The two “me classes” that undermine the Philippine nation
It is perplexing to me as a “foreign” observer that the Philippines seems to be its own worst enemy. I look at the irrational judgments being made by Filipino voters regarding the forthcoming election and just sit back amazed.
This is the first of several articles that will seek to explain to other foreigners how it is that a nation that is among the fastest growing in Asia and recognized around the world for her achievements is seen as a failure by her own people. Filipinos are not satisfied. Voters want “change” and “discipline”. They will vote – if I may be allowed to speak harshly – for a scurrilous crook or dirt-mouthed womanizer or shallow opportunist and feel absolutely no embarrassment for themselves, their friends, families and neighbors, or the nation.
Frankly, I wonder why Philippine leaders worry so much about sovereignty under attack from abroad when there is so little dedication to the nation from within.
Nationhood of the Western model . . . that is, democratic and capitalist . . . requires the sacrifice of individual convenience and comfort for the well-being of all. It requires give, not just take. It requires a vision of wholesome values, of fairness and candor and integrity. It also requires information, not emotional guesswork.
But the Philippines is dominated by two “me classes”. People who are largely interested in their own well-being ahead of that of their nation. And . . . tragically . . . they may end up punishing a whole lot of good people in the forthcoming national election.
Before discussing the two “me classes”, perhaps it would be useful if I provided the briefest of historical perspectives:
History of occupations. The Philippines marches to it’s own beat. That is the first and most basic thing to understand. The nation is tribal by origin and has worked through an idiosyncratic history dominated by three abusive outside occupations, first by Spain, then by America, and lastly by Japan. Now and then during this history, the people have also been led by their own abusive, self-serving leaders, most prominently by a guy named Marcos who drove the nation into wretched poverty, depravity and debt. Very recently, the nation was led by a pair of plundering presidents, in succession. So if you expect Filipinos to think and feel as you do about trust in public servants, disabuse yourself of that notion. You’ve likely not been there, you’ve likely not done that. Filipinos far and wide don’t trust their leaders. They don’t trust their nation.
The two “me classes”
The largest of the two “me classes” is made up of the unemployed and the laboring poor, or subsistence workers. In Manila, they are the squatters, market vendors, transportation drivers and the service workers in retail stores. Most policemen fall into this class, and a lot of teachers, too. Outside of Manila, they are the fisherfolk and tree climbers, the tricycle peddlers and shop workers, and a whole lot of other ordinary working stiffs with no place to go but their measly job with its measly wage and bossy boss. For these millions of citizens, the focus on “me” comes from a drive to survive or subsist in a society that gives them little in the way of opportunity to prosper and grow.
The smaller of the two “me classes” is made up of people of power, those with money, those entitled to special rights that are granted only to those who are “in” with the other power brokers. Their “me force” is greed, ambition and accumulation of more power. The class includes oligarchs, politicians, mayors and governors, judges, a lot of attorneys, and wealthy businessmen. These are people of means and some measure of power who use their means and power to self-advantage.
Irrational voting . . . or voting that is not in the best interest of national well-being . . . comes from both of the “me classes”.
Those who are poor or subsisting day to day will sell their vote or just do what someone of authority tells them to do. Or react angrily to lash out and unload a lifetime of being taken for granted. Hell hath no fury like a worker who cannot get to his job because the stupid trains are broken again. Those in the subsistence class lose nothing by voting for an un-presidential president. Indeed, it feels good to lash out.
Those who are entitled and powerful will back a crook, womanizer or inexperienced opportunist if they think they will gain from it. There is no guilt to this. “Everyone does it”, or so they tell themselves. The biggest threat to the powerful “me class” is an honest government that enforces rules of fair play. Members of this class of entitlement and privilege are the main sources of criticism or hostility toward the Aquino Administration which, for the most part, is honest, earnest and productive. And a threat to many for being so.
There is no “national principle”, no set of national ethical rules, that either of the two “me classes” recognize. There is expedience. There is “me”.
Ethics represent the voluntary standards we live by that protect the group. Honesty is generally first and foremost among the principles. Professional ethics protect the profession, and the clients of the profession. Senatorial ethics protect the Senate, and the citizens of the nation. National ethics protect all of us, even foreigners.
A national ethical principle might be: Make sure the Philippines has a president who can stand as an equal to the most powerful leaders in the world. Equal means a certain level of competence and diplomacy, being neither subservient nor arrogant. Nor an embarrassment.
We ought not be ashamed of our President. We ought to be able to trust our President.
That circles us back to the fact that most Filipinos do not trust their leaders or nation.
Three institutions that undermine Philippine ethics and nationhood
To me, there are three institutions in the Philippines whose main players contribute hugely to the nation’s lack of ethical foundation . . . and the public’s mistrust of government:
- Mass media owners
- The Senate
- The Catholic Church
Mass media owners
Mass media owners in the Philippines do not represent a “fourth estate” that protects democracy and informs citizens. Rather, it is a part of the entertainment industry. The gaming industry, actually, where headlines and articles are gamed to manufacture conflict and hype circulation or audience. Today, whether by tacit or explicit agreement, mass media owners are allowing their outlets to favor one candidate and bury another. They are burying a threat, the candidate who will continue to weed out corruption and unfairness. They are favoring one of their own, someone who is opportunistic enough to do their bidding.
Mass media owners are a part of the powerful “me class” that protects its own. If you don’t know exactly what I am talking about, search around for who sponsored Senator Escudero’s wedding, follow the deductions, and you will soon figure out what is happening and why. If you are analytical, check the coverage level for candidates Poe vs. Roxas on first tier media outlets.
