Why do Filipinos keep on electing idiots to public office? This is a question often heard in the country, especially whenever an official does or says something weird. A short, objective, answer to this would be: No, we don’t; most Philippine officials are not idiots. I think that if we would be able to get the IQs of all Philippine officials, at all levels; we would find out that their average IQ is significantly higher than that of the overall population.
The perception that we are being ruled by idiots (and the related perception that we must be idiots for electing them) is quite widespread. This is due to a number of reasons:
First, any political system that selects its leaders (mostly) on heredity (read: political dynasties) or other criteria than on intelligence or performance would naturally result in some officials with below average IQ. In medieval or feudal times, we remember stories of mad kings and other royalty. Nowadays, this happens quite rarely.
Second, everyone (even those with very high IQs) make stupid or inappropriate statements (or do stupid things) from time to time. In the TV series ‘The Big Bang Theory’, the character Sheldon, who is a genius, is continuously making grossly inappropriate statements. This demonstrates that a lot of bright people can act quite ‘stupid’.
These days officials are increasingly living in a ‘glass bowl’ – always with the possibility of surreptitiously taken video clips and witnesses – and news travels quite fast with social media. So, it is but natural that officials slips are noted more these days. The public should learn to live with most of these ‘slips’.
Third, peoples world views differ; and often they view those who hold other views as strange or even stupid. In the debate over the RH bill, many of those who were against it did so from a very traditional Catholic point of view. They all sounded quite archaic and so ’19th century’ to those who were in favor of the bill. In another example, Bayan Muna representatives would be viewed as having ‘looney’ ideas about many issues. I think both groups of people are quite intelligent.
Fourth, many politicians play for an audience. Be it Duterte threatening to kill all smugglers in Davao, or Mar Roxas carrying sacks of rice after a raid; these are all intended to convey a message. Some actors with showbiz backgrounds tend to be even more theatrical – like Revilla who ‘sang’ during his privilege speech.
Fifth, people’s prejudices come to play. There is, for example, an assumption among many that celebrities are brainless and have no place in politics.This is demonstrated by the aversion of many to the plan of Kris Aquino to run for the Senate. Kris is certainly quite intelligent – she is the daughter to one president and sister to another. The questions people should ask should be: ‘what are her political views? will she work full-time as senator?’
It is intellectual snubbery to assume that candidates without academic credentials, or who are showbiz personalities, are dumb or idiots.
Though many politicians are quite intelligent, a lot of them are not performing their functions well. Lito Lapid’s difficulty with debating in English should not be the issue, but rather his absence in most Senate sessions. Pacquiao’s being one of the ‘most absent’congressmen should similarly be made the issue. Many mayors don’t even live in the municipality they are mayor of. Being a public official should require a full-time commitment to their work, be it as mayor or senator.
This is where the public often falls short: they prefer to vote for a candidate’s promises, but don’t vote them out of office if they don’t perform.
Another issue altogether is the matter of corruption. Some of the most corrupt are also the most intelligent. Marcos is the classic example of this; Arroyo a (relatively minor) recent example. It takes intelligence to be truly corrupt. An unintelligent corrupt official will readily be caught; the bright ones are able to steal for years and years.
The challenge for the public is to elect officials who are not only intelligent, but also diligent and honest. This is tough. But I believe we can do this, eventually.