Tuesday, November 09, 2004

A Conflict of Interests

I think that in general, people do possess the right values. For example, we all know it's wrong to steal, for example. The real problem arises when there's a conflict of values. For example, when it comes to stealing, some people might resort to committing such crimes if either their lives or their family's lives are at stake. Of course such decisions don't have to be world-shattering. It can be something as mundane as voting for your "favorite" American Idol, for example.

Here in the Philippines, Jasmine Trias did cause quite a stir (and some people think unjustly so). I'm not here to debate that point, but rather to point out how a conflict of interest can arise. Many pro-Filipino supporters told people to vote Jasmine Trias solely for the fact that she was Filipino (and we do get that kind of logic often here in this country... why just a week ago, there was an email circulating in the Ateneo mailing lists that we should vote for a certain VJ on Channel ETC solely for the fact that he was Atenean). Now normally, there wouldn't be a conflict of interests. I mean if it was the Miss Universe pageant, for example, we'd certainly be rooting for Ms. Philippines. But we should also remember that American Idol is not just a competition of national roots; it's one about talent and passion, more specifically, music.

Now I'm not saying that Jasmine Trias has no talent. I think she does (but don't take my word for it since I don't really listen to music). However, if I were a musician or a big fan of music, for example, it would be blasphemy for me to choose a singer based solely on their ethnicity. I mean where's the justice in that? If I want to attach credibility to my person, I'd choose the one I think has talent (and that may or may not be Jasmine Trias). Someone who's known for his good musical ear certainly wouldn't select an amateur's singing, for example; he'd choose the professional's. Now if you're someone who thinks that Jasmine Trias has good singing talent, for example, and you're also supporting her for the fact that she's a Filipino, then well and good. But what if that's not the case (either you don't like her singing and you're a Filipino, or you like her singing but you're supposed to be supporting someone else)? Then there's a conflict of interests.

I'm not here to tell you which side you should value more. You're smart people. Each of you have different loyalties and you should weigh which one is more important to you. I mean if Jasmine Trias was an abstract person, someone I didn't personally know, I probably wouldn't vote for her. But what if she was someone I knew, someone I went to school with and actually befriended? Certainly that fact would affect my decision. Would it be any less valid than the rest of the world's? I don't think so, but I'm certainly entitled to it.

One of the things I like to point out is that while we already get heated up by something as trivial as this, other conflicts of interests are present in our Filipino lives. I mean a good example why nepotism is prevalent in the country is because of this reason as well: when many Filipinos vote, they think of who they're related to or who they personally know or who they can benefit from most, rather than who they think is actually qualified to help the country as a whole. Now some people might say that the former are idiots and are only serving their own selfish needs, but we should take it from their perspective as well. The Phillipines as a nation is an abstract concept. Sure, this and that political leader may help a particular part of the nation, but that part of the nation is someone I don't know. At least with this particular leader, I see results; results that affect me in the here and now. Is it fair that my vote goes to him? Perhaps not, but life has been unfair to me as well. Aren't we all tempted to think like that?

I think that one of our dominant traits is that we think in terms of individuals and families. Everything is personal, while concepts remain intangible and foreign. If we want to touch the hearts of Filipinos, we must do it in a way that affects them personally, one that addresses their humanity rather than their logic. The greedy exploit this fact. And perhaps for some of us, we're only too willing to give in to them. It's easier, after all, to leave our fate in the hands of others and be swayed by our emotions.


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