Mass media are an Enemy of the State, in my book. They have unlimited freedom . . . and choose to abuse it. If the Philippines elects a bizarre bunch of candidates by your global standards, look no further than the Philippine mass media for the reason. There is no fourth estate in the Philippines calling events factually and forthrightly. There are only gameplayers, favoring the favored, and their own well-being.
The Senate is stocked with crooks and malcontents and won’t even chair its Ethic’s Committee. It’s members don’t work for national good, but for special interests.
One of its members, an ardent women’s rights advocate, stands silent as one of the presidential candidates represents all that is threatening to women’s well-being: objectifying women, discriminating against women, and fondling or forcing himself onto women in front of our children. The senator’s brother is a vice presidential candidate for that man.
Another pair of senators undermined a key piece of legislation by secretly yanking over a billion pesos out of the Reproductive Health budget, money that did nothing but give poor women a choice: contraceptives or not. The two senators believe that they, personally, should determine the choices available to women, on behalf of their faith. Not for the nation, which demanded and passed the law. Not for the women, whose health and livelihood depend on the law..
Another senator took it upon himself to kill two major pieces of legislation – the Bangsamoro Basic Law and the National Land Use Law – for personal political gain. For the special interests that back him. It’s in his bloodline to be autocratic, for he is the son of a dictator, and he is running for Vice President.
The Senator who chairs the Agriculture Committee has declared that she will not act on a bill releasing P85 billion in Coco Levy funds to farmers while she is chairwoman. Her husband is a real estate developer building housing tracts on cheap agricultural land.
A senator out on bail for plunder was allowed to hijack the Senate agenda for a bitter, vengeful attack on the President of the Philippines. The committee chair who agreed to the attack agenda is herself a presidential candidate.
National well-being and integrity are set aside time and time again in the Senate in favor of personal advantage. It is a “me Senate”.
I’m honest with my young son. When he asks who Senator X is, I level with him. “She’s a jerk, son, out for herself rather than you.” I don’t want him to subscribe to the idea that authority commands respect no matter what . . .
The Catholic Church
Most bishops and priests in the Philippines are good people and do good work. But there is a set of political bishops and priests that bring the entire Church to shame.
Like others in the powerful “me class”, the political bishops and priests of the Catholic Church play games. One group called for the resignation of the duly elected president, the guy who is possibly doing more for the poor and for Philippine national morality than any President, ever. The President is a quietly faithful Catholic. Rather than helping him swim upriver against the tide of the crooks, liars, abusers and “me critics”, these political bishops and priests ignored the idea of separation of church and state, and threw rocks at him.
Beyond that, the political bishops and priests are so busy forgiving malcontents that they are the nation’s chief “me enablers”. They allowed a known high-profile crook to kiss the Pope’s ring rather than standing up for honesty. I’m not Catholic, but I shrank in shame.
No leadership by example. No disciplined morality. No voice FOR good . . . and AGAINST sin among the entitled. I fear this is the same Church that shot Dr. Jose Rizal, the Philippine national hero. A political Church in cahoots with the privileged and powerful. It represents a voice that could do so much to raise the nation up, but its political leaders choose instead to pursue a miserly little path of favors and favoritism. Dr. Rizal was a martyr, a brilliant and kind man sacrificed to power and privilege, and a whole Church, a whole nation, has learned nothing from it.
The middle class: compassionate, rational good people
There is an ethical Philippines. There is a small core of Filipinos who are interested in national well-being ahead of personal gain. Or, more correctly, who understand that their personal well-being depends on a nation that works honestly and forthrightly for the well-being of all.
This group includes career-track workers, small business owners, or professional people. Generally they belong to the educated middle class or are reasonably prosperous people for whom ambition exists, but it is tempered by compassion for others and a sense of fairness for all.
Nationhood emerges from such values.
This is the core of the new, modern, aspiring Philippines. It is whom the current Aquino Administration set out to serve, while working to reduce poverty broadly. This group of people is the hope of the nation for prosperity and the kind of freedom than can only be found in fairness.
Unfortunately, it is this compassionate core of the Philippines that is under attack from the two “me classes”.
So the outcomes of the Philippine national election may seem dysfunctional to those who are used to integrity and earnest good works. But the facts are the facts. The two “me classes” are dominant. The heart of ethical principles, fairness and genuine nationhood is small.
Social media: a third “me class”?
“But Joe, social media are certainly creating a new class of ‘me centered’ people. I mean, look at that guy in the photo above preening vainly before the camera!”
Well, there is a lot of self-centeredness on social media, I agree. But I think the media are the media and the message is a reflection of where the users are coming from.
If they are from the working “me class” and don’t see much opportunity in their lives, then they will use the media to complain, share ignorance, or vent.
If they are from the power and entitlement “me class”, then they will hire trolls and social media specialists to spin their tweets and push agenda.
If they are from the ethical, earnest, patriotic, compassionate class, then that is what you will see on line: a focus on knowledge and information and doing the right thing.
Hopefully, more people from the two “me classes” will brush up against these earnest, honest, information-seeking media users and find their message refreshing and fulfilling. Hopefully, social media will be a vehicle that will allow the Philippines to find a more substantial, true, giving nationhood, and a more ethical, productive, compassionate, educated and inclusive way forward.
But don’t bet on it just yet . . .
You’ll know more after the election.