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Politics 101: Is Politics Dirty?

Prof Frederick V. Rael has been teaching for almost 20 years in various local colleges and universities in the Philippines.

Our two fictional characters have shifted to another controversial topic, which is politics, to make their time more useful since they are still stuck in an unknown location. Let’s see how their conversation goes…

Pedro- Hey, Juan, the next election in the Philippines is in the year 2022, which means it’s election period this year. I am still hoping that our country will be led by a morally upright politician and a leader who has a genuine concern for the Filipinos.

Juan -Well, that’s not how politics works in our country. Our people have always elected the most popular, not the most deserving.

Pedro- Sadly, I agree with you. We have some politicians who were deserving to lead our country but one of them died of a plane crash while the other one did not win the election despite her impressive qualifications as a senator due to an alleged mental illness. However, those who were not deserving to become president were easily elected because of their popularity, to name some, a movie actor, a plain housewife, a military general, among others.

Juan - Why can’t we elect the most deserving candidate? We always stumble into the trap of choosing the most popular rather than the most qualified.

Pedro -Perhaps, many of our countrymen are not fully aware of how politics works. Their level of political awareness is not enough to detect whether a political candidate is sincere or not in serving the country. But, how should a politician behave Juan? Should they be honorable or corrupt?

Juan- That’s a philosophical question again, Pedro, and I’m not quite sure of the answer. But, I do know that there are no losers during an election in our country because political candidates are either winners or being cheated after an election.

“Man is a Political Animal”

This time, Juan and Pedro’s conversation is applying the assumption of Aristotle that,” Man is a political animal.” Quite true, human beings have the innate desire to influence, manipulate, or exert control over others. Aristotle correctly identified the nature of men that compelled them to interact with others to exercise power or authority. I agree with such an assumption that we tend to engage in a power relation whether we are fully aware of it or not. By simply engaging in a conversation, we try to consciously or unconsciously influence the other person. I also agree with Aristotle that every situation is a political arena since humans tend to exercise power over others by any means possible. Consequently, the flow of power is observed in the affairs of the government where decisions of the public officials have a serious impact on the lives of people especially the poor.

Dishonest Politicians in the Philippines gave politics a bad reputation

I have been very curious about the validity of the claim that politics is dirty as manifested in the conversation of Juan and Pedro. Sadly, one of the reasons for the lack of development of our country is the prevalence of corrupt politicians and unqualified candidates who usually win the election because of dirty tactics. Indeed, it is common for politicians in our country to play dirty just to win the election. These types of scenarios have created a wrong perception among the Filipinos that politics is bad since muddling slinging among political rivals are common and political candidates with devilish smiles are widespread. Many dishonest politicians in the Philippines gave politics a bad reputation due to the rampant corruption that has resulted in the worsening condition of many Filipinos.

Money Talks

To elaborate the said assumption about dishonest politicians, it is better to enumerate their behavior and strategies. Although some politicians are sincere and honest, many engage in unethical practices or dirty tactics just to maintain their power or be reelected for the next election. For one thing, the principle “money talks” is commonly adopted by many politicians and they specifically use the money to buy votes during elections. Unfortunately, many Filipinos accept the bribe of dishonest politicians due to their impoverished condition and they should not be blamed totally for it. Money talks also mean recommending projects such as repair of roads, basketball courts, and other useless infrastructures to gain profit from taxpayers’ money. Certainly, repairing roads is one quickest way to get funds from the government by public officials.

Ordinarily, a public official would recommend a project that will repair an identified slightly damaged road so that the requested funds would be approved. Repairing roads is a common project by public officials because it is hitting two birds with one stone. First of all, it allows dishonest politicians to request funds from the government and earn profit from it since they are the ones who would search for the contractors to do the project instead of offering public bidding to all interested parties. Without formal bidding, the contractor and the public official would negotiate on how to spend the funds requested from the government. The negotiation would include the amount of the materials, the quality of the materials, manpower, and other necessities to complete the project. As usual, the materials to be used would be substandard and the cheapest among the many choices in the market since the ultimate plan was to divide the remaining amount between the public official and the contractor. And then, “Boom!” the project is completed with the billboard stating,” This project is sponsored by Mr. Dishonest Public Official,” which sends a message that it is a result of his/her kindness or generosity for the sake of the people. As absurd as it is, the corrupt public official did not only get lots of taxpayer’s money from the project, his/her public image is also glorified in the process, which is the second target of the stone.

Dishonest Politicians are experts in Public Relations

Behaviorally, dishonest politicians in our country are also adept in public relations. In other words, they are quite good at deceiving the public that they have a genuine concern for the welfare of the poor through their effective strategies in social media, TV ads, and other commercial tools. They can successfully manipulate the flow of information that would help uplift their image in the public. For instance, they can post an angelic image over social media platforms or TV ads by pretending that they are helping the poor or giving donations to the victims of floods or any natural disasters. They can also pose, shake hands and greet people whom they don’t know like a famous actor or actress. Some also ride a bike or tricycle to be posted on their social media account just to let the public know that they have a simple lifestyle, but behind that photo is huge or castle-like mansions outside the city and highly expensive cars as a result of their corrupt activities. Just recently, I was particularly sickened when a public official directed a traffic situation in the city and almost dive into the flood just to increase his/her “likes” in her/her social media account and to be reported on national Television. Guess what? The said public official has achieved the said objectives, a high number of likes, and an interview with a popular TV network. Good exposure for such a traditional politician (TRAPO). Incidentally, a trapo is a Filipino word that means a scrap of cloth for cleaning.

Furthermore, this breed of politicians, which we consider TRAPO, are also very diligent in consistently accommodating invitations to weddings, attend funerals, and other festive events just to get the support of the voters. They have plenty of time to be spent on such events, which have lesser significance than, let us say, solving the real problem of the country? During an election period, it is common to accuse their enemies of so many things such as corruption, causes of floods, and other unfortunate events that affected the city, province, or country just to uplift their reputation and win the next election. After they win in an election, they retaliate to their political rivals by terminating the supporters of their enemies in office, reassign them to another position/office, withholding the worker’s benefits and salary increase, and other worse revengeful tactics. How dirty politics can it get?

Conclusion

That’s the reality of politics in the Philippine context, which constitutes its dirty side. Despite the negativity that persists in our political system, I am still optimistic that there will come a time when our politicians would pursue the interest of the general population, not their own selfish or political agenda. I am still clinging to the thought that the Socratic ethics will prevail in Philippine politics in the future, which assures the ethical behavior of public officials. If only our politicians would realize that politics and ethics are intertwined, as proposed by Socrates, then the root causes of poverty would easily be resolved. This simply means politicians should conduct themselves ethically since they are supposed to be the most ethical or virtuous people in society. Justice, honesty, and doing the right thing have to be among the guiding principles of public officials since their decisions directly affect their constituents. I am one with Pedro and Juan in pointing out that electing the most qualified and deserving politicians will catalyze change in our country.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Frederick V Rael

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