In a recent entry in his blog, Davao Councilor Peter Lavina correctly (IMHO) points out that the internet (in this case blogging) has the potential to affect politics; however Dr. Ronald Meinardus (et al) put forth some interesting reasons why politicians don’t blog, namely:
- Cyberpolitics in the Philippines remains underdeveloped. If only a very small minority of politicians care(s) to have a website, how should one expect them to write a regular blog? This, of course, has to do also with the lack of connectivity, particularly in the provinces.
- Philippine political culture doesn’t favor blogging. Politicians, particularly the majority of so called traditional politicians or trapos are used to fixing problems, their thinking is short-term. Says my friend: “They are reactive, while blogging is pro-active.”
- Philippine politics is highly personalized, not issue-based. Blogging, on the other hand, is opinionated and demands from the writer to take positions on issues. “Many of our politicians are turncoats, and change their opinions regularly,” explains my friend. This would be documented, if they write blogs.
- In the Philippines, blogging doesn’t make strategic sense for politicians. “Our politicians are very cautious,” says my fellow-blogger. Blogging can be a risky matter, as politicians would have to take a position today which they might want to avoid, as it could be detrimental for them tomorrow.
On the whole I mostly agree, save for a few aspects. Point #1 is rather cyclical and superfluous: politics in Filipino cyberspace may be underdeveloped, but only insofar as no major politician is doing it. It’s not a cause, but an effect. What I do notice (or is it just me?) about the blogosphere is that among the vocal political blogs, there are very few deviations as to political alignment, which is interesting. Why are activists more likely to blog, thereby submitting their thoughts for public discourse, than say, your typical pro-administration citizen (surely there must be, like, 12, or something)? Is it because they have more to complain about? Blogs aren’t all about complaints you know (ok so this one is, but you get what I mean). Are activists more literate? More eloquent? I don’t have any numbers but I wouldn’t like to think so. The point is, there are a lot of political blogs around, but Dr. Meinardus is right in pointing out that there are few politicians in power doing participating.
I agree that the Philippine political culture doesn’t favor blogging (point #2), but not with the assertion that trapos think short-term, particularly with their political career. Mayors, Governors, probably. Not Congressmen, Senators and up, particularly those with aspirations to the Presidency. Look at how long it took Erap to become President. Or Ramos. Or Gloria. Hell, Makoy started plotting for the Presidency even before he shot Nalundasan. We’re talking decades of planning here. That’s hardly reactive, nor short-term. And Erap aside, those people are hardly lacking in foresight and brain power. Any teenager knows that the internet is the future, right here and now. I doubt anyone in the Senate with a decent staff and with aspirations of higher office hasn’t been at least briefed with the power of internet journalism. They were there on EDSA II, where SMS was the medium of choice for gathering the people. Who’s to say the next revolution won’t be because of blogs? They may not be bloggers themselves, but you can bet your golly-wow they’re aware of it.
Part of the real reason, to me, is in the 3rd and 4th points, which are basically the same: blogging is risky. Once you say something, you can’t take it back, it’s out there for the world to see and for Google to cache and the Wayback Machine to archive. Ignore a comment and you’re a snob. Be sarcastic and you’re an ass. Support a failed or unpopular legislation and it’ll haunt you. Can you imagine what it would have been like if Erap kept a blog? Somewhere in his archives there’ll be a post saying: Napaalis na namin ang mga kano sa Subic! At akala nila makakalusot sila nung tinanggihan nila akong makapasok sa US dahil sa ginawa kong pelikulang Sa Kuko ng Lawin. Fast forward hardly a decade later and he’s posting about how wonderful the VFA’ll be. Or any number of politicians who’ve flip-flopped their way into power. It’s a very risky proposition; it’s a digital paper trail. Open mouth, insert foot. Flames galore.
But the real reason politicians won’t blog boils down to one word: trust. Nobody trusts politicians. How can they? We’ve had centuries to learn not to trust those in power. Power corrupts, but more to the point, power attracts the corruptible. You’re a politician? I automatically don’t trust you. Career politicians aren’t about public service, but self service. And I doubt I’m alone in feeling this way. Harsh, but hey, that’s the way it is. Whatever you’re saying, I automatically file in the spam folder of my brain until you actually follow through. Everything else is just a press release.
That’s why a truly participative democracy is such an elusive thing; while I admire Councilor Lavina’s testicular fortitude in opening himself up and sharing his views by blogging, I have to wonder if he’d do it if he were a Senator who’s stepped on too many toes. If Meralco, the BIR or hell even my cable provider (Destiny, that means you) can’t be bothered by my complaints, how can your Congressman/Senator/etc. To them, we’re the spam.
If a politician blogs, he opens himself up to major, major spam, hate mail and flaming/trolling. That’s why no major player will do it. Akismet would have a fit. Face it, unless you’re actually saying something useful and not tooting your own horn, you’re no different from a porn blog. It’s that trust issue that ultimately prevents politicians from blogging, because the relationship between a blogger and his/her readers is one based wholly on trust. There are blogs that I keep coming back to because I can trust, and respect, the author and his/her opinions. I leave the press releases to, well, the mainstream press. Because I don’t trust politicians, and most of you don’t, either. I know it. Politicians know it. And they know that I know it. Although I’d love to see Gloria’s entries on her deadjournal.