Personalities versus Politics

The Philippine elections seems to be about personalities all the time. But this is not politics, it is showbiz. What does politics really mean according to Wikipedia:

Politics (from Greek: πολιτικός politikos, definition “of, for, or relating to citizens”) is the practice and theory of influencing other people. Politics involves the making of a common decision for a group of people, that is, a uniform decision applying in the same way to all members of the group. It also involves the use of power by one person to affect the behavior of another person. More narrowly, it refers to achieving and exercising positions of governance — organized control over a human community, particularly a state. Furthermore, politics is the study or practice of the distribution of power and resources within a given community (a usually hierarchically organized population) as well as the interrelationship(s) between communities.

THES-Agora odeum overview

Agora of Thessaloniki

OK, let us look at the different definitions of politics, so that we can have a clearer view:

  1. Influencing other people and using power to affect their behavior
  2. Achieving and exercising positions of control over people
  3. Making a common decision for a group of people

So what is the whole election circus really about at the moment?

  • Politicians like Escudero and Duterte are good at 1)
  • Most people want to choose who will have 2)
  • Very few are looking at 3) for the country

But 3) is the most important, because politikos used to mean “related to citizens” – or the country.

Polis meant city in Greek, and politics was discussed in agoras like the one in Thessaloniki. Now the Greeks of today are loud and passionate like Filipinos, and maybe even more chaotic, it must have been loud there as well before. Today’s social media are the agora of Filipino politics.  Sometimes they even voted on exiling certain people for 10 years or so for causing trouble, the so-called ostracism. Sometimes I wish there were such a thing in the Philippines, for people like Chiz Escudero. Occasionally they voted for a tyrannis, a temporary dictatorship to fix things for a while when democracy did not work. Often tyrants were the ones who were ostracized after ruling the polis for some years.

But back to the topics that could be important for a country as a whole, so that we can dissect the matters at hand, like cooler Northern people do:

  • peace and order (police and justice)
  • opportunities (economic and educational)
  • citizen services (local and nationwide)
  • infrastructure (all kinds)
  • good governance (corruption-free and efficient)
  • economic development (investments and promotion)
  • international relations (trade and diplomacy)
  • national security (defense and disasters)

I have listed disaster preparedness as a part of national security, because calamities in the country are common and have devastating effects.

Mt. Mayon and Legazpi City, Philippines

Legazpi City, Albay

Now if one looks at the present government, there seem to be some successes, and some failures. Successes first:

  1. Peace and order: CCTV, Oplan Lambat-Sibat, PNP modernization
  2. Opportunities: CCT and Pantawid Pamilya, Negosyo Centers, K-12
  3. Citizen services: government webpage for complaints and hotline
  4. Infrastructure: roads and ports built, mainly via PPP
  5. Good governance: the Ombudsman is acting, LGPMS for LGUs
  6. Economic development: more trust in the country by investors, BPO
  7. International relations: APEC, ASEAN, ITLOS filing, Vietnam alliance, trust
  8. National security: AFP equipment (planes), Project NOAH, Oplan Listo for LGUs

Of course there are negatives, so let us have a look at them, and some I will ask as questions to see what might be missing:

  1. Peace and order: drug problems, kidnappings, lawlessness in some areas (Lumad killings, NPAs, death squads).
  2. Opportunities: slum areas are still huge especially in Metro Manila, also causing all the crime problems.
  3. Citizen services: how reachable the government appears to the people, and how responsive, seems to vary.
  4. Infrastructure: the Internet is very slow, Manila is overcrowded and has heavy traffic, what else could be missing?
  5. Good governance: where is the Ombudsman not yet doing enough, and which LGUs are not following LGPMS?
  6. Economic development: which areas are not yet benefitting enough from growth? Mindanao seems to.
  7. International relations: I don’t see any problems here, why should one talk to China at this point?
  8. National security: Current BBL has great risks and needs changes I think, cybersecurity must be addressed.

Whether one sees the present government as more or less successful or even as a failure depends on perspective and how one gives points for the good and bad things.

Helmut Kohl 1994

Helmut Kohl 1994

Now if I were living in the Philippines, I would ask myself the following:

A. How do I evaluate the performance of the present government in Points 1-8. Based on good and bad what are the final scores, and what is the average?

B. What things should stay the way they are, what should be improved a bit, and what should be completely changed compared to today?

C. Look at the candidates and see what they are planning to do, check their programs and see which matches my idea best – then vote that candidate.

Of course it is easy for me. I learned to vote like this in Germany, where most candidates are really boring, especially when I was new here I hated that. During the time of Chancellor Helmut Kohl and President Roman Herzog, one columist wrote something like this: do not expect too much passion in a country run by big fat men wearing glasses. Well, after him came the “media chancellor” Gerhard Schröder. I voted for him too because I found him cool, thinking why should I vote for “the elephant”? Gerhard Schröder cut taxes for my income group and I was happy. But raised taxes in all kinds of places so everything became more expensive in the end. Nice, I had more money in my pocket, but could buy less with it than before. And more things…

I didn’t vote at all in 2005, when boring Angela Merkel won against “Gerd”. Merkel once shot down her former mentor Helmut Kohl in the Christian Democratic Union. Now Kohl as the leader of the CDU was a political player in the same league as Franklin Drilon, inspite of his appearance. But he underestimated “Das Mädchen” (the girl) from East Germany, a Chemistry Ph.D. who used to have very bad haircuts. Everybody underestimated “Angie”.

Enough of people for now. Back to politics. How do you evaluate the present government based on criteria like above, and what changes/improvements do you expect? I don’t see one single newspaper in the Philippines that has truly analyzed this. Nor do I see a summary like this from any single candidate.

Irineo B. R. Salazar, München, 9. December 2015



2 thoughts on “Personalities versus Politics

  1. Irineo, this is a revisiting of your article. I find it contains re-freshing nuggets just like the previous visit.

    Also, I have made my first real visit to the Bicol region, Legazpi & a northern town of Sorsogon (the geothermal energy power site of PNOC). Mayon is a definitive sight to behold and the mandatory visit to Our Lady of Penafrancia was most satisfying. The Catholicity of the region is most palpable and fitting. I found personal satisfaction knowing the patron saint of the archdiocesan seat is St Gregory the Great, the first Benedictine pope. (I am a spiritual son of the Benedictines)

    We have completed the first year of PDu30’s term with devastating results, sorry to say. Still, there remains a positive takeaway – we can vet our politics with sharp but painful focus.

    • Thanks – I have taken the idea of vetting Philippine politics sharply and painfully in the present article.

      In fact the true forge of character is always adversity, so the question is whether more characters like Trillanes and Hontiveros will arise out of this situation, just like Magsaysay arose out of the crucible of WW2? Only time will tell the answer.

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