Quite a number of Filipinos were shocked by the news that Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri had filed his resignation following allegations of electoral fraud during the 2007 senatorial elections. The move was a first in Philippine political history. There has been no Filipino public official on record who resigned out of delicadeza or shame in the past. Normally, any protest against a politician would either get drowned out by another fresh set scandal or get withdrawn from lack of evidence; the latter not for lack of witnesses who can corroborate but for lack of witnesses who can cut a good deal in exchange for coming out. And cutting a good deal is where the names Ampatuan and Bedol come in.
The allegations of cheating initiated by losing senatorial candidate Koko Pimentel reached a turning point after two high profile witnesses came out. Suspended Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao governor and Maquindanao massacre suspect, Zaldy Ampatuan and former election supervisor in Maguindanao, Lintang Bedol admitted that they acted as if they were members of “The Adjustment Bureau”. Unlike the movie in which members of an incognito mob are sworn to secrecy, Ampatuan and Bedol are not holding back on alleging who is the mastermind behind the “twisting of the fate” of the candidates during the elections.
Ampatuan and Bedol have publicly named former First Gentleman, Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo as the one who instructed them to “fix” the results against the senatorial candidates who were part of the opposition. People can be forgiven for thinking that there is something in it for those two “witnesses” who are themselves, also in trouble with the law. But I digress…
Zubiri insists that he is not guilty of cheating and even said that he did not ask anyone any favors. He also insists that he is as much a victim of the so-called election syndicates:
Zubiri, however, said that he did not ask anyone for any favor regarding the elections. “Ang inyong lingkod ay lalabas ding biktima noong botohang naganap noong 2007 (I am also a victim of the 2007 elections),” he said.
Resigning from their posts is something that many public officials who were embroiled in controversies in other countries have been known to do. In Japan for example, they change Prime Ministers like they change shirts. If it’s dirty and needs washing, they need to go. A public official who is involved in an imbroglio or who does not deliver his duties must resign without even waiting for any calls for him to do so. He does this to save face and it is part of their culture. The people readily accept this practice as normal and will likely not raise an eyebrow over the next one.
Most western nations use shame or guilt as an agent of social control. Mounting criticisms or protest by the general public against an unpopular act, can make by the public official resign from his post. Here in the Philippines, most Filipino public officials act like psychopaths because they do not seem to feel guilt or remorse for their wrongdoings. As mentioned in my previous article:
Psychopaths are said to be those who lack any true sense of guilt or remorse for harm they may have caused to others. Instead, they blame their behavior on someone else, or deny it outright. They lack moral bearing (in comparison with the majority of humans) and are unable to evaluate situations within a moral framework. They also have an inability to develop emotional bonds with other people.
Philippine society keeps trying to model its way of life based on the western model but we fail to grasp the fundamentals of what make Western society work. A lot of our public officials do not have a sense of guilt or do not feel remorse for not being able to fulfill their social obligations and for causing harm to the rest of society. They also blame their behavior on someone else, make all kinds of excuses and therefore do not feel accountable for their actions.
Added to the lack of sense of guilt or remorse, Filipinos in general are averse to giving a critical evaluation of our public officials based on their past performance. This is part of the reason why the public officials who are guilty of embezzling public funds or those who simply do not do their jobs to the best of their abilities still get re-elected or worse put on a higher ranking position like the presidency. There is no shame in having accomplished mediocre work because Filipinos just “let the matter slide” into pwede na yan (“that’ll do”) oblivion and hope that things will become better eventually.
Our false sense of hope has gotten us nowhere. I hear a lot of people say, “There is still hope for the Philippines” but until we develop a sense of shame or guilt, there is no hope for the Philippines. We do not like being criticized at all, whether it is a fellow Filipino or a foreigner doing the criticizing, Filipinos tend to lash out or dismiss the criticism as lacking in merit. We as a people, lack the ability to evaluate our circumstances or apply a bit of self-reflection.
Sadly, our religion also plays a big role in how we quickly remove our sense of quilt and shame. We have been made to believe that our “sins” are forgiven once we confess to a priest or a member of the Catholic Church; it is as if our conscience can be wiped clean of every abominable act — and then we are ready to do it all over again. There is no real sense of atonement or remorse after the confession but the cycle of dysfunctional behavior continues until it becomes part of our system. In short, a lot of Filipinos hide behind their religion as they continue their fraudulent activities. We often see a lot of households adorned with the images of saints and the members of the holy family. It makes some Filipinos believe that they are holy despite their unholy acts.
According to cultural anthropologist Ruth Benedict, shame arises from a violation of cultural or social values while guilt feelings arise from violations of one’s internal values. It may make sense that Filipinos do not feel guilty or shameful about fraudulent activities if we perhaps consider that our internal values may be flawed. Worse, there seems to be a highly developed unconscious justification for deceptive actions within the Filipino mind. What we value as a society seems to be more around saving face by way of acquiring material possessions, family connections and having a good time.
If we are to imitate the culture of shame by the Japanese or to genuinely adapt the western culture using guilt as an agent of social control, we need to develop a sense of responsibility for others and ourselves. The only way we can attain stability and progress is to honor our promises and value what is best for the whole society and ourselves in the long-term, and not just focus on trivial pursuits that only cater to instant gratification. In short, we just need to develop a conscience.
Juan Miquel Zubiri’s reason for resigning might have been personal but he did the country a favor by putting an end to another media circus, which the public has grown accustomed to. For some Filipinos, his move makes him look guilty and to a handful of Filipinos, his move might seem laudable on the outside but they are still wary of his motives. After all, this is the Philippines where the padrino system trumps all other systems in place.