Friday, February 15, 2008


I came into the living room of the house in Lianga a week ago and caught my 71 year old mother sitting rigidly on an easy chair, notepad and pen on a coffee table and intently watching something on the television. A new soap opera perhaps? A new game show?

Well, not exactly but to some extent what she was watching had elements of both. She was engrossed in the CNN's coverage of the U.S. presidential primaries, specifically last week's Super Tuesday's primary elections in 24 states where presidential hopefuls from both the Democratic and Republican parties separately contested, in just one day, the votes of the biggest number of state delegates which will ultimately determine the nominees of both parties who will slug it out in the presidential elections in November.

That an election happening in a country thousands of miles away has managed to arouse Mama's interest to the extent that she was glued to the TV set and taking notes like some naive college freshman is ample proof of the intense interest the current political events in the United States is generating all over the world. Why that is happening is, on the surface, is patently clear.

In the world's most powerful and wealthiest democracy, a woman and a black man, for the first time in its history, may have an even chance of becoming the official nominee of a major political party and thus earn the opportunity to run for the presidency of that nation. If that is not enough to make the current U.S. presidential primaries historic, momentous and therefore eminently watchable then add to that a lame duck president of a nation in economic crisis who is struggling to overcome low public approval ratings while his own party is trying to unify itself amidst internal bickering and retain control of the White House come November and you have the makings of a political melodrama that can be engrossing as the ubiquitous, "Tagalized" Korean telenovelas that are so popular on Philippine television.

In Lianga, growing interest in the on-going primaries and the coming presidential elections in the U.S. is giving many local residents a first time awareness of the bewildering complexities and intricacies of American presidential politics. They may not wholly understand the long and arduous process of it all but still they are entranced and captivated by its breadth and magnitude and the glamor and drama of the fast changing, unfolding events.

To me, local interest and engrossment in the U.S. presidential primaries is, by large, a good thing. On one level it may be simply entertainment and a rather shallow fascination with the human drama behind the complex politics but on the other hand, such interest and fascination may be political education of the most subtle kind. What is happening in the United States is simply democracy in action, imperfect and flawed it many be. And seeing how it works or does not work there may lead to eventual self-examination and a new perspective on the nature, culture and dynamics of politics in our own backyard.

If there is one thing that may be evident in closely watching and monitoring the primaries from the perspective of ordinary Filipino in Lianga, it is the simple fact that the vibrancy and vitality of American politics stems from an abiding belief by the majority of Americans in the fundamental power and capacity of the individual citizen, with the judicious exercise of his democratic rights, whether individually and collectively, to be a deciding factor in determining the future course of their country.

This belief in the power of the individual and the collective force of public opinion, naive and unrealistically idealistic it may be to cynics, as expressed primarily through the ballot, is the engine that drives American democracy. What matters is that the people believe that their individual opinions matter and should be expressed openly and decisively without fear or hesitation and with the firm conviction that such opinions could be catalysts for change.

That is why we here in Lianga watch the political spectacle on TV with awe and wonder mixed perhaps with no small degree of envy and jealousy. We too want to matter. We too want our voices to be heard and listened too by those in government and those who want to be in government. We too want a government that fears and respects us. We too want a living, breathing democracy.

But in truth we are just spectators, bystanders watching and waiting in the sidelines. The history of this country is being made in front of our eyes and dreadful things are often being done to the country, supposedly in our name and by our authority, by those we have trusted to lead and serve us while we do or could no nothing. We have become a nation of watchers and spectators, mute, unassertive and impotent.

It is sad therefore to realize that as we see the political process in the U.S. proceed and develop in real time before our eyes, we also were as Filipinos are being reminded again and again of the fundamental fact that for a true democracy to work, wherever it may be, the people living under it must not be afraid to speak out and be heard. There may be a bedlam of voices speaking all at once and it may sound like the chaos of a busy marketplace. But that is exactly how it is supposed to be and it usually and surprisingly manages to work out in the end.

At least most of the time anyway.....

1 comment:

  1. Benjie,
    You continue to amaze me with your eloquence in writing and your understanding of the subjects about which you write. You have indeed summed up the feeling of most Americans regarding their part in the art of Democracy. We do believe that our voice carries weight and we even go so far as to make sure it counts. I’ve told many here in the Philippines that if they have issues that they are concerned about; talk to their elected officials. After all, that’s supposed to be why you voted for them, to give them the job that they are asking you to allow them to do for you. A good elected official is a servant, period, they are offering their services because they believe they can serve better than anyone else. As a voter you are responsible for voting for that servant you believe deeply will do the best job, not only for you, but also for your fellow citizens. That’s Democracy! Americans write and or call their elected officials, and now in the age of the internet we use email, or the officials website, as most of them have them. We complain, we question, we offer suggestions, and sometimes we offer praise. My hope for the citizens of the Philippines is they can one day have a true open Democracy, where their voice do count, where their needs are addressed properly, and where their futures are enhanced by the policies of their elected officials. I truly believe that for the Philippines to advance toward that type of Democracy, the citizens must demand that for themselves. They should not stand by and observe the world of politics, and take whatever shows up. Citizens should openly demand a change. They should stop allowing their votes to be bought, and yes I know that the money is always a needed commodity in this poor economy. But, if people want a better future, there must be a starting point. At some point one has to just say “enough”. A government is only as good and competent as the people it governs, people should demand quality in their government, they should demand that the government follow principals that will give them a better future, a better future for their children, and all the future generations to come. This world is what we make of it; it can only be as good as we choose for it to be, if we allow second best, that’s what we will get.
    Mark and Merejen