What’s the patriotic thing to do during elections? The Department of Education’s (DepEd) Catanduanes Schools Superintendent Thelma Bueson had a bright idea. She issued “Guidelines on Patriotism” in June last year urging young people, once they’re able to vote, to vote for anyone else except “actors, actresses and basketball players.” Why? They “do not know their work in Congress because they are not educated for the positions of senator, vice president or president.”
There are several things wrong with Bueson’s “guidelines,” not the least being the incoherence of that paragraph and its emphasis on the negative. If the “actors, actresses and basketball players” who’re the subjects of Ms. Bueson’s qualms are already in Congress, there would be no point in either voting or not voting for them, would there? And is there really such a thing as being “educated for the positions of senator, vice president or president?”
Then there’s the additional fact that the Constitution doesn’t say being an “actor” (which, for Ms. Bueson’s instruction, is the accepted, gender-sensitive term for both men and women in acting) or a basketball player is a disqualification from public office. The “guidelines” actually mis-educate future voters on the contents of the Constitution.
But the more fundamental question is, having made up their minds not to vote for actors and basketball players, who then should the patriotic young man or woman finally armed with the right to suffrage vote for? Lawyers? TV news readers? Former generals? Housewives with a finishing school education? PhDs from the University of the Philippines School of Economics?
DepEd Division Superintendents with strange notions about patriotism?
If Ms. Bueson thinks so–and her memo practically screams it from Catanduanes rooftops–it’s either she doesn’t remember, or has never quite realized, that the electorate of this country has tried almost all of the above, and has been severely disappointed.
It would have been more reasonable of Ms. Bueson if she had instead said let’s not vote for lawyers henceforth, since we’ve elected so many ladies and gentlemen of the bar to the Senate and the House of Representatives over the years without the country’s being any better.
What’s more, until Corazon Aquino came along, the Presidency of this country was practically a lawyers’ monopoly. Let’s not forget either that one of the country’s worst presidents (he used to be the worst, but his preeminence has since been seriously challenged) was a lawyer.
But to urge the young not to vote for lawyers would be unfair to lawyers anyway, quite simply because not one social class, or sector of the population, has a monopoly on the wisdom, vision, and love of country that makes for patriotic leadership.
Conceivably there are actors who possess these attributes too, if other cultures are to be a gauge. The United States has actors like Susan Sarandon and Robert Redford, who have intelligent opinions on governance and public policy. Greece had Melina Mercouri, for a time that country’s minister of culture. Great Britain has Anthony Hopkins and Kenneth Branagh. All are part of a long line of actors who have not only made important films, but who have also been intelligently involved in public affairs.
Somewhere in Philippine sports there must also be basketball players–or swimmers or cyclists– who’re as concerned for this country as some Filipinos claim to be. One suspects indeed that in every sector of the population, and in every social class– among professionals, the clergy, businessmen, workers, farmers and even PhDs in economics– there must be Filipinos who not only have the wisdom but also the love of country and people so obviously lacking in much of its past and present political leadership.
There’s also the fact that for every actor or basketball player in the Senate there are five lawyers. And among the five presidents we’ve had since Marcos (who was a lawyer), only one was an actor, the others having been a French-speaking graduate of a finishing school, a former general, and a PhD in economics.
The reasons for the lack of the leadership that will arrest the country’s perennial instability and disorder, and its slide to poverty and mass misery, must thus lie elsewhere than in the supposed absence of education of some senators and former presidents, and even its current vice president (whom Ms.Bueson not so subtly singles out for abuse).
Those reasons lie in the electoral system. To even be certified as a legitimate candidate rather than a nuisance, the aspirant for public office must first prove to the Commission on Elections (the same Commission Virgilio Garcillano has so ably distinguished) that he or she has the millions needed to wage a “credible campaign.” To win he or she must spend those millions either to make him/herself popular or to enhance his/her popularity.
It is in the popularity part where actors and basketball players have had an often decisive edge. But anyone willing to spend enough can easily offset that advantage. Manuel “Mar” Roxas proved that in May, 2004 by spending the most on media advertising and ending up the front-runner in the Senate race.
The dominance of money in Philippine politics is both cause and inevitable consequence of elections in which programs of government are hardly, if ever, discussed. Because they’re not decided on who has the better vision and programs, elections have become the exclusive arena of the rich and famous to the exclusion of others who may have the wisdom, vision, platform, and patriotism the country sorely needs.
The Department of Education has since repudiated the Bueson guidelines, as it should. But charged as it is with, among others, the education of future voters, DepEd should take that task more seriously through, first, a serious assessment of what’s so wrong with the electoral process that it regularly fails to elect the officials this country desperately needs, and second, what can be done about it. DepEd needs to educate itself and its own officials.
By first teaching itself, DepEd might actually provide future voters a clue to the political sources of this country’s misfortunes instead of fomenting the kind of mis-education the Bueson “guidelines” have been spreading since June, 2004. Somewhere in that process DepEd might also find out why its superintendents are not only so incoherent, but also so unwise.