The Binay Card

By now, much has been said about the whole Binay imbroglio.  Binay’s own camp weighed in, which makes this all the more interesting.

I’m not the biggest fan of Binay – not by a long shot – but the guy has always been consistent about playing the victim.  In the minds of the Binays, it’s the family against the world.  A cursory view of the chatter around this controversy shows that the Binays and their supporters may not take too kindly to netizens.

And then there’s the pink war elephant in the room, one that has always been the choice weapon of “oppressed politicians.”  Dasmarinas Village is the seat of the wealthy and the powerful: the Binays need not appeal to them.  The Binays need not appeal to the Filipino Internet community, either: the previous elections show that the promise of a crust of bread is more important than the thoughts and musings of the upper crust.  Erap didn’t win second place in 2010 – and Nancy Binay didn’t become a Senator – on the basis of things like “social media sentiment.”

They are getting away with it as we speak.  To follow their way of thinking, why should their constituency be bothered at all with the rules of people living in posh subdivisions or the ranting and raving on social media?  If anything, Binay – and the political mindset that precedes and perpetuates public figures like him – thrives on things that are far more real than Tweets and hypertext.  It’s a political mindset that thrives on weak civic culture: that voting is enough, that the highest manifestation of political activity in the Social Media Capital is to Tweet and blog about it (or take up a name and head to Disqus calling out “lefties” and “Yellowtards,” for example), and the millions of reasons not to join the public sector because “politics” is a bad word.

Say what you want about Nancy Binay, but while Risa Hontiveros was challenging her to a televised debate, she was the one who reached out to the people from the back of a truck.  Say what you will about “Binay candies,” but those were effective.  We can condemn Binay-branded tarpaulins and relief bags in Tacloban, but those things are kind of easy to remember.  Even something like complexion becomes a bone of contention: all the jokes made against Binay become, in a way, affronts to working-class Filipinos who have the same tone and hue from working blue-collar jobs, or not having the mestizo skin color that we associate with wealth and affluence.

Rightly or wrongly, the political success of the Binay family lies on those nuances, and on nuanced opinions like “Di bale nang tawaging epal basta tumutulong.”  It’s us-against-them: something so elementary, something so base, something that comes as a consequence of keeping people on this level through realities like poverty, a lack of education, or good old-fashioned stick-it-in-the-gut drama.  In Nancy Binay’s own words, there will be “haters.”  Cringeworthy – what works for JAMICH will work for the politicians – but real and true to those pairs of eyes.  Theirs, and the millions who gave them the vote.

The Binay card isn’t a closeness to the people.  Every politician can do that, and has to do that in order to be successful.  The success and notoriety of the Binay brand of populism comes from the class divide, and leveraging the patronage that comes with it to their advantage.  We may want to stick with the rules, but VP Binay’s own comments on the matter reveals (in a rather inelegant way) the realities of patronage and subservience: to give “konsiderasyon” to Mayors and Senators and Vice Presidents approaching closed gates being the least of those.  “Walang wang-wang” may be the mantra of the Aquino administration, but the reality of it is that due “konsiderasyon” must be given to the errant government official.

Anything equivalent to an accusation of “abuse of power,” it’s a (Twitter) “demolition job.”  In a political landscape that revolves around the ties that bind, its most active participants tend to make a lot of enemies.

When you have decades of patronage that legitimizes the behavior we’re railing against, it’s an uphill battle.

By all means, rant against Binay.  Call for his head, if necessary.  But moving on to 2016 – if indeed Binay himself is in the running for the Presidency – there’s more than can be done to prevent that from happening.  What we should be doing is reach out to the people, and thus reaching out to each other beyond hypertext.  Civic cultures are built on a clear understanding of the political system, which we’re struggling with.  It requires national pride, which we’re quick to demolish in sweeping generalizations.  We need to be treated fairly by our officials and institutions, but if any Meralco bill or an SSS pension horror story should show, we live in constant paranoia of them.  The value we give to the public sector is one of skepticism and distrust, a perpetual condition of inadequacy, as if it’s meant to be that way.

Calling Binay out is a necessary first step.  But so is reaching out to the people.  Steps that, rightly or wrongly or for better or worse, the Binays have in their hand.

It doesn’t have to be.  It starts with rebuilding the Filipino civic culture.  But that’s another story.

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