Thursday, November 23, 2006


The following was my column yesterday at the op-ed section of the Manila Standard Today. So sorry for the late post. Will make an update on my condition in another post.

Many people, including this writer, could not believe last Monday’s verdict on “Philippine Idol.” For those not in the know, the local franchise of the international singing contest had been down to its last five contestants during the weekend. Last Monday, it was down to four.
Pow Chavez, one of the better singers in the contest, was eliminated because she received the least number of text votes. The results came as a major surprise because Pow was widely expected to be in the top two—in fact, the early buzz was that she was definitely a shoo-in for the Philippine Idol title.

If we are to go by the performances in the last four weeks, Miguel, the youngest contestant at 17, should have been the most likely candidate for elimination. However, it appears that he has a wider and more solid support base. If we are to believe the scuttlebutt among blogs in the Internet, he has the support of the populace of the upscale suburbs in southern Manila where he resides. Being the youngest contestant and having good looks to boot, it is perceived that he also has the votes of the younger generation locked up. If this is true, then his chances of getting into the top two slots are really high, never mind the fact that he is having major problems hitting the right notes.

It would be truly tragic if he wins the title. Not that he does not have talent—the judges in Philippine Idol have been reiterating that entry into the top 10 already validates the presence of talent. It would be tragic because the other candidates are just so much more talented and much better performers than he is. Lest we forget, Philippine Idol is first of all a singing contest.
So how is it possible for someone with the least talent to outstay the better performers in a competition? Are we really such poor judges of talent that we seem to be voting for the wrong candidates—even in singing contests? It is easy to dismiss what is going on in Philippine Idol as just another quirk of the times we live in. But I think that it is actually symptomatic of the state of our democracy. This is the Philippines, and this is our version of democracy. It’s a system built on certain myths.

The first myth is that the playing field is level—that everyone has equal chances of winning. Unfortunately, that is an illusion. In our country, economic power is absolute power and he who has more money, or at least the support of the people with money, wins hands down. To win popularity contests such as elections and yes, Philippine Idol, it is not enough that one has the talent or the qualification or the willingness and determination. One has to have the resources as well.

And so, we have a sorry situation where certain people run away with titles and the positions mainly because they have more resources than their competitors do. So yes, I believe that despite the dismal performance of its candidates in the surveys for the 2007 elections, the Arroyo administration might still be able to pull off an upset if it is able to muster enough resources (do not ask me where they will most likely get the money, your guess is as good as mine). It is an appalling thought, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles in our so-called democracy.

It is not about who is more qualified, it is about who has more money to spend. Forget about winning popularity contests or elective posts if you do not have the resources. Mau and Gian may be the better performers among the remaining four contestants of Philippine Idol, but their talent is not enough guarantee that they will get into the finals.

And then there is this myth that Filipinos have reached a certain level of maturity to enable them to make the right choices based on objective facts rather than subjective considerations. This is wishful thinking. The truth is, many among us use very subjective measures when choosing leaders, or the people we vote for in elections or in contests. We seem to base our choices mainly on personal reasons (i.e., because we are related to the person, or because we went to the same school, or simply because we like the person) and then justify later on with facts that we bend and twist to suit our respective positions.

I have an officemate who concedes that Jan (the last of the four remaining contestants) is inferior to Gian in the singing department. But he votes for Jan every weekend because—hold your breath—Jan is better looking. Snicker if you must, but apparently many people put premium on looks than on other more relevant considerations, even if it is not a beauty contest to begin with. No wonder celebrities with nothing else between their ears other than a pretty face dominate local politics.

It didn’t help of course that one of the judges of the show, the very incoherent and inarticulate Francis Magalona, actually commented that “singing techniques can be easily learned, but a handsome face can’t be easily acquired.” Oh well, too bad wisdom and insight don’t go with popularity.

By the looks of it, we don’t listen to our experts as well—and there goes the myth that we model our choices and our decisions based on the advise of the people we hold in high esteem. No wonder we are in deep trouble as a nation; it seems that no one heeds the advise of the people who are supposed to know better. I empathize with the judges of Philippine Idol. It must be really frustrating to render critical analysis on someone’s performance only to find out that the audience just does not give a damn. They do not really base their votes on the supposed expert opinions. So perhaps Ryan Cayabyab is right, it doesn’t really matter what they say anyway.

We Filipinos are renowned for our singing prowess. We say that we are second to none in terms of musical abilities. It really is too bad that we’re not too good at choosing and fighting for principle.


patty said...

who knew Philippine Idol was a microcosm of Philippine society? Insightful entry, I love it. Does this mean it's either Jan or Miguel who'll emerge as the victor? I really hope that's not the case.

gerome! said...

I agree with you. Parang nagiging popularity contest na rin ang elections.