Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Tragedy of the Pinoy Middle-Class

While most media outlets chose to highlight Pulse Asia's findings showing that 3 out of 10 Filipinos would choose to migrate abroad, I would like to discuss their other major finding showing that 82% of Filipinos acknowledge oligarchic hegemony in Philippine politics. In their latest July 2006 survey, Pulse Asia found that 41% of those surveyed say that the Philippines is controlled by a powerful few and ordinary citizens cannot do anything about this situation. They also found that "an equal number of people (41%) is unable to agree or disagree with this view and vacillates regarding the existence of oligarchic rule. Belief that a powerful few runs the country is strongest in Metro Manila (55%) and weakest in the Visayas (35%). Levels of public indecision, on the other hand, are generally constant across the country’s geographic areas and socioeconomic classes. The rest of the nation – a rather small proportion at 17% -- disagree that the country is controlled by a powerful few."

This fact that the Philippines is being ruled by the "well-born" is already old news to most Filipinos, although most may not have a concrete idea why this is so. So allow me, as someone who experienced up close the inner workings and internal dynamics in our political parties, amplify on this "oligarchy rule" phenomenon.

Under the current Philippine political set-up, a person with no "political pedigree" and resources (like me for example) has no chance of getting elected in Congress. Just to run for Congress, one needs to personally raise at least P15 million for his "warchest." And P15 million is just the bare minimum. It still would not ensure a congressional aspirant a convincing electoral victory. Running for public office therefore, remains a rich man's world. It always has been and it looks like it will always be that way.

Descendants of prominent politicians have a built-in advantage because of the "goodwill" their ancestors have built for them and in terms of name-recall. Which is I guess par for the course: a good lawyer or doctor would be leaving a large number of satisfied "customers" whom a son or daughter who decide to take up law or medicine can inherit later on. But Filipinos are different because they are easily awed by a familiar political name. People nowadays do not really examine a politician's credentials or listen to their platforms and policy advocacies. Speeches are dismissed as empty rhetoric and candidates can make a better crowd impression by dancing or singing on stage (Pinoys, being a musical people, put a high premium on a good singing voice). Nor are people impressed by academic credentials and sophistry anymore. Nowadays, in order to generate "goodwill" and make people take you seriously, one has to spend money on projects (medical missions, goodies and dole outs) and/or PR.

So what can a politically ambitious young man without a "political family name," financial resources and network do to become a congressman? The easiest route, if one has the looks, talent and brains, is to become a celebrity: a movie star or a newscaster. One can also join Akbayan or Bayan Muna or any of the party list groups. But not everyone is blessed with good looks, a deep TV/radio voice or a nice singing voice. Also, joining the Akbayan or Bayan Muna is problematic because they pretty much have an established seniority list and besides, one would have at least been jailed by Marcos to become a senior party member.

The usual route taken by persons harboring political ambitions is to join the "mainstream" political parties like LAKAS, NPC, LDP or the Liberal Party and become an active and loyal party member. By campaigning and making oneself "available" during elections, a person can earn "pogi" points with party elders. If the party candidate wins, one can get appointed to a government post that one can use as a "platform" for his own media projection and "fund-raising" activities. Of course, since government positions are limited, not all campaign workers can be granted a post. And it should be pointed out that government appointments are not just handed out to anybody like candy: one has to do something "extraordinary" to get noticed by a politician enough to merit a lucrative government posting. Most of the time, party operatives are largely left to themselves after elections, to be "reactivated" one year before elections. In the interim, party members find work elsewhere as private sector employees, small-time businessmen, or worse as influence-peddlers.

In other countries, a loyal party man can rise through the ranks and eventually get nominated to a party seat in Congress if he plays his cards right. In our country, one has to get elected congressman FIRST before he can become a high-ranking party official and not the other way around. Under the current Philippine party set-up, the chances of someone without pedigree and money getting nominated to Congress is practically nil. I have yet to hear of a loyal, long-serving party man or a simple political officer who was funded and supported by a party to Congress. The only political operatives I know who have managed to get themselves elected were the children of politicians themselves and their election is more because of their family’s resources than their party’s backing.

Of course, many poor but talented individuals get elected as councilors and even as provincial board members. Some exceptionally talented ones even get elected as mayors and governors. But by far, becoming a mayor or governor is very difficult for Filipinos with no money and pedigree and those who do succeed are more the exception than the rule.

Some Charter Change advocates have used this as an argument in changing our form of government from presidential to parliamentary. They argue that under the parliamentary system, ordinary citizens will have a greater chance of rising in the system. Political parties will also have a bigger chance of becoming “professionalized.” Under this system, talented party members who have no political pedigree or financial resources would supposedly have a better chance of landing a government post because it is the party who will choose and shoulder their campaign expenses.

