What really matters

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

Jose M. Montelibano

What matters most to society is usually what happens. Man’s behavior is dictated by his hierarchy of values, which simply means we do first what is most important to us. And what is most important to us is not what we say, it is what we do. If we reach a reasonable stage of maturity, intelligence and commitment, what we say and what we do will complement each other. Meanwhile, there can be little connection between the two.

It will seem absurd to say that Philippine society reflects what is most important to us. After all, if there is widescale corruption, if there is massive poverty, these conditions cannot be what society wants. Strangely, though, even if most Filipinos do not want poverty and corruption, they exist and not in a shy way, so to speak. The elimination of poverty or corruption may be what Filipinos say they want, but their lives, what they do on a daily basis, and what they sacrifice for is not about eliminating corruption and poverty. In fact, it can be argued what is more important to most Filipinos make corruption and poverty thrive.

It has been said, and I believe with some basis, that the victims of poverty and corruption manage to contribute to the perpetuation of their own exploitation by voting into power the wrong candidates. Worse, in the minds of those who voted not so wisely, the mistake is privately admitted and acknowledged. However, the unwise voters have a set of justifications that make them live peacefully with their mistaken choices. At least half of the population of Filipinos consider themselves poor. The majority of the non-poor (sometimes referred to as the emerging middle class) continue to crave for more economic security despite their being better off than the bottom of the pyramid below them, it should be natural for the vast majority to resent their poverty and their exploitation by the corrupt. Yet, the tendency is still to elect the wrong officials.

There is a spirit of contradiction, the anomaly of victims being a critical facilitator of their own victimhood by accommodating corrupt candidates and tolerating bad governance. Actually, social scientists who delve into the understanding of human behavior do not see an anomaly. They see instead a conflict of interests, a conflict of values. Those who do not agree with public officials who are corrupt and uncommitted in ending the historical poverty of Filipinos have deeper and more urgent needs – basically about their survival and the survival of those they love. Because the most basic priority is of survival, it easily overrides other sentiments, even aspirations. It is hard to be moral when your children are hungry, or sick, or cannot be securely sheltered.

It is pitiful that the most critical of those who vote wrongly are not understanding enough of the situation that confronts the greater number with urgent needs related to survival. The poor, who are also the perennial victims of corruption in government, do not have the choices available to the non-poor, and all the more to the rich. Those with greater fear because they have no security of tenure anywhere in their own motherland, who have no shelter that can dependably shield them from the harsh elements, who have no long-term assurance of food, who cannot access medicine when illness strikes the family, they have little options. Sometimes, they have none. Definitely, voting for the candidates who are most qualified by their integrity, by their track records, by the programs they commit to implementing out when in office, is hardly an option when the other choice is money, food, medicine, or a promise of employment for a family member.

Oh, yes, there are many as well who vote for popular personalities coming mostly from the entertainment industry. Recently, there were news reports and posts from social media about fans of such personalities seeking office or reelection. No matter how tainted their track record, I saw voters saying they will still vote for these candidates because they are good-looking. Even though I can shake my head at the reason given, I nonetheless am grateful that these were articulated. Whether we agree with their choices or not, it is important that we know why they choose as they do. It may give us an insight as to the level of hopelessness that voters feel at the thought that their future s up to politicians. I believe they know that no one really cares enough when it is not election time anymore.

The future is not at all clear to people who have more urgent concerns for the day and struggle with these concerns daily. If we tell them that they are not thinking about their future, their future may not be as far or as large as ours. Their fears will limit their capacity to think of a future when the moment is already full of needs they cannot meet. Addressing the cause of their most urgent fears is what matters the most, not because they say it, but because they behave according to it. Those among us who wish for them to change must know how to make them change – and it is not because we tell them to.

In the ultimate analysis during our electoral exercises, the same pattern continues. The more the moral virtues are overwhelmed by the fears for survival, the more money and other material goodies become the deciding factor for the poor. And enough of us are aware that even among the rich and very rich, money and business are often more important than morality and good governance. When those who have so many options can still choose the worst, there is no reason why the same can be expected from those who have little or none.

Elections are only three months away. The results are quite predictable at this point. Behavioral patterns do not change quickly or easily. And few know the art and timing of disruption.

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