There are no consequences — not for the Philippines’ most popular celebrity, boxing champion Manny Pacquiao who is also a House representative in Congress. Despite holding the dubious distinction of being the top no-show in House sessions held in 2014, he remains a Filipino favourite.
It may be just as well that Pacquiao has been a consistent absentee legislator. As Joshua Keating writing for Slate more than likely rightly stated, Manny Pacquiao is a terrible congressman. Good thing he never shows up for work.
When asked by reporters about his record in February, Pacquiao pointed out that he was training for two fights last year. “I don’t want to boast about what I have done in my district, but you can see my accomplishments in my district. It’s important that you help your constituents and not just sit in Congress,” he said. “[In Congress] all you do is file bills, but the bills have no benefits to the people.”
…leading Keating to opine: “the comments suggest that perhaps legislative work isn’t for him, and that he may not understand exactly what it is.” Indeed, Pacquiao’s idea of serving his constituents seems more in line with the responsibilities of a government official in the executive rather than the legislative branch of the Philippine government. What Pacquiao considers to be “accomplishments” better suits that of a mayor or governor than that of a House representative. That is, of course, if he will not be the same absentee-official he proved to be as a legislator.
That’s expecting quite a bit. The author also observed that “the fact that his political career is more of a hobby than a job doesn’t appear to bother the majority of people in the Philippines.” For that matter, Filipinos do not seem to be bothered by politicians who use their powerful positions to perpetrate crimes against their own constituents.
Indeed, mediocre lawmaking and absenteeism are the least of the evils plaguing Philippine Congress. Filipinos regard their nation’s legislative body as the country’s biggest criminal syndicate. This is remarkable considering that every one of its members is elected by popular vote — which says something about the thinking applied by Filipinos to making their choices during elections.
And this is why there are no consequences; not for Pacquiao, not for any legislator or any top government official in the Philippines that fails to deliver what is expected of him or her. Filipinos have long exhibited an astounding tolerance for the banal dereliction of duty and abject mediocrity shown by their elected officials. The whole idea of holding an officialaccountable for his or her actions (or non-actions, as the case may be) seems to be a concept that is alien to the Filipino mind.
This is what emboldens incompetent and even downright stupid people to pursue a career in politics in the Philippines — which is why Filipinos can expect to be stuck with these crooks leading and representing them over the foreseeable future. Failure — even deliberate failure — attracts no consequences in the Philippines. You’d think that government officials whose actions and decisions affect millions of lives would be held to the highest standard by the country’s voters and its justice system.
Not in the Philippines.
We see, even now, the sorts of men and women vying for the chance to rule the country as its next president in this year’s elections. Do any of these people measure up to the standards required of a people who truly deserve a prosperous future? This is a question Filipinos need to ask themselves. They should apply a critical mind to the task of evaluating their presidential candidates.
In that light, however, it becomes easy to see how huge a challenge transforming the way Filipinos regard their politicians is. We see it in the way popular celebrities like Manny Pacquiao are able to put in mediocre performance with impunity while in office and remain celebrated “heroes” just the same. Filipino voters simply cannot tell the difference between a good government official and a bad one.
How then can Filipinos be taught this critical skill that will enable them to progressively improve the service delivered to them by their government over the course of future elections?
“Voter education” is a concept regularly thrown around come election time. However, it is not just a How-To-Vote lesson Filipinos need. Filipinos need to learn how to think. In order for good and modern thinking to carve out enough head space in Filipinos to make a significant difference, distractions need to be removed. It is unfortunate, as such, that serious political discourse and discussions on important issues that impact Filipino lives have to compete with the mind-numbing entertainment products delivered by the Philippines’ mainstream media industry.
This is where policymakers’ and thought leaders’ assertions that uplifting the thinking applied by Filipinos to their politics is a “serious” initiative that is long-overdue should be tested. Hard decisions need to be made and long-held traditions and ideas on what “freedom” means for Filipinos need to be challenged. The path to enlightenment is not easy nor straight, contrary to what certain people say.
[Photo courtesy Asia Society.]