JUST when you think that we have seen the last of showbiz presidents with the ouster of Joseph “Erap” Estrada and the demise of Fernando “FPJ” Poe, Jr. – think again. Unless our people’s predilection for showbiz wanes or is rationally tempered, we will likely see another president from tinsel town residing in Malacañang Palace.
In its October survey (released last week), Pulse Asia billed Noli de Castro and Joseph Estrada as the no. 1 and no. 2 most preferred successor, respectively, of Madame Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in the event of her ouster or resignation. Despite his being largely perceived as ill-prepared for the job, Noli de Castro’s long exposure to TV audiences has armed him with the prerequisite popularity which is key to winning elections.
Although I had supported Raul Roco and had been a staunch critic of FPJ, I do believe that FPJ was the duly elected president in the 2004 elections. So do 80% of Filipinos today. Although I agree that the election of somebody so patently unqualified to become president like FPJ is a sad commentary on our electoral exercise and political maturity – still I cannot be intellectually dishonest and pretend, just like Macapagal-Arroyo’s minions, that FPJ did not win the 2004 elections.
But why do I see more showbiz presidents in the future?
Online news network INQ7 releases a weekly summary of its 10 most-read stories and columns. INQ7 enjoys a powerful readership that’s validated by average daily page views of 1.5 million and the readership preferences accurately prove the overwhelming attraction of entertainment news. In fact, it is very easy to notice the dominance of entertainment news in all forms of news media. Mass-oriented star-gazing tabloids certainly know their audiences. GMA-7’s early evening newscast 24 Oras, the top primetime news program, recognizes the appeal of showbiz and its role in keeping healthy ratings and so one sees in 24 Oras a heavy dose of showbiz news.
I am at least grateful that my High Ground political column on INQ7 had managed to land on the top 10 most-read columns on occasions but the top positions are invariably held by showbiz buzz. This should concern us because it indicates the detachment and indifference of our people to the problems besetting the country, more so in this time of crisis.
No doubt entertainment carries weight, no matter which part of the world you may be. Beholding the likes of Judy Ann Santos, Brad Pitt, or Angel Locsin is certainly a better alternative to the unpleasant realities associated with the likes of Joe de Venecia, Mike Arroyo, Raul Gonzalez or Miriam Santiago. But in the midst of our crisis, ignoring the existence and venom of those who ruin our country is a manifestation of indifference that is most worrisome. It is one thing to be in a state of denial but it is another to be in the worse state of just not caring anymore. I’m afraid most Filipinos have resigned themselves to that sorry state of not caring anymore.
Do I blame our masa for being madly star struck? No, I do not. Yet it is one thing to condone the acts of the drug addict or the prostitute on account of his or her being a victim of the underworld drug characters and extreme poverty. But it is another thing to detach one’s self from the problem and not try to help out in effecting solutions. I will not blame our underprivileged for electing showbiz icons for the reason that they do not know any better. That type of judgmental thinking is most common among the upper class. We cannot lay blame on people for whose plight and circumstance we should also be held accountable.
While the poor became poorer, the rich became richer and more detached from their social responsibilities and obligations towards bringing about a more equitable world. Now the haves lost all credibility and moral suasion to get the have-nots to listen even to suggestions on how they can uplift their own lives. Now the poor have turned their sights on showbiz, that one sector that lulls and numbs them from their misery and gives them a sense of control over a world of make-believe.
For every man of the masses who voted for a Joseph Estrada and his showbiz ilk, we must blame the Gloria M. Arroyos and Joe de Venecias who have created the conditions that make showbiz candidates viable. It is the failed traditional politicians who messed up the country and forced the masses to seek salvation in false messiahs like Estrada.
In the days when we were number 2 in Asia in economic performance, we did not suffer from this showbiz syndrome because we had leaders we could respect and trust. Actor Rogelio de la Rosa almost became president in 1960 but Rogelio de la Rosa had qualifications unlike many of these showbiz president wannabes who do not even understand a medium term development plan or the basics of fiscal management. Rogelio de la Rosa was one of the finest ambassadors we had when he joined the Foreign Service.
The members of the upper and middle classes should first blame themselves for the disintegration of the country. We are all stockholders of our democracy and we are our brother’s keeper. How many times have we witnessed a member of the upper class emoting a lament for the country’s suffering poor for the sake of media mileage? Then, like changing costumes for another act, they leave their pretending-to-care-for-the-poor outfit and then move on to be their old selfish selves.