The current political system in the Philippines is not only oligarchic but has also become incestuous, what with the well-born marrying into each other (read the book "The Ties That Bind"). The Filipino middle-class, whom people look up to to provide reform-oriented leadership and "new blood," has become silent and inward-looking. Many choose not to become directly involved in politics, choosing to fund a scholarship foundation here, a feeding program there, and so on. Of course, there are many gifted and qualified middle-class professionals out there who would love to become Congressmen. But the problem is that they neither have the money (or if they do, they would rather spend their hard-earned money on themselves) nor the inclination for the rough-and-tumble of politics. In fact, just the thought of singing and dancing for complete strangers puts them off. The irony of it all is that the political elite never seems to have qualms about "humiliating" themselves in front of the public. As my friend who is a mayor once said, "it is easy for these sosyal, civil-society types to bitch about what is wrong in our country but they themselves do not have the guts to put their names on a ballot."

The sad thing about the Filipino middle-class is that they know very well what is wrong and what should be done to correct the ills of our country but they choose to withdraw in their enclaves or migrate to Sydney, New Jersey or Toronto. This, to me, is the tragedy of the Pinoy middle class (to borrow a line from the movie "Havana").


king said...

Beautiful blog, Oliver... full of pinpoint insight into our terrible predicament. But the most troubling implication is the fading hope among the middle class for opportunities for economic advancement and a better quality of life, leading to widespread indifference and isolation from the political process. However, using the system, warts and all, celebrities and other influential people with no political leanings could launch and sustain a crusade for reform,as in the promising movement of gawad kalinga, to inject and hopefully effect major changes to the collective psyche fo the filipino. I see in it a genuine hope for the majority of our people because it brings together people of all social, economic and religous persuasions to rebuild communities in all its aspects. They are lighting thousands of candles rather than cursing the darkness. When you can find the right time, please devote a blog to it? thanks.

Anonymous said...

All the stuff that you have presented are already well known to most people.Some people would look at it as opportunity for a change.Some people like you would look at it as a hopeless case.The latter one is a defeatist thinking.It will not solve the ills of this country of ours if we think that way.True, we have a patronage politics which is inherent to a democratic state.Any Democratic country have some form of "patronage politics" only that in the Philippines our politicians had perfected the craft and to some extent the people allowed it.Filipinos have short memories and three centuries under the Spaniards made them subservient to their masters.However, in the advent of technology and the free press, we witnessed some change in the political landscape, not only that actors and actress got a fighting chance but also newscasters and media people.This is an improvement, plus as you say people under the party list system.There's just a frustration to these party list people, they think that we are still under Marcos and keeps on blaming the unseen forces.Conspiracy theorist I call them.They just keeps on complaining and don't really present a viable solution to the problems.I do pin my hope on younger politicians who are also scions of old name polticos, some of them are brilliant, highly educated and probably can understand the problems of this country better than anybody else, they may able to effect some change in the short term.I also think that technology, and free press would ultimately shape the thinking of Filipinos, as older generations are being replaced by younger people. New generation which can have information on demand, they will not be totally ignorant and probably have more guts than their parents to stand up for what is right and good for the country .This country needs technocrats who can identify the real problem and provide a workable solution to it.Since you are blogging on this topic, I would like to ask you, What do you think is the real problem of our country? The question may sound silly but I would like to think that it's not.

kwin said...


Ilonggos are fond of interfering the affairs of "Manila Politics" wherein they cannot even police or have their own.

Why not ask the "Ilonggo Nation" first of whose nation they belong to,Negros or Panay?
Negrense or PanayeƱo?

I hate to see someday that Palawan also belongs to Ilonggo Nation.
There must be a reason why Palawan is not included anymore in this blog space.
There is a difference between Ilonggo from Guimaras and Ilonggo from Negros Oriental?
What if Jordanian(Guimarasnon) prefer to be called Himalusnon?Am sure there are Ilonggo people too in those two province.
People of this ilonggo nation cannot even know the distinction between Panay politics and the Negrense politics.
And I believe most people from Aklan,Antique,Capiz and even Iloilo are not buying to this kind of idea.

BACOLOD ILONGGO is the most appropriate term.
I think the proponent of Ilonggo Nationhood main agenda is the perpetuation of ELITE POLITICS in the area particulary in Bacolod!


One Pinoy seaman I talked too and said: 'Kapag nagsamasama daw ang mga Ilonggo sa iisang barko, siguradong lulubog'

It's not Ilonggo Nation, it should be GREATER BACOLOD!

It would be nice for them if they could start the "plebiscitory democracy"

Iloilo City Boy said...

Thank you for your comments. It is not my intention, as you say, to sound "defeatist." Far from it, I wanted people to think hard why we are in this situation wherein the same family names get elected and hold the reins of power.

As regards the question of what should be done, I really have no idea honestly. But what is clear to me is that the Filipino middle class must step in and get actively involved in politics. And I mean not just engage in civic-political work but really run for office..

vic said...

In order not just for a "middle class", but all subjects to actively participate in Political Life of the country, there is a need to "reform" the Electoral System, starting from defining clearly the Source and Limitation for Electoral financing and also the Limits for Electoral expense. I have lately posted a few subjects on this issue on Postigo Luna pages "Comelec Ako" on how anyone of legal age of 18 can run for any political position in the country without even have to find a gainful employment first.

here is Comelec Ako URL

mong said...

yung iba naman natatakot sumali sa bayan muna dahil pinapatay ang mga coordinators nila sa iba't ibang bahagi ng bansa...