The Manila Times - Faking politics

7 December 2019

By Antonio Contreras | The Manila Times

Last of a 3-part series

THERE is so much internet space devoted to talking about fake news. If there is something on which we need to spend more time and energy, it should be on those who are faking our politics.

And here, we are not just talking about those who are fraudulently elected, or those whose assumption to office is fraught with allegations of cheating. Maria Leonor Robredo has been labeled in social media as a fake vice president. After all, her occupancy of the position remains in doubt to some, and is in fact the subject of an ongoing election protest by former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

Let us consider once again how Merriam-Webster defines the word “fake.” As an adjective, Robredo may in fact be a fake since she would not be the genuine vice president if it were true that she won as a result of fraud. Thus, as a noun, she would be a fake since she would be pretending to be vice president if she was a product of cheating. As a verb, Robredo would be a child of a faked election if the results were indeed altered, manipulated and doctored.

But beyond Robredo and others like her whose election remains under a cloud of doubt, we also see politicians who may have won the elections fairly, but whose credentials remain under serious doubt. Sen. Maria Josefa “Imee” Marcos continues to be hounded by the issue of her allegedly fake diplomas from the University of the Philippines (UP) and from Princeton University.

And then we have those who enter politics pretending to be wise, and yet do not rise to the level of wisdom that befits the office they hold. And it is in this last category of politicians, the real pretenders, that politics end up being at risk of being diminished by small minds.

Politics is actually supposed to be a noble profession. Plato in fact reserved it only for those who are ruled by wisdom. In the face of the fact that public service entails a lot of sacrifice, and that natural selfishness should therefore be tempered and moderated, if not totally abandoned, a politician is supposed to be one who would privilege others over himself. This is the genuine and authentic ideal of politics. It is a profession not only for the wise, but also for the honorable.

Unfortunately, what we have right now is a political landscape that has been undermined by unprincipled mediocrity. And it is not just the Philippines, but elsewhere, from Donald Trump to Boris Johnson. We are now facing a kind of politics that, for all intents and purposes, has fallen victim to the biggest fakers of the century. These are people who just because they are rich can win elections even if they lack what Plato would have considered as wisdom. Some of them are not rich, and are not wise, but have the correct surname, or connection. These are people whose political fortunes are not honed in the domain of intellect, but in serving the interests of kingmakers and the kings they make. It is certainly heartbreaking to see the spectacle of our legislature being populated by people whose idea of politics is undermined by their mediocrity.

These people are the real fakers. Every time we call them honorable, we diminish the word. They are the embodiment of people who are not authentic leaders but are simply pretenders to the throne by virtue of pedigree and wealth. These are people who corrupt the system of interest representation by turning their vocations away from serving their constituents and into serving whatever will suit the maintenance of their power and influence.

And it is not even having the right academic degree. One need not be a real graduate of Princeton or UP to be authentic in the realm of public service. It is not even being a saint, for the virtue of politics is found in service, and not in being totally unblemished. Senator Marcos, despite being accused of having a faked UP and Princeton diploma, and despite the demonization of the surname she carries, is not necessarily one who fails the test of what it takes to be a senator that befits the honor. There are others like her who come to the political arena with the needed knowledge and skills to represent the interests of the people.

What is distressing are those in government, including those in elected positions, who are mere pretenders. They may have genuine diplomas but they have very little knowledge of how to turn their academic degrees into authentic advantages. You hear them speak and you realize how far we have deviated from the times when great and big minds loomed over Congress.

The electorate is not totally blameless in this entire mess. Many undeserving politicians are elected by voters who do not have any real understanding of authentic politics. These voters demean politicians, and even attach a negative connotation to politics, yet do not practice their moral responsibility to elect only those that would keep politics as it is supposed to be, a noble profession where politicians are only those with the wisdom, intellect and skills to serve the public interest. We have politicians who win not because they have the gravitas. They win because of their wealth, looks and political connections. They are voted into office by people who would not look at their voting records, or their ideologies, or their track records. Some of them win because they are known celebrities. Others win not for their own merits but because of the President.

If there is one principle in democracy that has caused a decline in its quality, it is that belief that anyone who is literate can enter politics. It is a formula for disaster. It has led to the counterfeiting of politics and its diminution by pretenders and fakers.