaint was filed two days before the withdrawal. Given the sorry state of our own judicial system all the way to the Supreme Court, can you blame our patriots for going outside the country to get anywhere?
Yesterday, I had a chance to attend a forum here in Cebu called “Klarohay Ta” (Let’s get things clear). Featured speakers were six senatorial candidates (Chel Diokno, Erin Tañada, Samira Gutoc, Florin Hilbay, Neri Colmenares, and labor leader Leonardo de Guzman. The audience was composed mostly of college students. Questions on mainstream issues were raised which each candidate had to answer in two minutes or less. It was refreshing how positively the students responded with enthusiasm to the liberal democrats’ well thought-out responses. They applauded wildly when the candidates reminded the students that the administration candidates refused to join the public discussion of issues because they would be unable to answer the questions with confidence, or else, they were confident that the way to win was to sing and dance. OMG, is this the way we are going?
My intelligent, thinking Kasambahay (household helper) says that, well, if they elect the wrong people, it is the poor who will suffer even more, not the middle class, and certainly not the rich. They will be the victims of their own folly, she says.
Survey experts refer to something they call “prestige bias,” which they have to guard against in framing their questionnaires. Often, when survey respondents think that they are being judged on the basis of their answers, as in school exams, they tend to use the answer that will make them look good. This perhaps explains the conflict between their responses and their expressed choices of candidates in surveys.
Clearly, we need a revolution in education, through the schools and through media. We must emphasize training in critical thinking as a key element in decision-making for our future generations. We have proven that our ability to select the best and the brightest into our leadership is flawed and confused. Perhaps we can more closely move toward cognitive consciousness, clarity and consistency.
Teresa S. Abesamis is a former professor at the Asian Institute of Management and an independent development management consultant.