A vote, in many ways, is like a dream. You don’t really know how it is formed, and why it takes the shape it has. In fact, it is the result of many impressions acquired largely by chance. There is very little about it that one can consider deliberate or willful.
When we have to explain a dream to ourselves, our effort produces meanings, not causes. The actual causes remain elusive, even as we may imagine ourselves the mindful and conscious authors of our actions. We tend to confuse rationalizations with causes. We think we vote on the basis of systematic criteria, but in fact we are only providing rational accounts for choices formed on the basis of many unexamined desires. In short, we formulate the motive after the act.
We are “naturally” drawn, for example, to some candidates even before we have become conscious of the motive for voting for them. Juan Flavier is one such person. Many people find him cute and amiable, and for them that is a weightier reason for choosing him than the recognition that the Senate would profit from the presence of a medical doctor who had worked in the barrios. Our household help put Santanina Rasul at the top of their senatorial list because they said she had the beautiful face of a kind mother. Their choice had nothing to do with ensuring Muslim representation in the Senate.
Some people threaten us, others make us feel secure. Some simply rub us the wrong way, while others delight us. Miriam turns off a lot of people by her pathological arrogance, but others are absolutely fired by her irreverence and boldness. Many are aghast that Loi Estrada should agree to proxy for her disgraced husband by running for senator, but she has benefited from the sympathy of voters who think she should be rewarded for her suffering.
The meanings we attach to the way we vote indeed come after the fact, but they are important nevertheless, not only because they make us feel good but also because they become a powerful influence on our future actions. With this in mind, it is useful to draw some positive meanings from these otherwise disastrous elections, that signify the emergence of a better Filipino electorate in the coming years.
Let’s begin with the phenomenal victory of Noli de Castro, the undisputed topnotcher in the current senatorial race. Instead of viewing this as the triumph of just another media star from ABS-CBN, we might look upon it as the expression of a desire for an honest and non-elite oriented government. In his capacity as a broadcaster of many years, De Castro has carefully nurtured the image of a crusader against abusive, incompetent, and corrupt public officials. It is his burden to validate this image when he moves to the Senate. The masses see in him a friend and an ally who will bring their plight to the attention of government. That too is a legitimate yearning in an unequal society like ours.
On the other hand, we can consider as ethical progress the defeat of many media and movie celebrities who have nothing more substantial to offer the public than sheer popularity. Our people have learned a lot from the way Joseph Estrada failed their most sublime expectations. They still love him, but they have seen for themselves that the presidency was just too big a role for him. After Erap, movie actors will have a tougher time proving themselves before the electorate.
If the elections were a referendum on the legitimacy of the Macapagal-Arroyo government, I believe the victory of most of the People Power Coalition candidates affirms the electorate’s general approval of the power shift that occurred in January this year. Our people want to move on. They have foreclosed the possible restoration to the presidency of Estrada. They feel sorry for Erap, and their support for the candidacy of his wife is their way of consoling him, but they don’t want him back as president.
That is why Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Juan Ponce Enrile, Erap’s staunchest supporters, the ones most vociferous in denouncing Edsa II and the GMA presidency, have not done well in these elections. In contrast, the moderate Ed Angara, the newcomer Ping Lacson, and the quiet Gringo Honasan are in the winning circle. Together with Loi Estrada, they are expected to represent the interests of the opposition in the Senate. What this suggests is a strong belief in the desirability of balanced representation, minus the counter-productive presence of those who prefer to look backward than forward.
Finally, it is instructive to look into the defeat of the once popular Orly Mercado, candidate for senator, and of Fred Lim, candidate for Manila mayor. Filipinos appear to reserve their deepest contempt for “balimbings” or turncoats, not because they value friendship and loyalty above principled action but because they do not trust individuals who cannot make up their minds or change them too often. Mercado made a principled stand at Edsa II at a crucial hour; what then was he doing at Edsa III? Mayor Lim, who served as Erap’s Local Government Secretary, appeared from nowhere at Edsa II, when it was too late for such a presence to have any decent meaning.
We may think the average Filipino voter to be decadent and hopeless, but in some ways he has become more mature over the years. The spectacle of a bungling Comelec is not very inspiring, but that is hardly the fault of the voter. A voter turnout of 85% is nothing to scoff at. Lastly, I must point out one important development that truly gives us hope, and that is the successful entry into political life of a growing number of highly qualified young people. Rizal would have rejoiced.
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