Distrust/mistrust of politicians

FROM FAR AND NEAR - Ruben Almendras - The Freeman

There are two planned anti-Charter Change rallies for February 25 in Manila and Cebu. One is tied to the EDSA People Power anniversary while the other one is an offshoot of the breakup of the Marcos-Duterte coalition. This is after weeks of numerous criticisms in main and social media on the surreptitious signature campaign for a “People’s Initiative” with allegations/proofs of payments from public and private sources.

The Congress proposal and assurance was that only the economic provisions in the Constitution would be amended and not any political provisions. This assurance was not believed by those opposing a Charter Change since the maneuvers of some congressmen and political operatives point to a hidden agenda of term extensions for congressmen and changes in the term limitations of elected officials. The politically-aware citizens “distrust” and “mistrust” the Congress and the current administration.

Mistrust means to be suspicious of, or having no confidence, or regard with suspicion. It is a verb and is a feeling. Distrust on the other hand is already a noun since it is already a settled belief that someone cannot be trusted. This controversy and opposition against changes in the Philippine Constitution at this time, shows/exposes the distrust of people in some politicians, the mistrust of the people in other politicians, and consequently in the government.

Historically, politicians were never the trusted group. Even when most of the world governments were monarchies and varying forms of authoritarianisms, the politicians/courtiers that curried favors from the rulers were viewed as self-serving aristocrats. When the democratic political system developed in some countries, the politicians survived as minor elected officials and functionaries after their own well-being. A cartoon in 19th century Europe/England and in the US depicted them with derision, e.g. “Boss Tweed”. In the 20th century, the politicians’ image improved with advances of mass media and information technology as they reacted to public opinion and cleaned up their act. Governments and politicians now conduct and react to satisfaction and trust ratings.

The current administration and their allied politicians, coming from a suspiciously-large winning margin in the last election, are confident of their satisfaction and trust rating. They believe these are confirmed by poll surveys after two years in office, and this could be the time to push for some initiatives while still enjoying substantial mandate.

Whether real or manipulated/managed, trust ratings erode over time due to economic, social, and political changes. Surveys are economically and geographically stratified and shifts according to developments. The Marcos dictatorship, the Bolsonaro debacle of Brazil, and many regimes that had fallen, are examples of both authoritarian and democratic government changes.

Of the two groups that are demonstrating against Charter Change, we can easily surmise which one has the nobler motive and which one has ulterior motives. We should be eager to see the attendance and the issues that will be espoused in both demonstrations/rallies. Unless these rallies are restricted, denigrated, or silenced, the saving grace here is that these are allowed in our country, the Philippines.

From a political strategy perspective, it is difficult to say if this is the right time for the current administration to spend political capital, or to test the waters of its supposed mandate on such a divisive issue. Politicians always like to tempt fate, and they also eventually act against their own interests.

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