The cost of political illiteracy
I’ve written about this at length in another essay, but it bears emphasizing that the Philippines is plagued by political illiteracy. The educational landscape’s unevenness is the root of all evil. Underfunded educational institutions kowtowing to the President and other local powers do not make for effective institutions. I remember a friend saying that we’re now in the era where Philippine institutions have decayed, perhaps to the point that we can’t repair them anymore.
Maybe this is why we continue pushing for alternative press and youth writing.
Because our institutions have already failed us, this self-reliance results from decades of neglect. You stop hoping for the best, and you start fixing the damned house yourself. This is a new low in the country that everyone should remember.
Why should anyone care about political literacy?
Political illiteracy allows the rise of evil political families and clans. These people are constantly involved in under-the-table deals and everything else that doesn’t benefit the country. They’re out for the limited contents of our national coffers. They don’t care about you. They don’t care about us. They will only ever care about themselves. Since our countryfolk seem to be ill-prepared for any national mass movement, we must make do with navigating the maze of a neoliberal ‘democracy,’ which is a misnomer since there can never be a democratic neoliberal state. All neoliberal states are repressive and will suppress any bids for liberation. All we are allowed are token gestures. As long as we remain politically illiterate, there’s no chance that we can begin talking about our destination as a nation. To paraphrase the author Victoria Garcia, “the Philippines is still young [as a nation], and [many] Filipinos still think like children.”
Why do we crave butangeros?
I have been asking this question since Duterte rose to power six years ago. Duterte was a break from the mold, but he is cut from the same cloth as other prominent politicians in the Philippines by historical and class analysis. The demagogue from Davao didn’t want to be seen as proper. He loved the idea of being portrayed as a butangero. His thuggish personality and language became one of his sources of power. People continued to rally behind him well into the pandemic. But the question remains – why?
Indeed, there was misinformation on the internet, especially on Facebook. But beyond the digital realm, people genuinely believed that Duterte’s political brand was ‘healing’ the country. This makes me question how Filipinos think of how the nation works and what running a country involves. Why choose a butangero? Is the national imagination limited to one’s neighborhood, province, or region? What do people see when they ‘see’ national coordinates? What do people ‘see’ when they think of culture, social relations, and politics?
Fake news peddlers from (what should be) unlikely ranks
Fake news isn’t new. Demagoguery, sloganeering, made-up stories in newspapers, and paid broadcasts on TV and cable are all ancient ancestors of fake news on the internet. Even Hitler used his national propaganda machine to spread his brand of nationalism, which mostly involved exhorting Germans to support the Jewish genocide. Kill some Jews, and gain some national pride. Ensure the survival of the Aryan race. Ensure that the race will have enough resources, including land. Hitler is the worst example of someone who likes using the race card.
I digress. In recent years, it has become increasingly apparent that everyone in the Philippines has become a victim of fake news. This truly began with the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the sudden influx of paid trolls who engage people through comments on public pages and posts and the endless reproduction of memes, text posts, images, videos, and external articles on Facebook. Today, these trolls have expanded their operations on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube. No platform is safe, so everyone comes across the propaganda machine’s tendrils eventually.
It is unfortunate that Filipino professionals, including teachers, have become vulnerable to fake news. It doesn’t help that teachers are generally discouraged from airing their political beliefs. This has become deeply ingrained. Where else can they air it but online? And if you take that away through veiled threats, what do they do after? They end up sharing fake news and state propaganda. Fortunately, there are always cracks in the dam. A minority of teachers, especially those from the progressive ranks, are fighting disinformation and saying to hell with policy (which should always be the better, logical choice). These educators are admirable for holding the fort and attempting to influence other teachers to become more critical of what they share online, especially what they believe.
It’s only necessary when it’s too late
The Philippine educational system has changed very little in the past two decades. It never peaked, so to speak, because it was never given a chance to peak. Neoliberalism does that to education. Neoliberalism primarily serves the free market. The free market exists because of post-globalization and capitalism. Capital causes everything to implode because it only exists to perpetuate itself, to the detriment of entire peoples and countries.
What does the educational system have to do with neoliberalism and everything else?
Not knowing how the economic system works and the relationship between people, capital, and the post-global order means people can’t read the signs. They will continue to attribute the country’s ills to the wrong things. Take, for example, the general hatred for the yellows in the country, and you will understand that all people can see are the politicians, but not the systems behind them. I write this before the elections, so it’s still a toss between the late dictator’s son and Leni. But let me tell you this – our general ignorance of how political economy works makes it possible for local politicos, economic warlords, and imperialists to enslave us more easily. We don’t know what’s happening at all. All we see are the ripples in our personal lives.
That Marcosian narrative
The Marcosian narrative of a grand return to paradise has been six years in the making. Duterte took advantage of the “free shots” against the Aquinos and the “yellows” for several years. What’s fascinating (the way dead bodies are fascinating in a macabre way) is that Dutertismo works very well with the Marcosian narrative of a utopia “before the Aquinos arrived.”
Essentially, every societal ill can be attributed to just one family or party, and everyone would lap it up. In countries with intense corruption and broken democracy, it’s easy to game the masses against an invisible enemy or monolith.
We have become trapped in the Marcosian narrative where the good and bad guys are mixed up. While the intelligentsia would have a much higher resistance to the disinformation effort (but they are not entirely immune to it), the larger block of citizens is at risk every day. As people sink deeper into the Marcosian narrative of a great return to paradise, the country becomes more prone to oligarchic forces, warlordism, and a brittle economy. The elections are next week, and everyone is feeling the anxiety you will only experience when there is already so much at stake.