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Wexistential Crises, Wayward Thoughts, Welcome Distractions and Willful Pursuits

Our criticism of Nancy Binay says more about us than it does about her

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Philippines Named ‘Most Stupid Country to Elect a 20-Year OJT as a Senator.’

I’m not a fan of Nancy Binay but I’m going to have to take issue with this.

First of all, this is a sorry excuse for political satire. Is this supposed to be our equivalent of The Onion or The Daily Show? Because this witless, poorly written drivel is inexcusable, especially considering the wealth of comedic material that Philippine politics has to offer.

Second, that the piece was presented as a fake TIME Magazine feature suggests that we should be ashamed of international ridicule. What is with our constant need for international acknowledgement/validation? Being taken seriously by other countries is least among the reasons to uplift ourselves.

Third, Nancy was avoiding substantial issues but she wasn’t the one steering the discussion towards her skin color. We have our ignorant, racist countrymen to thank for that. Our national obsession with skin lightening and our screwed-up standards of beauty have no place in a discussion of Nancy Binay’s worthiness as a senator. If the worst thing you can say about Nancy Binay is that she’s dark and ugly, you’re not even trying. You’re equally to blame for the extremely low level of public discourse.

“You may not agree with a woman, but to criticize her appearance — as opposed to her ideas or actions — isn’t doing anyone any favors, least of all you. Insulting a woman’s looks when they have nothing to do with the issue at hand implies a lack of comprehension on your part, an inability to engage in high-level thinking. You may think she’s ugly, but everyone else thinks you’re an idiot.” – Jezebel

Fourth, this “20-Year OJT” business. People seem to think being an assistant is, in and of itself, lowly and shameful. It isn’t.

While Nancy Binay’s work experience isn’t enough to make her qualified as a senator, I don’t think it’s necessarily something to sneer at. In theory, the 20 years she spent as assistant to the mayor of Makati could have resulted in many achievements. Assistants to powerful people can be powerful themselves. (Take for example Huma Abedin, Hillary Clinton’s aide of 17 years, who is regarded as one of the rising stars of American politics and whom Ms. Clinton refers to as her “secret weapon.”) If, in those 20 years, Nancy’s work was integral to the success of the mayor, if she wielded great influence in city hall such that initiatives in Makati would not have flourished if not for her, if she had personally taken charge of specific programs that had benefited the city, those would be qualifications she could boast about.

It’s valid to criticize her for not having accomplished anything, but I don’t think it’s valid to simply dismiss her position as a “20 year OJT.” I can compose a long laundry list of people with fancy titles (Chairman of the Board, President and CEO, Executive Director, etc.) who have nothing to show for themselves. Your designation is less important than what you’ve actually done.

Fifth, dismissing the people who voted for Nancy Binay as categorically stupid makes you sound a lot less educated than you think you are. If you were truly “enlightened,” you would have a more nuanced appreciation of the social conditions that led to Nancy Binay’s election.

The “masa” whom you regard with so much derision are trying to make the best decisions they can with the limited information and limited capacity they have. They’re not all simply bought or blinded by celebrity status.

I’ve seen comments on Facebook about denying people below a certain income bracket their right to vote or killing all the poor people. Such comments are so appalling that perhaps those who are capable of making them should be denied their right to vote. There are college graduates who can’t reason their way out of a paper bag and there are high school dropouts who can impress you with the depth and clarity of their insights. The quality of one’s vote isn’t necessarily a function of one’s educational attainment or socio-economic class. Don’t turn this into a class war.

Which is not to say that education isn’t a factor, because of course it is. Over 50 percent of those who enter Grade 1 do not finish high school and our educational system promotes rote memorization over the development of higher-order thinking skills. How can we expect sophisticated reasoning from our electorate?

Education is a necessary precondition for a functioning democracy, and by education I’m not only referring to academic learning. Education should also be about learning attitudes and values that enable people to act as responsible citizens. You can can hold multiple degrees and still be a lousy citizen.

Lastly, as you lament the stupidity of the Filipinos and the dire straits our country is in, perhaps you could also reflect upon what you have done to improve the situation.

Social media is a useful tool, but if you’re serious about social change your civic participation can’t begin and end with the click of a button. If you want to make an impact you still need to get involved the old fashioned way (i.e. offline). I think the results of this election prove that the rest of the Philippines couldn’t care less about what’s being said on Facebook.

If you’re not happy about the outcome of this election, there are things you can do to make the next one better. You can join the campaign of a candidate you believe in. You can volunteer with groups who are doing voters’ education programs and working to get more people, particularly the youth, to register and vote. You can organize a townhall meeting in your local community or school. You can join an election watchdog group. And your civic participation needn’t (nor shouldn’t) be limited to election season. There are so many ways you can contribute to worthy causes all year round.

Change is incremental and we can’t expect to see results overnight. We’ll win some, we’ll lose some. But if more ordinary citizens decide to get involved in meaningful ways, we’ll have a fighting chance. Filipinos need to realize that we all must share the burdens and benefits of living together as a people and as a society.

“We do not need another EDSA… for our country to move ahead. EDSA must be everyday. That means everyone understands he has an obligation to serve. That means reform is an every day activity. That means the daily grind is more important than the one-time heroic moment.” — Hon. Jesse M. Robredo

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