Monday, October 22, 2007

The "balato" mentality

(This is my column today)

Someone finally won the pot money of P2 million at last Saturday’s episode of “One versus One Hundred.” In case you have been living under a rock, One versus One Hundred is ABS-CBN’s latest game show. It pits a contestant (so far, all celebrities) against a “mob” of 100.

I caught the tail end of the show last Saturday while surfing television channels and got glued to the show because of two things.

First, because it is always interesting to watch someone win in a game show where millions are at stake. The penultimate question (the location of the Philippines in relation to the equator) was, at least as far as I am concerned, a giveaway. When the contestant keyed in his answer, I knew he was going to win. As we all know, our TV stations have this habit of milking every ounce of drama it could every single time someone wins a major prize in their game shows.

The second reason I was glued to the television set was because of the reaction of the 100 kids that comprised last Saturday’s “mob.” When the contestant won, the kids began chanting “Ba-la-to!” The chanting, which lasted all throughout the last few minutes of the show, almost drowned out the chatter between the host (Edu Manzano) and the winner.

What made the incident even more disturbing was that the kids on that episode of the show were supposedly comprised of some of the “brightest” hope of this country—some were scholars, young chess masters, etc.

I am sure that there are people out there who will insist that there is nothing unusual about asking for “balato” probably insisting on the literal meaning of the word, which is “a share of the winnings.” I am neither a sociologist nor an anthropologist, so I will not attempt a discourse on the many permutations of the concept.

However, I don’t think people can deny that balato does have negative implications. Very often, a balato can refer to a share of the booty, of the take on something illegal. Many people use the concept interchangeably with the word “commission” the other word that has acquired a negative connotation as well. We may recall that the whole stink around the national broadband network deal started off with allegations of bribery, euphemistically called “commission.”

Kids demanding balato on public television as if it is the most natural thing in the world is a deeply disturbing sight. Need we ask where they got the idea that asking for a share of the loot is a normal thing?

***

Speaker Jose de Venecia says he now wants to spend the last years of his life building his legacy to the Filipino people.

All throughout his various TV appearances last week, he kept on referring to a letter that he said he had been writing in the last few days. On Manolo Quezon’s “The Explainer” on ANC, he brandished a one-page draft. That was Tuesday. A few days later, that letter had grown to four pages. It’s a letter that he says he wants to personally hand over to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo this week.

It remains to be seen what exactly that letter contains, but based on De Venecia’s pronouncements on television, it would focus on the imperative of addressing the widespread corruption in government today. It’s a letter that supposedly contains an aging man’s dreams and aspirations for his country.

The speaker is 70 years old. He is the longest-serving speaker of the House of Representatives. He could have been president of this country had it not been for the fact that someone more popular and more in touch with the common man was also running for the post in that particular election. He lost to Joseph Estrada, the actor. His running mate, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, however, won the vice presidency. Estrada would eventually get booted out of office, tried, and convicted for plunder. And as fate would have it, De Venecia’s running mate became President.

For quite sometime, De Venecia’s political fortunes were in limbo. But he eventually bounced back from the pits and reclaimed his seat as speaker of the House of Representatives, proof of the man’s resilience and tenacity as a political animal.

This is a man who has fought many battles; a man who speaks with the wisdom of not only the aged, but of someone who has been a constant fixture in the political scene in the last four or five decades.

In another time and place, when someone of De Venecia’s stature and experience speaks of moral regeneration and of the urgency of reclaiming the country’s pride and honor, we should be compelled to sit up and listen.

Sadly, this does not seem to be the case today. It has become difficult to empathize with the man. Not only because in all his TV appearances last week the speaker came across as a forlorn figure, of someone betrayed and on the brink of defeat. There was no fire in his eyes and his rhetoric lacked conviction.

This is sad because what De Venecia is saying is true. This country needs moral regeneration. But corruption has not only become systemic and widespread, brazen and so unspeakably scandalous. We also know theoretical solutions and intellectual discussions won’t be enough. What we need are drastic and more effective courses of action.

It is difficult to empathize with De Venecia and his cause because despite the grand pronouncements, it is clear that the man is simply fighting for political survival.

This is evident in the way De Venecia continues to hem and haw about where his political loyalties now reside. Despite thinly veiled threats about possible courses of actions that he might take if the current dispensation continues to marginalize him, we know that his main motivation is self-preservation. He wants to retire as speaker and this is only possible if he plays his cards right. It’s a political zarzuela.

De Venecia is saying all the right things but unfortunately fails to buttress his rhetoric with the necessary actions indicative of moral courage. Thus, we can be forgiven for not trusting him at this point.

1 comment:

Mindanao Bob said...

Very interesting article! I am a foreigner who lives here in the Philippines (Davao). Several years ago, I asked a salesperson if she works on a commission basis, as this is very common where I come from. I wanted to be sure to buy from her if I decided to buy, because she had been very helpful to me.

I wonder why a commission arrangement is considered bad or unethical here in the Philippines? In my culture, it is very normal, and simply rewards the sales person for his or her hard work in making the sale.

Thank you for writing this, I found it interesting!