Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes

Who do we choose?

Posted on May 06, 2013 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated May 5, 2013 – 12:00am

A lot more people seem to be taking the current elections more seriously compared to the last senatorial race. They read a lot more about the candidates and listen to what they are saying. They look at track records. They follow the debates and diligently analyze survey results. They look at the political parties as well. They react to political ads, not just in terms of the messaging but also the amount of money they perceive the candidates are spending to win voters over.

Election fever is here. The voters are speaking out about their preferences through social media. Many netizens are volunteering personal information on the candidates themselves based on their personal encounters with them. And they share them online.

Allow me to share the little that I know of politicians. I have encountered quite a few. I find it easy to get into their psyche, perhaps because I have experienced being some sort of a public figure myself. There are indeed many similarities we share.

Like showbiz folks, politicians come in all shades and sizes. Politicians and entertainers, or any public figure for the matter, know they have to be “on,” especially if they are within hearing or seeing distance of the media and the public. You can’t get cranky or haughty in public. Word gets around. By “on,” I mean they have to be actively projecting their good sides, their appealing personas, virtues, good looks (when applicable), reputations and opinions to the public.

Politicians, generally speaking, have massive egos, and wish nothing more than to play this out on the national scene. In the process, our lives as citizens are affected for better or worse. A lot of them will do mostly anything for self-aggrandizement.

As public persons, they want to make sure they look good in the eyes of their constituents all the time, if they can help it. Especially during elections, they like to put their best foot forward. Politicians work hard to appear squeaky clean to the public. No scandals, please. Only positivity, or at least cuteness. They craft their messages to make themselves lovable to the electorate. They like to stand out among the herd. They want to appear attractive, endearing, or at least credible, often in a glossy kind of way. They like to be associated with big stars in the entertainment field hoping that some of the magic will pass on to them. They also like making promises that sound good even if, more often than not, these promises are not realistically possible to achieve within the term they seek.

And what do they get out of it? If they play it well, they get fame, popularity, admiration, name recall and become appealing to the electorate. They can get installed into positions of power and can retain their positions for years.

So far I have been painting a cynical picture of politicians in the way that we already perceive them to be. But to be fair, I also want to talk about the politicians and candidates out there who, even if they appear to do all of the above, actually belong to a higher level above the usual crooks, murderers, land grabbers, cheats and liars that inhabit the world of Philippine politics.

We can agree that not all politicians are low-life cretins. After all, we had Jesse Robredo, Pepe Diokno, to name two. It does not serve us to be hopelessly cynical. We just have to look beyond the circus that is politics to find the good ones.

There are the few good politicians who have served us, and continue to do so. And there are new ones waiting in the wings who also aspire to do real public service.

These are public servants who walk and wade through the mud but are able to traverse the muck-filled landscape without dirtying themselves. They don’t fall into the temptation of corruption, even when so many others easily do. (And among those who fall, it is fair to say that many entered into politics to have a chance to actually dive into the mire of corruption.) These exemplary people serve their terms without any unexplained increase in their material assets or any upscale movement in their living conditions afterward.

These are also the politicians who have always shone concern for the plight of the poor and the country even before they got into power, and more so after being elected. They have been consistent in their beliefs, which were formed from direct experience while doing NGO work. I have met a few of them who have never exchanged their North Stars for the crass glitter of power and money for its own sake.

But do they also have egos? And if they do, what is the difference between them and their cretin-like colleagues?

The answer is, yes, they do have big egos like every public person has. The difference is that their egos seem to operate differently. Theirs are in consonance with the true interests of the greater number of people. They are not just in it for themselves.

They get a great kick when they are able to institute reform and can change their constituents’ lives for the better. They feel validated when they are able to change the way government is run which results in more efficiency and transparency. They also take it to heart when the country is suffering. I have seen some of them get affected personally when tragedies strike. They go out voluntarily to help the needy. I have also seen them risk their careers by taking principled stands when it would have been so much more convenient to just play it safe.

I guess a way to describe their egos would be this: it is an ego so big the whole country and all its collective concerns and dreams fit inside it.

If you have not chosen your candidates, ask around and see how much richer your re-electionists have become since the time they started up to the present. If they can’t explain their wealth in great detail backed up with a yearly SALN report, then chances are they fail the honesty test. I personally draw a strict line on this issue. I will not vote any thief into office.

Also, if you are voting an incumbent, you may want to look at their records and see which issues they supported. Take the RH and the Sin Tax bills as examples. Did they ever explain their votes satisfactorily whether for or against? Or did they succumb to pressure because they feared reprisal from the Church and big business?

Lastly, do you sense a compassionate side in your candidates? Ask yourself whom these candidates are there for. Whose interest are they beholden to? Which interests do they serve? Let us remind ourselves that we are not duty bound to give them jobs and careers.

A lot of voters, I feel, tend to look at their leaders in shallow one-dimensional terms. To them, politicians are either good or bad. The truth is they are just like you and me except that their lives are played out in the open. There are the generally good, decent ones, many more less than decent, and those who are downright scoundrels. Some of them really care and then there are those who just pretend to care.

Many can seduce you easily with their charisma. I found myself participating in a benign and friendly conversation with one such politician. I should have been less friendly since I knew him to be a thief, murderer and a despicable person. But up close, I must admit he had charm enough to temporarily soften me up.

This May 13, many politicians will be asking us to put them into positions of power, and to entrust the future of this nation to them. I’ve looked at each candidate and have asked who I can trust to honestly and conscientiously dispense billions of pesos in pork to those in great need. I have asked which ones have personal dignity to conduct themselves in ways that are respectful of their position and the nation. Who among them are intellectually and morally capable of crafting laws that will serve and improve the lives of the majority of Filipinos? In turn, we must ask who will largely be invisible, absent and will be useless in discussions and debates? Lastly, who among them will largely be the cause of gridlock?

We all need a lot of discernment to vote wisely. I wish us all good luck. May we be deserving enough to vote the best among them.

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