Elections and Emotions

The upcoming midterm elections are an example of the politics of emotions in the Philippines. 

The latest Gallup Emotions Report placed the Philippines as the second most emotional nation in the world. The survey, which was conducted through a mix of telephone and face-to-face interviews with approximately 1,000 adults conducted throughout 2018 in 143 countries, revealed that six out of ten Filipinos experienced positive or negative emotions the day before, with an average of 60 percent "yes" responses to all of the questions. The Gallup report also revealed that more than one in three people said they experienced a lot of worries and at least one in five individuals experienced sadness or anger.

This does not come as a surprise. In a country where religions and perceived demons cause people to be fearful and angry for no apparent reason, soap operas dominate the afternoon and evening hours on television, and even everyday life is a virtual soap opera on its own, Filipinos are, indeed, an emotional people. Their emotions can be easily aroused by extreme happiness, sadness, and anger, which, unfortunately, result in unintended consequences at certain times.

In Philippine politics, personality, patronage, and emotions trump principles and platforms of governance most of the time. The politician exercising hegemony within a certain area makes sure that his constituents are emotionally attached to him through either overt acts of kindness such as extending assistance to an individual or his relative during stressful situations and showing piousness, or by concocting a touching life story that everybody can relate to. The same politician also takes advantage of people's emotions by employing propaganda tactics to paint a grim picture of a particular situation or by portraying the image of his opponents in a negative light.

The upcoming midterm elections are an example of the politics of emotions in the Philippines. The traditional politicians vying for power are once again appealing to the emotions of people through a variety of gimmicks that will help them portray a positive image, especially one that will make them relatable to the masses, and by making promises that seem to offer a solution to the problems of their constituents. On the other hand, the anti-Duterte forces are resorting to anti-Chinese propaganda to rouse the people to not only express anger towards China and any person who is from China or of Chinese descent but, ultimately, to President Duterte, in hopes of making the chance of winning of pro-administration candidates slim and perhaps to force early regime change in the Philippines.

The perils of personality, patronage, and emotions exercising dominance over principles and platforms in Philippine politics are clear. It will be hard to achieve the goals such as national unity, effective and efficient small government, a more FDI- and MSME-friendly economy, honesty and transparency in both the public and private sectors, and people exercising discipline and a sense of personal responsibility if the elements operating under the current political and economic status quo have control over the emotions of people, enabling them to get what they want, and establish and maintain dominance. It is even more difficult to put the fate of the nation at the hands of an emotional people through a Western-style direct democracy, the results of which are holding the Philippines hostage for the past 30 or so years.

It is for this reason that I believe in the parliamentary system and a closed-list electoral system, both of which are ways to go around the fact of Filipinos being an emotional people. Through a closed-list electoral system, the personality- and patronage-based politics can be upended, and, at the same time, Filipinos still have the ability to exercise a semblance of political control since voters would choose for political parties instead of individual candidates, and make their choices based on platforms of governance and principles. The parliamentary system, where the results of the closed-list electoral system will be used as basis for the party or coalition that will form the government, is a form of security that the Philippines has since it and the closed-list electoral system are forms of indirect democracy, somewhat preventing emotions from influencing the fate of the nation.

However, the fact the Filipinos are an emotional people cannot be changed overnight because it is cultural in nature, meaning it is a product of many years of practice, societal acceptance, and domination of various political and economic powers. The only solutions that can be offered are the ones that can go around that fact, something that, hopefully, the parliamentary system and a closed-list electoral system can do. In addition, a shift towards a parliamentary system and a closed-list electoral system, and the reduction of the emotional nature of Filipinos should be backed up by a significant investment on education and other factors that stimulate and increase their intellectual capacity and ability to decide things on their own, and defanging the personalities and entities that use propaganda and patronage to make them emotional and beholden to certain political and economic interests.

About the Author
Benedict is an agricultural economist, academician and writer. He has gained experience and expertise in various fields of economics, business, political science and public relations after through professional ventures in the academe, and in the public and private sectors. He has authored or co-authored key publications on topics ranging from agriculture and food security to global affairs and politics.
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