, May 24, 2024

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The Demonization of Public Service

  •   5 min reads
The Demonization of Public Service
By Vincent R. Pozon

When we bemoan the national condition, the mess in the management of our economy, the wretchedness in the lives of the disadvantaged, when it hits us – yes, walang pagbabago, we immediately ask ourselves: is there no one else? With a population of over 115 million, there must be individuals capable of making significant contributions to governance. What holds them back from obeying the prodding of their hearts to serve, and stepping into the national arena? What prevents the competent, the already proven local leaders, such as mayors or barangay captains, from aspiring for higher office?

When they promote themselves and their advocacies, when they engage in, say, relief efforts, the public jumps on them, laughing, hurling names. 

Trapo. Epal.

Demonized. Why is there a negative connotation attached to an interest in public service? Why is self-promotion considered a sin?

The cause is government's Original Sin

Sociologists term it Implicit Prejudice. The politician is suspect from the day he declares his intentions.

While unfair to the individual, it isn’t to the institution, or to government itself. The fallen nature is the smudge provided by the sins of previous public administrators. 

Those aspiring to public office, including accomplished local leaders eyeing national positions, have to contend with the perception that a government post is tainted intrinsically. They can expect that their reputation, and that of their family, will corrode and tarnish, their names like raw meat to the wolves in the wilderness of social media. The candidate has to convince the voter that, though suspected sinful, they can be trusted to be of value to the voter and family.

Trusting the Politician
The politician is born with original sin, branded corrupt from day one.

A general naiveté regarding communications

Every aspiring public servant – good and bad, everybody who wants to serve must enhance their profile. Campaign periods are too brief to introduce oneself to the electorate, let alone shape an image favorable enough to ensure victory.

Public servants are very like supermarket products. They need to be known, their packaging easily recognized, the benefits of voting them in – their platforms and promises – understood, their ingredients – their attributes and skills – made familiar to, and registered sufficiently to be desired by their target audience.

Unfortunately, and unlike supermarket products, the manner by which politicians are publicized is inefficient, haphazard, prone to misunderstanding and malicious distortion.

Publicity in the news reduces them to soundbites, oversimplifying their messages. Public speeches don't allow for an in-depth exploration of their advocacies. And the 30-second technology of advertising limits them to punchlines and jingles. 

The environment is noisy with names: every other candidate is trying to push his way into the mind of the customer. The candidate has to cut through the clutter. 

When the Silly Season they call the elections commences, declarations of position, beliefs will no longer be heard or will matter. There will be a scramble for anything that can grant them visibility, any venue where they can be heard.

Soon enough, you’ll see them all pedaling pedicabs, directing traffic in the rain, carrying sacks of rice.

What to do then?

Candidates must be encouraged to introduce themselves, create the lore and mystique necessary to engender endearment, a crucial quality especially for tight races. If we desire better governance, we must remove the stigma from aspiring for public office and allow candidates to promote themselves without having to deny their plans.

The battle is in the mind, which means this is a war that can be won.

Let people announce their intentions early, let each pagpapapapel be accommodated and welcomed for our scrutiny. Allow candidates to be transparent when they engage in charity work, feeding the poor, and helping build schools. Forget or abolish the injunctions against premature campaigning; a few months are insufficient for candidates to become known, recognized, and endeared to the public.

And so we encourage: pumapel ka, pakilala ka, ligawan mo kami

A government transformative campaign on both traditional and social media can reshape public perception of individuals interested in running for office, even encouraging participation.

That is, of course, if government is interested in doing so.

A society that demonizes the desire to run condemns the country to the same faces and names. Capable elected officials get painted with the same brush of suspicion. If unrepaired, we hand to the blemished, the maladroit, the ones we know to be corrupt, many of whom clog up candidate lists, the gift of perpetuity. While the good languish in virtual anonymity, and the effective and already proven government official ranks precariously low, easily overtaken or bumped off by names made memorable by media.

We exhort: Magpakilala. Suyuin mo kami. Hindi bawal pumapel.

Vincent R. Pozon

After a year of college, Koyang entered advertising, and there he stayed for more than half a century, in various agencies, multinational and local. He is known for aberrant strategic successes (e.g., Clusivol’s ‘Bawal Magkasakit’, Promil’s ‘The Gifted Child’, RiteMED’s ‘May RiteMED ba nito?', VP Binay's 'Ganito Kami sa Makati', JV Ejercito's 'The Good One'). He is chairman of Estima, an ad agency dedicated to helping local industrialists, causes and candidates. He is co-founder and counselor for advertising, public relations, and crisis management of Caucus, Inc., a multi-discipline consultancy firm. He can be reached through vpozon@me.com.

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