MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/08 April) — Like in the US, preelection surveys in the Philippines have become a permanent fixture of the contests for the Senate and the presidency. The similarity ends there though. For while the surveys in the US largely reflect the voters’ appreciation of the candidates’ stand on the dominant issues of the day, the same cannot be said of the ones being done in this country. The former are an extension of public opinion shaped by an intelligent discourse, the latter a caricature of the Filipino as a Neanderthal political species.
If the surveys in the Philippines mirror public opinion, it is of the kind formed by a warped set of criteria on who should govern in the next couple of years, if not for eternity, in the case of dynasties that have invaded the political landscape like a medieval plague. Yes, it’s part of public opinion, only that the public has lost the diligence for serious scrutiny, content with name-recall and fortuitous events like the death of a mother that catapulted an incompetent senator-son to Malacanang.
Research institutions that conduct the surveys may brag about the science that they use. But the science is confined to technical controls, e.g. choice of respondents and methodology. There is nothing in these exercises that explain why the respondents choose this or that candidate. The choices are devoid of any logic in that they simply prove the advantage of being an incumbent, having a familiar surname and being seen on TV often.
And this is precisely where the danger lies. Surveys tend to fill the vacuum created by an environment where debates on issues have taken a backseat in favor of mudslinging and intrigue-sowing. Credential no longer counts as shown by the presence of clueless entertainers, coup plotters and unrepentant beneficiaries of the Martial Law regime in the Senate, a chamber once reserved for the brightest minds of Philippine politics. (Forget the shameful presence of a pretender who has insisted until now that he had no hand in the cheating in Maguindanao in May 2007.)
It’s as if one’s high standing in surveys could make up for the lack of intellect, let alone integrity and statesmanship. A candidate may no longer expect to be judged by his or her ability and stand on specific issues. He or she just needs to appear on media often and get a popular entertainer as endorser. Having a familiar surname is a bonus especially if it happens to be the incumbent President’s and Vice President’s. Or make yourself look like a martyred ex-senator, and the voters are sure to throw caution to the fetid political air.
Will the voters ever realize that for all their “scientific” pretensions surveys should not take the place of informed, critical choices? Maybe, but there’s no telling when. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)