One of my favorite pastimes during campaign season is listen to speeches at political rallies which are broadcast over the radio. Rhetoric and empty promises offer great entertainment value, providing a valuable lesson in the literary styles of my native Maguindanaon tongue. Shylock would have been ashamed of his when you prick us, do we not bleed monologue. The highlight of these politicians’ speeches would be to invoke contrived histories and genealogies to sway the masses to believe that it’s their birthright to be in power, like their ancestors.
The assumption that one possesses the birthright to be in power has constantly placed incompetent people, with the exception of a few, in public office. Forget track record and competitiveness. All you need is pedigree. Because of this, scions of political families, mine included, have made it a convenient excuse not to go to college. Who needs a diploma to become a councilor of a fifth class municipality anyway? When politicians tire of their children’s perpetual drunken brawls, they would let them run for public office to ‘teach them responsibility.’ If a town becomes to small for father and son, the creation of a new town could easily be proposed.
I remember a cousin telling me, “You’re brilliant. Too bad, you’re soft (he can’t seem to say the word gay). You could have run for public office.” I managed a grin and then commended him for his ability to spot real talent. “I’m really sorry, I don’t have plans to go into politics.” We argued for what seemed to be forever. He maintained that politics was in our blood. “Do not betray your legacy.” I insisted that public office has become limiting and limited. “It’s high time that our generation should start thinking of crossing the fence.”
He couldn’t get the drift. “You are hopeless,” he told me. I left him with a forced grin.
Descendants of the traditional elite believe that they alone possess legitimacy even in a supposed free and democratic election. But who are the traditional elite? Everybody claims to have descended from a sultan, shariff or awliya nowadays. When they lose the election to lesser mortals, it’s a slap in their face. This is the case with my hometown in Pagalungan.
For the past twelve years, a distant uncle has remained the municipal mayor. Although a member of our very complicated family tree, he served as a bodyguard of my mother’s brother for a long time. When he was catapulted to power, details of which I would no longer discuss here, he was able to maintain his post for more than a decade to the chagrin of some my immediate family members.
Because of term limits, he did not run for mayor during the last election. He fielded his son instead who was challenged by one of my mother’s brothers who happens to be the incumbent vice mayor. My mother’s brother lost in the polls sparking accusations of massive electoral fraud. The common sentiments you would often hear range from the sourgraping “Matuto sila lumugar. Utusan lang sila dati” (They should remember their place in this world. They were once our subjects) to the haughty “Atin ang lugar na ito” (This town belongs to our family). In my hometown, the distinction between real life and telenovela is sometimes muddled. Voters are put in a quandary when they are made to choose between two crooks.
This smugness is not limited to elections. Visit any bar or restaurant in Cotabato City and try turning your gaze to a group of young men. More often than not, you would hear these words leap out their mouths: “Anong tinitingin tingin mo dyan? Di mo ba ako kilala?” (What are you staring at? Do you know who I am?) My favorite would be the one that actually made it to the evening news: “(Speaking inside a jail cell) Palabasin nyo ako dito. Pamangkin ako ni Bolkiah” (Let me out of here. I am a nephew of Sultan Bolkiah of Brunei) and “Amin ang buong Maguindanao.” (We own the entire Maguindanao province) If the parents of these young people were truly honorable politicians worthy of their salt, then they should start governing their own household and tell their children to behave appropriately.
Birthright per se might not be the real problem here but the misplaced use of it. There won’t be an issue if the continuity one achieves by invoking his birthright will mean good governance, improved infrastructure and social services, support for education, and livelihood opportunities for the constituents. Sadly, the continued power afforded by birthright only means continuous access to public funds that are not spent on their expected purposes but are instead treated as personal money for mansions, the latest luxury SUV or Botox treatment.
While aspiring for educated voters, we might as well pray for enlightened leaders.
Upon learning that my uncle lost in the last election, my mother gave her brother a piece of her mind: “Magpakabait na lang sya. Meron pa naming 2010. Baka by that time, botohin na sya ng tao.” (He should change his ways. There’s election in 2010. Maybe by that time, people are going to vote for him)
[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Gutierrez Mangansakan II is a writer and documentary filmmaker from Pagalungan, Maguindanao. In 2005, he was named Defender of Cultural Heritage by the Fookien Times Philippines Yearbook for his efforts in preserving and nurturing the rich tradition of his Maguindanaon ancestry. For comments, please log on to www.morofilm.blogspot.com]