I was at the wedding of a relative recently where a number of politicians were in attendance. Not only were the politicians and their significant others more gregarious than usual, hopping from one table to the next greeting everyone as if they were long lost bosom friends, they were also quite spiffily dressed as if they wanted to stand out and be noticed even from a distance.
I had to ask the bride how they were able to get the politicians to stand as sponsors and to attend the event. She snickered and told me that the politicians practically volunteered. A common friend who was eavesdropping on our conversation therefore concluded that the best time to get married is definitely before a major elections as that would ensure better attendance and more generous ninongs and ninangs, assuming of course that one has no issues about sharing the limelight on one’s wedding day with politicians who, as expected, use the opportunity to campaign, either subtly or not-too-subtly.
I was thrown off the wall when one of the sponsors, a congressman whom I barely knew—he and I were student leaders when we were in college, but he was from another university and we only knew each other only by name— acknowledged me as one of his “best friends” in college during his speech. Imagine further my chagrin when during the photo op sessions with the guests (he hopped from table to table) he told me in front of everyone else that we should “go out one of these days to catch up” as if painting the town red together was something we used to do on a regular basis together.
What amazed me, though, was that he did all these in a very natural way, which made me wonder which one of us was suffering from selective amnesia. But let’s make no mistake about this—that was a quick way to endear himself to my relatives on that occasion. If I were an insecure person who puts premium on being associated with big names, he probably would have gotten my support too. Unfortunately, I am a registered voter in Manila so I am not his constituent.
There are many variations of this story. We have seen pictures of politicians kissing babies, shedding well-timed copious tears while listening to some sob story of a constituent, dancing awkwardly to some tribal beat, singing off-tune in public affairs—in short, making utter fools of themselves in public.
I was at the town fiesta of Noveleta, Cavite the other week where a number of politicians were in attendance. Metro Manila Development Authority Chairman Bayani Fernando was there, of course. A barangay chairperson whom I chatted up shared that Fernando met up with them to solicit their support for his presidential bid. He was his charming, gracious self and even displayed his vocal pipes at the affair. Even actor Jolo Revilla (son of Senator Bong Revilla) was all over the place bravely enduring what I thought was extreme sacrifice—being mobbed, hugged and smothered by kisses—by sweaty street dancing participants. Obviously, the poor bloke is gunning for a seat in Cavite politics.
Indeed, the things politicians have to do and become to win votes in this country. They have to woo voters in various ways—spending lots of money in the process and even putting themselves in embarrassing situations. Of course we are aware that a number of politicians resort to buying votes and paying operators to rig election results.
We like to take potshots of politicians and their campaign antics conveniently forgetting that the reason they do these things is that these are what seem to work in this country.
Most people don’t want to listen to a politician give a speech on the state of the economy and what he or she intends to do about it, they’d much rather see him gyrate and contort his body onstage to the tune of “Igiling,” preferably with a half-naked Sexbomb dancer as partner. Even at the forum held at the Ateneo the other night featuring five presidential hopefuls, they couldn’t help asking questions more designed to tickle and entertain the audience. The politicians were just too happy to oblige, of course.
We rile against corruption committed by politicians and accuse them of large-scale larceny and conveniently forget that many among us invite these people to stand as sponsors in baptism and weddings of our relatives, or ask them to bankroll certain community projects. We expect our politicians to be generous when it comes to money although most of us know that they don’t really make that much in terms of salaries.
A relative who used to be a congressman shared with me that when he was in office, he had to stand as sponsor in at least three weddings every weekend; sometimes the number would shoot up to as many as five weddings a day during June and December and in each one, he was expected to give at least P5,000 in cash as gift. And then there would be the scores of people who would come asking for support for all kinds of projects and begging for financial aid for all kinds of personal woes—from medical emergencies to burial assistance.
What I am driving at is something that I’ve been ranting about since I started writing my Web log and this column: We —you and I—are a large part of the problem. It’s just more convenient to blame someone else and politicians (and yes, government) seem the more convenient target. Our politicians do the song-and-dance routines because that is also what most of us are willing to settle for—entertainment rather than substance.
It is on this note that I therefore acknowledge the various movements that have been launched recently to educate and spur various components of the Philippine population to get involved in the 2010 elections. Three such movements that were launched one after the other day recently were the Ako Mismo, ABS-CBN’s Boto Mo iPatrol Mo Ako ang Simula, and the campaign to get more people to register, in particular the youth.
The three movements are using creative ways to get people to realize that electing leaders is not a trivial matter despite the carnival atmosphere associated with it. Elections are not just about electing people into positions it is about electing the right people for the right jobs. I still have to get more details about the specifics of each of these movements but based on what I have gathered so far, they are anchored on the premise that change begins with each one of us—not with the politicians, that each one of us is responsible for this country, and that it is time for each citizen to share in the task of making elections work. In short, it is time to share the blame and the responsibility. I will write about these movements once some details are clearer.
My main beef is that I foresee more movements sprouting like wild mushrooms in the next few weeks and months. As usual, getting everyone to unite around one advocacy is proving to be difficult particularly when business and other interests get into the picture. For example, I foresee that GMA-7 will come up with its own movement in response to the ABS-CBN movement. Let’s hope the old adage “the more the merrier” works in this particular case.