I like observing people and thinking about what their individual actions say about the entire culture. Recently, I’ve been noticing a particular attitude among Filipinos: most of us harbor what I have come to call as messianic mentality. In the face of problems, instead of tackling them ourselves, we tend to turn to a supposedly more powerful entity – the messiahs who would bring us salvation.
As a city hall employee, I get to see this attitude play right before my eyes. The offices of the mayor and the councilors are paid visits everyday by constituents who each have their own requests: a mother wanting to avail her son of Mayor’s scholarship grant, an elderly seeking financial assistance for her medication from Councilor So-and-so.
Every time I show these people the way to those offices, I feel frustration creep in. Can’t they really fend for themselves that they have to rely on dole-outs from politicians? Have they really ran out of opportunities that they are now simply expecting solutions to their problems fall whole on their laps like manna from heaven?
My own family has had our own share of hard times but we never relied on anyone from outside to get us through them. I remember my mother doing odd jobs to provide for us when we were young. When money was tight in college, I took on part-time work, and eventually left school to work full time. No one of us headed to the city hall looking for Councilor This-and-that.
While I sound as if it is the people who are solely to blame, I acknowledge that our leaders have a lot to do with this. Philippine politics has never been about policies but personalities. It has become the norm for our leaders to act as patrons who have to ensure their constituent’s loyalty through favors, practically buying it. In this arrangement, we the citizens have turned into clients who have to be continually pacified – numbed – into obedience with scholarships and assistances of all kinds, like children fed with candy by their parents.
This, too, is the logic behind political dynasties: Having bought them with favors, politicians regard their positions as private properties, something they could pass on their kin like inheritance. Like repeat buyers, Satisfied Constituent-Customer votes for Mayor’s Son.
No wonder the appearance of politicians in community events like a wake or a flood drill often feels like a visitation from the gods.
Messiahs aren’t found in city halls alone. This messianic mentality also explains why games shows are big right now. Not a few times have I heard an ecstatic winner of these shows babble something like, “Bossing, hulog ka ng langit!” (Bossing, you’re a godsend!). Willie Revillame’s shows have always had a cult-like feel. Willie’s studio audience is often from far-flung provinces and had to borrow money from their neighbors for bus fare, which is not unlike what pilgrims do. All those dancing and chanting of boom-tarat-tarats resemble scenes you would see on an El Shaddai service.
Ishmael Bernal would probably turn in his grave to hear this, but Willie Revillame’s show often brings to mind his film Himala. Both Willie and Elsa have devotees who are mostly poor elderly. The Ultra Stampede incident also bears echoes of the conclusion of the classic film.
I believe this messianic mentality is also the reason many Filipinos have fallen for countless scams, and many young Filipino men continue joining fraternities.
And the root cause of it all is our deeply religious culture. Religion never encourages critical thinking and demands unquestioning obedience to its dogmas. Believers are made to transfer their agency to a god. This god says, Cast your burdens upon me. This god says, Blessed are the poor for they will inherit the kingdom of God. We heed his words, inherit his kingdom, and we remain poor. Worse, we remain infants, constantly needing a parent to go about life.
If we are to mature as a people, we need to banish the messiahs in our minds. That includes every Mayor, Son of Mayor, Councilor, Willie and Elsa we have now. If salvation would have to be brought by anyone, it would have to be ourselves. rcc