In May 1, 2001, a masa-led mob assaulted Malacañang, in what seemed like a local version of the Fall of the Bastille. Quite a number of our economic elite – Namfrel’s Joe Concepcion being one of them – promised to do something to improve the living standards of the masa so that they can enjoy the fruits of quality education and values training, and then hopefully, become wiser voters. The assault on Malacañang had sent chills up the spine of the economic elite, jolting them into realizing their social responsibility.
So, what became of all those pledges to address poverty issues? Nothing at all – it was pure lip service. Joe Concepcion even went on to become, along with Bill Luz, one of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s defenders against accusations of electoral fraud, if not witting accomplices.
We can even blame the religious leaders for having failed in their mission to enlighten the masses and instill in them positive values. Our church-goers’ brains have not evolved much from the time we were under the control of the Spanish Friars. Our CBCP preferred to take the safer and uncontroversial position when there were moves to uncover the sinister plot to deprive the Filipino of the right to choose their own leaders.
We can also blame media for the showbiz phenomenon in our electoral exercises. By pandering to the sensational, the sexy, and the controversial, media had helped promote these showbiz president wannabes. Media preferred to cater to people’s baser instincts instead of providing them thoughts and insights that inspire and ennoble.
The owners and managers of media are from the upper and middle classes, the very classes who begrudge showbiz personalities for running the country. Yet look at how they all feasted on the salability of FPJ stories when FPJ ran for president in 2004. Media gave their front pages to the very same showbiz personalities they resented. Their thirst for added circulation and ratings overrode their responsibility to the country and even their own interests. It is not only irresponsible but stupid when you really think about it!
Just scan the front pages of newspapers during the 2004 election campaign and you will see how many front page banner stories were allocated for FPJ – a candidate who hardly made any noteworthy pronouncement. In one leading daily, FPJ even had as many as four stories on the front page in one edition. In contrast, Raul Roco, a presidential candidate who really presented a platform of government that seriously offered to address the problems of the country, hardly landed in a front page banner story. Roco made front page banner headlines when he had to leave for the US to attend to his prostate problem, the ailment which eventually killed him. These front page stories worked against him however and eroded his support.
In the end, media acknowledged Raul Roco for being the best president the country never had. Media gave Raul his best publicity mileage only after he died; when that mileage could no longer help provide the country with better leadership.
How do we prevent another man-made calamity of a showbiz president? The solution lies in community development models like the Gawad Kalinga and the Focolare’s Bukas Palad communities – samples of empowered communities that have reformed the values and mindsets that keep people poor and exploited. A media-based voters’ education campaign cannot effectively address the problem because it requires more than just mass communications to reform people’s values and mindsets.
Gawad Kalinga and Bukas Palad made a difference in people’s lives, empowering them to become better citizens and be more productive – not by what they lectured but in showing the poor how to live. Gawad Kalinga and Bukas Palad touched and transformed lives not by preaching but by sharing values and experiences, not by giving the poor people money but by helping them become self-reliant, not by telling them what to think but in encouraging them how to think.
The Focolare’s Economy of Communion (EoC), a new economic and business philosophy that is now adopted in over 800 companies in five continents, is integral to the Focolare’s development model. This development model has been successfully tried and tested in over 185 countries where the Focolare Movement has taken roots (log on to www.focolare.org to know more about the Focolare Movement). The EoC is yet the most practical antidote for bridging wide disparities in a country’s wealth gap – the kind of gap that breeds violent upheavals and social explosions.
A new country with a new vision and perspective that surmounts the evils of exploitation can only emerge when our people shall have improved themselves. The poor are not capable of rising above their station by themselves. Their hope lies in the middle class. The French, Russian, Vietnamese and Chinese revolutions were engineered by leaders who came from the middle class. The change that we want can only be attained after all Filipinos – whether rich or poor – have synergized to transform our country.
It is long overdue that the haves in our country realize that it is either they assist the have-nots to improve their lot in life or face the consequences of a class war. It is either we bring them up or they will eventually bring us down – and electing showbiz icons is one way they are doing that already. Empowering the have-nots is an act of self-preservation for the haves and not just a case of charity or social responsibility.
You may email William M. Esposo at: firstname.lastname@example.org