Monday, October 26, 2009

Low involvement

Despite the screaming headlines about the politics of 2010, the average Filipino voter has very “low involvement” in the matter of choosing who should lead the nation after years and years of the disaster named Gloria.

ABS-CBN can tout “Ako ang Simula” and drum up voter interest in the all-important task of choosing who shall steer the affairs of state come noon of June 30, 2010, but even the new voter registration has turned up abysmally low numbers, thanks in part to the long lines that plague Comelec registration centers. Most of those lining up are the poor, principally because their barangay chairmen have been instructed by the local mayoralty aspirant to ensure his would-be followers register and vote. Otherwise, there is little “kusang-loob”.

Why is this? Why do voters prefer tele-novela as escapist prescription to the seminal pains of survival in the benighted land, instead of listening to the promise of deliverance mouthed, some convincingly, many unconvincingly, by the candidates for president in occasional talk-shows? The answer of course is partly because ANC is cable and does not come free, unlike the tele-novelas of GMA and ABS, paid for the masa by numerous advertisements, some of them even political ads, while cable ANC is mostly English, not quite the language the masa understand. Those of us who read the papers, watch the news on TV and listen to commentators on radio are an insignificant minority of less than 10%.of the voting population. The rest do not care. In the words of a respected market research specialist, they have “low involvement”.

So does Erap still excite? Look at the numbers in the surveys. Those are likely to be the “loyal” core who at one time or another received a dole-out; Erap’s legendary munificence must have saved them from hunger for a day or two. They “feel” for him; they cried when he was sent to jail; and those among them who walked from their urban warrens, or were bussed from Navotas or Malabon got another free serving of adobo or whatever else when they trooped to his “convention” last week at Plaza Moriones. And if the Comelec first, and the Supreme Court next, declares an Erap re-run legally impermissible, will they march to the streets and encamp till kingdom come until their idol’s “rights” are recognized? Hardly, except for a few hundreds, maybe a thousand or so, of the organized “masa”. The rest, the un-organized, will need to knock in every office for a job, or with their rickety kariton’s, scavenge for what little they could sell, provenance for the night’s meal. Erap will need to pay for the rent-a-crowd, not because their loyalty is for sale, but simply because each day is always a meal away. That is why they bring their children in rallies. Maski na paano, makakain din. And the rent-a-crowd brokers charge Erap and whoever else needs a crowd, even for the “retazos”, and profit from the same, short-changing the “masa”, while over-charging Erap, who loves being fooled.

Am I being too cynical? Look at the numbers. They tell a story beyond what television touts as “involvement”.

So why does Tita Cory’s son get high numbers? Low involvement likewise. People don’t see the relevance of whoever leads to change in their existence. It will always be isang kahig, isang tuka. So their low involvement gets mesmerized by today’s fad --- yellow as color, Cory as symbol (of what, they really do not quite grasp), Kris as fashion, Noynoy as fad. Even Mar getting finally married to Korina today will excite, for a few days. Beyond all these, it is still the politics of the stomach, and come election day, the mayor or his rivals will take care of that, at least for a few days.

So how long will the fad last? Fad becomes fashion when nothing else subs for it, when better or more acceptable fad does not appear, and does not excite the lowly involved.

Why was Villar, until Noynoy got into the act, inching up in the numbers game? Because he had a tale to tell --- the once-poor boy who made good, and now wants to share his largesse with his origins, kuno. He has proof of this --- houses raffled at Wowowee, and pictures of abused OFW’s given free fare to return to the land of the benighted. All these are advertised on free TV, of course, and touted by “paid” media, Nobody scratches beneath the surface of propaganda, because of low involvement. Madaling manloko, dahil walang paki ang naloloko.

When it comes to issues that ought to be the determinants of choice, which matter first? High prices, joblessness, livelihood concerns. Everybody and his uncle shout that corruption is the cause, and the masa grasps that, but heck, from Roxas to Garcia to Macapagal, through Marcos, to Aquino and Ramos, Erap and the past nine years of Gloria, it’s been one scandal of corruption after another. So the public’s low involvement syndrome says --- pare-pareho lang ‘yan. Walang magbabago. Corruption as an issue of concern ranks only sixth or seventh in the hierarchy of people’s ken.

But our leaders are stealing us blind, and that is why government resources coming from the taxes we pay are wasted, those of us in the “high involvement” minority reason. “So, what else is new?”, the low involvement respondents say. Maski sumigaw ka ng sumigaw, corrupt din ang papalit. Kaya ang leksyon --- makibahagi ka na lang.

But we threw out leaders who were corrupt, first Marcos, then Erap, the highly involved rebut, through “people power”, they remind. So what, the lowly involved retort --- luminis ba? Hindi ba nagsipagbalik lang ang corrupt, at mas matakaw pa?

The system sucks. And changing the faces will not change the system that sucks. In truth, the lowly involved have stopped hoping. Those of them whose parents scraped enough from every meal to get them through school and now count themselves lucky enough to get a contractual job, as sales clerk in some taipan’s department store, as security guard in some mestizo’s mall --- good for the next five to six months, know the hopelessness of it all. So they help themselves, scrimping and scraping off starvation wages, so that there will be enough to pay the recruiter. Any job in some far-away place is escape from the dreadfulness of near sub-human existence. And the less lucky, those whose parents were unable to send them through school, never mind if they were diploma mills, survive by being kargadores in the wet markets, or pickpockets, or scavengers. For them, even dreams are a luxury.

Is there any candidate out there who can infuse some hope?

I always exclaim, what a country! What a country, indeed.

* * *

Just as I was ending this article, a friend sent me a short message. It is a message of hope, and so I thought of sharing it with you, instead of stabbing hopelessly into the dark.

“No matter how bad yesterday was, it now belongs to the past. Don’t let it worry you or stop you from pursuing the many possibilities of today.

“For today is a gift you can unwrap and share with all.

“That is why it is called “present”. Open God’s present with a happy heart”.

Amen to that.