06 April 2015

Surveys and the Poor-Blaming Syndrome in Philippine Elections

Reflection on the commentary "Similar dream, different lives" 
by Joel Ruiz Butuyan at Inquirer.net 

Joel Ruiz Butuyan offers an interesting commentary on the rich-poor divide in Philippine voting preference.

However, let's remember the facts, lest we gloss over the particularities of the Philippine electoral puzzle and uncritically join the prevailing “poor-blaming” syndrome sentiments and arguments from opinionated citizens, especially coming from so-called “netizens.”

In the recent Pulse Asia polls, note that Jojo Binay is not only the choice of the poor (classes D and E) for president in 2016, but he is also the leading choice of the upper and middle classes ABC in the national capital region, in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. The question is why this is so. There's, of course, no single explanation for this since political and electoral issues are complex and convoluted.

If we looked into the electoral successes of Cory Aquino (which is actually an exception), Fidel Ramos, Erap Estrada, Gloria Arroyo, and Noynoy Aquino III, we could not really determine a single, unifying pattern that explains their respective victories since each has her/own specific electoral histories that cannot be reduced to mere “blame-the-poor” explanation. Besides, all these presidents were popularly elected across classes — particularly the funding and strategic campaign support from ABC, and the considerable votes and active street campaigning from DE.

What remain constant, however, in the Philippine context are:

  • [a] “money politics” (i.e., the use of and need for “money” to make electoral decisions and in winning elections); and
  • [b] “political dynasty” (in particular, the “resources” that political families have amassed over time and their “name-recall” advantage).

“Cheating” was considered an explanatory factor in the victories of Ramos and Arroyo. “Wealth” did not beat Ramos and Aquino III (cf. Danding Cojuangco and Manny Villar). “Popularity” did not beat Ramos and Arroyo (cf. Miriam Defensor Santiago and Fernando Poe). And, “machinery” did not beat Aquino, Ramos, Estrada, and Aquino III (cf. Ferdinand Marcos, Ramon Mitra, Jose de Venecia, and Gilbert Teodoro).

Yet, and because of the foregoing, we need to go deeper and beyond the simplistic rich-poor, or poor-nonpoor, binary class analysis which is already becoming trite, and insufficient in the argument to support the cause for political education and electoral reforms.

A different survey question than what we have become accustomed to can be useful to help contribute to an explanation of the current Binay puzzle and most importantly to understanding and raising people’s political consciousness. This will be a kind of survey that asks the qualities of candidates (i.e., the character, competencies, principles, and priority programs) and critical issues, rather than the names of candidates, that voters prefer.

If I had my way, and if we lived in ideal conditions, I'd prefer having this kind of surveys which will also prove helpful to our socio-political reform and nation-building processes. It will be like horse-racing ("karera ng kabayo") where competing horses do not know who is "llamado" and "dehado" in the bets so the horses just run and perform their best in the race.

Time and again, we know who benefits most, who the clients are, and whose interests personality-based surveys serve in the context of Philippine politics, specifically: the politicians themselves, political parties, political strategists, political funders, political investors, and religious blocs who are “llamadistas” or “siguristas”. But then the business of personality-based surveys is an institutionalized fixture of Philippine realpolitik and deeply ingrained on Filipino political culture.

Source: GMANews TV
Anyhow, the political-electoral problematique at this time is: Why, despite politically-deadly corruption charges and media campaigns against him and his family, Filipino voters still prefer Binay?  One explanation could be that we are doomed to choose in a bad list, namely: the allegedly corrupt Jojo Binay, the political neophyte Grace Poe, the convicted plunderer Erap Estrada, the accused human rights violator Rody Duterte, the political has-been Miriam Defensor Santiago, the trying-hard Mar Roxas, the dictator’s son Bongbong Marcos, or the Senaterror/ist Alan Peter Cayetano.

But there may also be something left unsaid in understanding Filipino voting preference emerging after decades of frustration in the post-Marcos, restoration-of-elite-democracy era. What intrigues me most as a student of “democratization processes and the political economy of development is whether Filipinos now have a different perspective and sensibility towards issues of “human rights” and “corruption”.

Filipino voters nowadays seem not to be interested in human rights despite the country’s dark history of dictatorship and its enduring features in the society.

But how about corruption? Do Filipinos now consider corruption as highly contextualized and culturally defined” — which is a perspective unpopular with the Good Governance” framework of multilateral organisations such as the World Bank, the OECD, and regional development banks, but well argued to be integral to the economic development history of the now-rich countries in the last 500 years from England and continental Europe to the US and East Asia recently? That it’s ok for elected state leaders to do some corruption (including the commissions, bribery, and rent-seeking that come with it) so long as they do something for infrastructure development and social welfare?

Would a Binay election be considered a failure of Aquino III’s “good governance” reform agenda? Or, will Binay be the greatest beneficiary of Aquino III’s “good governance” reform agenda?

The answer, I believe, lies on the extent of the Filipinos’ learning from history and the socio-economy we want for the future.

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