Depoliticizing the Filipino

ANECDOTAL EVIDENCE suggests mass disaffection with Philippine politics in the wake of the scandals that regularly appear in the Philippine media.

In social media as well as in man-on-the-street interviews, in reaction to reports of alleged corruption involving government officials, most Filipinos condemn all politicians as uniformly corrupt, about which, they add, they can do little or nothing. In many instances they also shrug away the reports as of no consequence to their lives, except for the opportunities these offer in expressing their contempt for politicians and government officials.

The Philippine media do report and comment on — in detail, and with accompanying photographs as well as background material, feature stories, investigative reports and opinion pieces — allegations of corruption against such officials as Vice President Jejomar Binay and Philippine National Police Chief Alan Purisima, to cite the most recent (and ongoing) examples.

The news media also chronicled the accusations against former Chief Justice Renato Corona as well as the bases for them. Neither were they remiss in providing the putrid details behind the plunder cases against Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, and Ramon Revilla Jr. It was also the media that first exposed the diversion of pork barrel funds to ghost NGOs and the involvement of both private and public sector personalities in it. The media were also the vehicles in the public exposure of the alleged use of Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) funds in assuring the impeachment and conviction of Corona.

The question is to what purpose other than for its own sake do the media faithfully — and at times gleefully — report corruption. If the essence of pornography is its being a detailed account presented for its own sake, so detailed — and presented for their own sake — have the reports been that they practically constitute pornographic accounts. These accounts provoke initial reactions limited to expressions of cynicism (so what else is new?), which eventually turn into indifference.

For all of the media’s detailed accounts of corruption, what’s missing in the orgies of media exposure of scandal after scandal are attempts to go into the roots and causes of public sector corruption. Rather than empowering media readers, viewers and listeners, the result is the opposite: they create a sense of powerlessness and lead to a rejection of political involvement and action as of no earthly use.

The paradox is that while the Philippine media have been accused of an inordinate focus on politics, because the politics that is their main concern has been limited to the reporting of scandal after scandal, they contribute to mass depoliticization by encouraging citizen indifference to political issues, and in preventing understanding of the political system in terms of both the basics of the political structure (for example, the relationship between the three branches of government), as well as such fundamentals as who wields political power, how and for whom, as keys to citizen empowerment in understanding corruption and doing something about it in the public sphere rather tan grumbling about it among themselves.

Corruption is an important factor in the impoverishment of the Filipino people. But it is rooted in the exclusionary character of the political system, which over the decades has become the preserve of a handful of political dynasties focused on self-aggrandizement. The Philippine media can provide citizens the knowledge they need that’s vital to informed political action. But instead of insight and understanding, the Philippine media regale citizens with the lurid details of corruption in high places without providing them a guide in the imperative to put an end to it. Reporting corruption in the Philippine media is not a function of empowerment, but a form of entertainment.