Re-Establishing the Connection Between Leaders and the Led
by Manuel L. Quezon III
It seems the poor among our countrymen, are like Niccolo Machiavelli. A startling observation, but let me explain. In his treatise, “The Prince,” Machiavelli, who has been used — and abused — by politicians and columnists alike, famously advised that “A prince, therefore, being compelled knowingly to adopt the beast, ought to choose the fox and the lion; because the lion cannot defend himself against snares and the fox cannot defend himself against wolves. Therefore, it is necessary to be a fox to discover the snares and a lion to terrify the wolves.”
Machiavelli, who was giving advice to princes even though in his heart of hearts, he was really a believer in democratic government, goes on to say that “a wise lord cannot, nor ought he to, keep faith when such observance may be turned against him, and when the reasons that caused him to pledge it exist no longer.” In other words, he advised that deceit and an elastic attitude toward both honor and commitments served a leader best.
Since election season has basically begun, attention will naturally focus on the majority, the poor and the fear and loathing the middle and upper classes of Filipino society feel for them. A book titled “The Vote of the Poor” by the Institute of Popular Culture makes for useful reading.
Conclusion number 6 of the book says the following: “Corruption is widely seen as making a bad leader. To be good, a leader must have the following attributes: (a) God-fearing, (b) helpful, (c) loyal, (d) responsible, (e) intelligent, (f) hardworking, (g) faithful to one’s word, (h) principled, and (i) trustworthy. Rural and female participants look for intelligence, while urban participants value religiosity. Older participants give priority to helpfulness, while youth and male groups emphasize a leader’s sense of responsibility. Participants tend to cast their sight on local officials for examples of good leaders and on national officials for examples of bad leaders.” In other words, the observations made by Machievelli of leaders and those they rule in Renaissance Italy are similar to what social scientists have discovered about our poor countrymen in 21st century poverty-stricken Philippines.
This parallel, incongruous as it might be, since Machievelli was giving cynical advice to ruthless rulers, and the writers and researchers of the book on the Philippine poor are describing the realities of the values and thought processes of our marginalized sectors, points to an essential fact overlooked in the treatment of the poor in our political life. For the politician, the poor are an amorphous mass to be pandered to in rhetorical terms, but exploited in marketing, that is, vote-getting, terms.
The industrial aspect to political exploitation of the past -treating the poor as forces to be marshaled by subordinates in order to deliver votes to their superiors, has been replaced by a mass-marketing based attitude that is even more alienating and I submit, even more exploitative than in the past. Those who have read studies of the origins of agrarian revolt in the 20th century will recall that one cause was the inability of a more modern attitude towards agricultural production to supplant the former ties that bound peasants to their landlords. Feudalism in its earlier manifestations emphasized, at its best, at least, mutual dependence and obligations between the landed and the landless; when replaced with a system based purely on finding the most efficient means to extract wealth from those tilling the land, revolution and rebellion was the result.
In my writings, in examining the behavior of the electorate, I have always maintained that regardless of how illogical or offensive the results of electoral exercises may be, if the exercises are conducted in an atmosphere of transparency and as little manipulation of the results as possible, then those results can be understood, and should be understood. By this I mean that there is an inherent logic to the voting behavior of our countrymen, the majority of whom happen to be poor. The problem, for pundits, reporters, and political analysts, is that the inner logic of voters, as demonstrated by their voting behavior, can lead to some very uncomfortable conclusions. The most uncomfortable conclusion, at least for many in our political class, is that the voting poor have a pretty clear idea of what they want, and that what they want isn’t what the traditional political class has offered or can provide. The corollary to this is that there is an emerging new political class, whose success is based on a more relevant, or at least, accessible ability to communicate, but their ability to deliver on what they can communicate ends, where their lack of training or aptitude for the nuts and bolts of a political system crafted by the old political class begins.
I once wrote that the remarkable thing about the presidential elections we’ve had since 1992, is that in all of them, our countrymen have been clearer about what they don’t want, than what they want. We have not had a majority president democratically elected since 1969, with the exception of the extraordinary elections of 1986. The reason for this is partially structural, in that we have the blessings of a multiparty system while being simultaneously cursed by not having any provisions for run-off elections to ensure an incontrovertible majority. This, for a population that only respects clear majorities and for an institution, the presidency, whose vast powers can only be harnessed effectively if built on a solid mandate.
In the eighth conclusion of the book, the following has been written: “Leader’s legitimacy is widely seen as emanating from the people, specifically, in the exercise of the constitutional right to vote. But the youth stress that an elected official must be followed to be truly legitimate. A leader can lose legitimacy in two senses. First, acts of corruption, illegal activities, misdeeds, or undesirable traits make the people lose their confidence in, loyalty to, and affection for a leader, regardless of whether or not the leader is removed from office. Second, such events as ‘impeachment,’ ‘expiration of term,’ and ‘people power’ result in the leader’s loss of legitimacy.”
I have dedicated myself to studying leadership, both past and present in our country, and the fundamental problem bedeviling us today, which is: How leadership has been virtually impossible to maintain, extremely difficult to keep, almost guaranteed to be lost, and yet always replaced with hopes for a kind of restoration of leadership in a traditional mold. Re-establishing — for those who believe, as I do, that this connection once existed — or establishing — for those who assert that there has always been a glaring lack of connection between leaders and the led — is the fundamental political challenge facing us today. The solution, whatever it may be, begins with understanding the majority.
I believe there remains more that can unite the poor with those who are not poor, than the things that currently divide them. This book offers that hope; for to read is to see that, unlike so instinctively felt by the wealthy, the influential, and even the learned, the poor are not the threat. We are.