Thursday, February 12, 2009

Elections and Colonialism

Elections in the Philippines have legitimized governments and perpetuated two prevalent beliefs among ordinary citizens: (1) the family or clan is more important than the government in securing individual and collective welfare, and (2) ordinary people need the elective official primarily as a mediator through whom they can have access to goods and services from government.

A 2005 study by the Institute of Philippine Culture (IPC) on the vote of the poor, who constitute at least two-thirds of the population, shows that they consider elections legitimate exercises for selecting leaders even though “the campaign period is seen as a time of extremes and excesses” (IPC, 101-2). The poor liken leadership to parenthood, and thus the ideal leader, like the ideal parent, is regarded “as provider and guide, and as one who thinks about the future and desires the good of the children” (IPC, 27). The poor prefer their leader to be like a parent rather than a manager “because a manager is seen as impersonal, technical, and businesslike” (IPC, 98).

For most Filipinos, what secures well-being – after a good God – is a family or clan that is resourceful and cares for its own. Government is welcome when it is helpful to the family; otherwise it is undesirable yet inevitable like sickness and death. For half of the population who live in the rural areas, where the totality of values, customs and traditions is called folk culture (Sta. Maria, 58), government can be distant and inscrutable like the supreme deity of both the pre-colonial natives and the contemporary adherents of folk religion. While people cling to their belief in the deity’s goodness, they easily regard government as alien, impersonal, and unfriendly owing to its complex rules, technical language, and intricate bureaucracy.

This alienation can be traced to the long periods of colonialism under Spain and the United States in which central government was imposed by foreign invaders. Even after national independence, however, a form of colonialism is still practiced by elitist Filipinos mostly from the National Capital Region when they formulate and implement policies and make decisions that affect local communities in the other regions without the participation of the communities themselves.

Covert colonialism, sometimes in the name of development, has greatly harmed local communities. Grand projects like dams, mines, plantations, and factories that require capital-intensive technology are introduced suddenly and without dialogue with the locals, who become impoverished because their environment and primary livelihood are destroyed. Likewise, the rapidity, the magnitude, and the harshness of the change dissolve local solidarity networks and demoralize people.

Continuing colonialism reinforces the sentiment that the State does not have sufficient moral authority to oblige ordinary citizens to make personal sacrifices such as paying more taxes for the sake of the nation. Such weakness of the State is both cause and effect of the weakness of the people’s collective conscience, which gives more weight to national interest over personal interest whenever the two clash (David, 280-82). Even though the poor consider electoral participation “an affirmation of patriotism and of being a Filipino” (IPC, 58), this does not necessarily indicate a strong sense of nationhood since there are other civic duties besides voting. Some simple duties that are neglected by many, both poor and rich, include respect for traffic rules, respect for the flag, proper disposal of litter and trash, and involvement in civic organizations and public forums.


David, Randolf. Nation, Self and Citizenship: An Invitation to Philippine Sociology. Quezon City: University of the Philippines, 2002.

Institute of Philippine Culture. The Vote of the Poor: Modernity and Tradition in People’s Views of Leadership and Elections. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University, 2005.

Sta. Maria, Felice Prudente. A Cultural Worker’s First Manual: Essays in Appreciating the Everyday. Manila: Anvil Publishing, 2001.

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