The famous mega-rich investor Warren Buffet once said: “Never ask a barber if you need a haircut.” That’s short for saying that everyone has an agenda and the last thing one should be doing is seeking advise from someone who happens to have the “perfect product” for you.
As we begin the six-month homestretch to the presidential elections, the question of what it is exactly Filipinos expect of their leaders is becoming more relevant. Indeed, it is a question that has always been relevant. Unfortunately, Filipinos have long exhibited a lack of a will to confront that important question. The results have, not surprisingly, been quite predictable. Filipinos are subject to political leadership surrounded by a ruling class that is a direct result of this self-imposed myopia.
Will Filipinos continue that tradition of lazy democratic participation in these elections this year? It is easy to see that they will. The current sorry crop of presidential candidates make this sad reality quite evident. In terms of holding their politicians to the task of addressing their specific concerns and challenges in the coming six years, Filipino voters have all but handed these characters a blank check.
Rather than make what we want clear to our politicians, we have given them license to tell us what is good for us. On the back of that, Philippine politics had become a showcase of just how creative Filipino politicians and their election winning machines have become at seductively packaging “what Filipinos want”. And like the good consumers and mall rats that they are, Filipino voters have lapped it all up with glee.
Right there in that whole approach to regarding election candidates is the whole reason why the Philippines continues to fail in its efforts to prosper within the framework of ‘democracy’. Democracy is premised on the notion that people know what is good for them and, following that assumption, that the will of the majority will necessarily be good for the whole.
Unfortunately it hasn’t quite worked that way in supposedly “democratic” Philippine politics. Beyond the so-called individual achievements of a tiny handful of exceptional compatriots, the average Filipino cannot even begin to describe exactly what it is about her country that makes it one worthy of her “pride”. Indeed, that motherhood statement of Filipino nationalism, the call to be “proud” to be Filipino, is itself no more than a product of the feel good but hollow rhetoric of traditional Philippine elections. It is now long past its use-by date — invalidated by its inability to get past the confronting question:
Pride in what exactly?
So because Filipinos have, at their grassroots, failed to crystallise a notion of what it means to be “Filipino” and what their nation, the “Philippines”, stands for as a collective, so too has their ability, as voters, to pick excellent leaders suffered astounding failure.
It is quite astounding that we, as a people, yet again find ourselves just half a year shy of the next presidential elections and, again, ready to wholeheartedly embrace that same mediocrity that has long characterised everything about The Pinoy Way.
Democracy in the Philippines has been successful with one thing: revealing the true character of the Filipino. A nation ruled by mediocre political leaders who are elected by popular vote can only be described as mediocre at its core.
Democracy works only when the people understand the limitations of democracy. When people think only of the freedoms of democracy and know nothing of the implied responsibilities, democracy will not bring the goodness that it promises.
The above was spoken by former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on the occasion of his being conferred an Honorary Professor Title by the University of Santo Tomas in 2012.