Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004

About

@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

Written for Bulatlat

Public opinion has many uses but it should neither stand for truth nor should it be equated with political standpoint. Sometimes it is overrated despite its ephemerality. Consider the examples below:

– Senator Miriam Santiago is the darling of the press and social media superstar who entertains the public with her intelligent albeit shocking sound bites aimed against her political nemesis. She is also delightfully unforgiving to nincompoops during senate hearings. She is regarded as a highly credible legislator and anti-corruption crusader. But there was a time when her popularity was down that led to her defeat in the senate race (she even lost in her hometown Iloilo province). This was during the Edsa Dos uprising in 2001 when she aggressively supported former President Joseph Estrada. While campaigning, she promised to jump from a plane if Estrada is arrested. But when Estrada was eventually detained, she obviously didn’t carry out her threat and she even bragged that she lied about it. This was a very different Miriam Santiago: unpopular and unprincipled. The same Miriam Santiago who almost won the presidency in 1992, idol of the youth, and recipient of the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay award.

– No doubt, the superbads of Philippine politics today are Senators Tanda, Sexy, and Pogi. Tanda refers to Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, the grand dirty old man of Philippine politics. How fleeting is the memory of many people! Just two years ago, Enrile was adored and respected as an elderly statesman who brilliantly presided the Corona impeachment trial.

– He may be the ‘boy pick-up’ who wanted to legalize everything, but a decade ago Secretary Mar Roxas was the heroic Mr Palengke who topped the senate elections. Anyare?

– Just how bad is Gloria Arroyo? During her incumbency, her allies called her ‘lucky bitch’ and ‘she is evil’. But before she became unpopular, she was really a very popular politician. She was the number one senator in 1995 and she got more votes than Estrada in 1998.

What do these examples tell us? First, popularity is not reliable to verify the ‘truthiness’ of a political event. Imagine if we succumbed to the verdict of opinion polls and joined the madlang people on Twitter in praising Enrile in 2012. Second, we need historians to cure our ‘permanent amnesia’ by continually reminding us of the forgotten lessons of history. Third, there are no natural born heroes and villains in politics. There are no permanent virtues; there is only permanent political interest.

Cunning politicians are aware of our short memories and they exploit this weakness by bombarding us with seductive images of the present. They focus their energies on generating instant political effects so that citizens won’t ask questions about the embarrassing past and the illusory future. For them, it is more important to weaken the fighting instinct of the public by deliberately obfuscating the contours of the political field.

Unfortunately for us, the traditional political playbook has been enhanced by ubiquitous information tools which politicians are using to distract our attention. With help from corporate-controlled media, they spread mindless and meaningless McSize political statements that aim to redirect our gaze to nonessential political matters. We actively participate in the information exchange not knowing that we are being disempowered, mentally and politically.

With all the cascading data in the system and in our timelines, why aren’t we better informed? It is because what is being circulated is not knowledge that can enlighten but semi-gibberish content that preys on our emotions. The mind-conditioning techniques of TV have become the new standard and all these are reflected on the Internet. Spread panic, capitalize on fear, use shock and awe images. The result is a community of media consumers immobilized by the chaotic whirling of virtual representations of turmoil.

It’s no surprise that politician-preachers and TV-savvy demagogues have become the major celebrities of our time. Tragic that political chatter in the mediascape is given prominent attention at the expense of more serious political dialogues taking place in society. Tragic too is the uncritical recognition of public opinion as the useful political truth that gives legitimacy to the current situation.

But modern democracy should not be simply about the unfettered distribution and exchange of sentiments. We fought too long and too hard for our democratic rights in order to assert the truth and not merely to conform to what is popular and traditional.

Or let me rephrase the issue this way: Politics is essentially truth-seeking. Your opinion may be popular, viral, and trending; but is it the truth? Politicking politicians are desperately trying to win public opinion but it is a distortion of democratic politics. It is only through revolutionary political practice that we can create new truths and new political events.

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