CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/24 March) — A zombie is a person who seems to have no mind or no will of his own. In horror films, a zombie is portrayed as a mummy or a creature that its controller or master can manipulate at will.
There’s a zombie-like behavior among certain sectors of our society, one that is pronounced in Mindanao and the poorest parts of the country. It is found predominantly among the masses, especially on Election Day. At the importuning of moneyed candidates and traditional politicos, or trapos, they troop to the precincts and vote as instructed. They allow themselves and their families to be herded, to do what their controller or handler tells them to do. They readily board buses, trucks, jeepneys, or boats to be ferried to polling places. Then without pangs of conscience or self-consciousness, they accept and gratefully acknowledge what snack, allowance, or pabaon is handed to them–secretly wishing for more in exchange for similar behavior in future.
Voting for specified candidates—candidates dictated by their handlers—doing so without exercising their judgment, deciding to do so at the expense of their freedom to choose, doesn’t seem to take a toll on their sense of self-respect. Zombies!
This behavior explains why our elections are a farce. What’s really bad is that it is importuned and initiated by putative leaders and representatives of the people. Should we merely charge this as collateral damage in a society of poorly educated voters and candidates? One wonders how long Pinoy society can claim to have national pride amidst these conditions. If the democratic process holds no meaning except as something to manipulate and exploit for personal gain, what hope is there for national stability?
Is there hope for real, genuine democracy? Hope in the face of a society that consists mostly of nominal Christians and nominal Muslims with nominal sovereignty?
Sovereignty is the inherent power we possess by virtue of our humanity and citizenship. But it is power we misuse, abuse, and waste at the urging of unscrupulous leaders. I guess society, as with individuals, also needs a certain level of maturity in order to develop sound, honest judgment. Judgment that arises out of the conviction that one is an autonomous human being, independent and supreme in respect of his rights.
Our society clearly needs to grow up. Our educational system, the main driver of cultural development, clearly needs to shape up. And our political system clearly needs to be re-engineered. Why are our leaders unscrupulous? It’s the way we pick them; no, it’s the way we let them pick themselves! We let any person with money, bravado, or presumptuous attitude declare himself a leader. We don’t even require his claim to be validated. We don’t require the bunch of co-conspirators that run as a team to prove that they really constitute a party—a party with real, dues-paying members, a party with an honest-to-goodness convention, with an authentic criteria for selection or nomination, a party with a real platform.
It is scandalous to the civilized mind that our elections serve up an anomalous array of presumptuous, pretentious politicos with a feudal mindset. There is no convention or rational process of selection that can attest to their credentials or suitability for the public service. Propelled mainly by money, dynasty, or vanity, they inflict themselves on society, unilaterally! And we let them get away with it, actually allowing them to confine our choices to the dismal personalities they peddle, making zombies of us all as well!
We are all, collectively, making a mockery of democracy and nationhood and liberty. We let selfish interests and the aggrandizing attitude define our political life. We let wrong values trump statesmanship and social justice. We abandon sense of community or concern for the common good—the virtues that impel individuals to rise above family or personal interests. Absent these values, one can’t really expect respect for human rights or the freedoms necessary to the fulfillment of selfhood, neighborhood, or nationhood.
In allowing dysfunctional citizens and corrupt leaders to dominate our society, there is no way we can expect a level playing field anytime soon. The ruling clique will always see to it that elections are skewed in their favor. They will always view election dominance and public office to be their birthright. They will always look upon privilege and impunity to be theirs to enjoy and wallow in. It would never occur to them that this is unbecoming, unfair, or unjust. Never would it strike them that their mindset perpetuates injustice, of which they are the major cause.
Today, patronage and oligarchic politics mesmerize the grassroots. This spell is so pervasive that it eviscerates decency and morality in otherwise honorable people. It is so compelling that it robs the poor and poorly educated of volition and autonomy. It renders them highly susceptible to manipulation and corruption, a condition readily exploited by trapos—economic opportunists and political predators with no moral compunctions or social conscience.
So what does one do about a situation where citizens are reduced to virtual automatons, without strength or will to resist. Capitalizing on their poverty, powerlessness, and political immaturity, the trapos bastardize democracy and bend the system to their will, turning people into political zombies—voting as importuned or programmed by patronage and the Pork Barrel.
What keeps the grassroots spellbound must be confronted. The power of patronage must be curbed, especially Pork Barrel profligacy. People must be made aware and immunized to its insidious effect upon the community. To awaken it requires a conscious sense of responsibility. To uphold it requires an assertive brand of sovereignty among the pace-setters and role models in the barangay, the middle and upper classes. And to banish it, democracy must be institutionalized along with the rule of law…especially in Mindanao where the Force of Law yields too often to the Law of Force.
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Manny Valdehuesa writes from Cagayan de Oro and is the president and national convenor of Gising Barangay Movement Inc. (firstname.lastname@example.org)