‘Matapobre syndrome’

The “matapobre syndrome” has afflicted politics for a long time, and many continue to spread it. According to them, the “masa” are indolent, incapable of doing great things, uneducated, ignorant, and gullible. These “masa” are so helpless and hopeless, they need to be rescued from their pre-ordained fate by heroes.
The infestation gets worse during the election season when the more educated citizens forget all of a sudden the accountability of leaders and their refusal or inability to hold them accountable, that they turn their sights on the marginalized “masa” to blame them for acts of the elite and the powerful.
This strand of the “matapobre syndrome” invented the term “bobotante”, a most-unfair and deceptive ruse that allows the elected and appointed officials to get away with anything and instead lays the blame the “masa” for their crimes.
Those who use and spread the term “bobotante” are actually the real cowards. They are either afraid of the president, vice president, lawmakers, and the other political dynasties controlling local governments, or cannot stand up to their crimes from electoral fraud to plunder, from human rights violations to betrayal of public trust, from incompetence to treason. To cover up their cowardice in pointing at those who cause national miseries, they try to change the conversation by blaming the “bobotante.”

Rizal, Bonifacio, Luna, Mabini and other heroes already sought to crush the “matapobre syndrome” through the Propaganda Movement and the 1896 Revolution. The result: Asia’s first anti-colonial revolution and the first Asian republic. Through propaganda and revolution, the educated bonded with the masses in giving birth to the nation through sheer effort, bloodletting, and the supreme sacrifice of offering their lives.

When Marcos tried to prove that he was presiding over a nation of cowards, a generation of young Filipinos stood up, joined mass actions, ignited a new revolution, and challenged the dictatorship. La Tondena workers were first to smash martial law’s state terror through a strike. Later, students launched an alliance (which later became the League of Filipino Students) to oppose the dictator’s approval of tuition fee hikes and to reopen student councils and student newspapers nationwide.

The “matapobre syndrome” also afflicts arts, literature, and culture. But it is no longer new that the upper class would think they are the country’s sole trendsetters, and that they look down on the “masa” and their “bakya” choices for entertainment.

The upper classes have largely stopped doing this, because they have proxies in the educational system and the educated middle class doing it for them. Take the demolition and privatization of public markets in Manila as examples. Leading the charge in justifying the anti-masa policy are the educated who wish to gentrify the city at all costs – even if tens of thousands of “not so hip” market vendors would lose their livelihood. Many of them marvel at decades- or centuries-old public markets abroad, but would like to get rid of public markets back at home.

The “matapobre syndrome” has also started to hound the new “kalyeserye” of “AlDub.” Some have loudly complained that they are “fed up” by the “senseless noise.” Others have belittled the pop culture and social media phenomenon as nothing less than “mindless entertainment” and for being “tone-deaf” to pressing national issues. Quite a few self-identified progressives have joined them in looking down on the “masa” and missing the chance to learn from them. The common thread that ties all of them is arrogance in the face of what is clearly a new national pop cultural phenomenon. They could just shut up and let the millions enjoy their “kababawan”.  But they choose to berate, belittle, and lecture from their ivory towers. Those who claim to only seek to popularize “superior ideas” and to raise standards of popular culture and entertainment should listen to sound advice from a great Chinese philosopher: Before educating the masses, there is a need to learn from them. Raising standards cannot happen unless you first find out the current level and standards.

Our revolutionary and anti-dictatorship heroes have actually set the correct perspective and line of march forward. Our country and our people first. National freedom for the country. Democracy for the majority of farmers, workers, the professionals, and entrepreneurs. Offering our very best in service of the majority of our people.

Thus, in reality, the “matapobre syndrome” is a problem. It poisons society by fomenting animosity and mistrust between and among citizens, dividing us, and letting the real issues go unchecked. The “masses” actually look up to educated folks to go beyond mercy and compassion, but to offer their best to  help shed light on and confront the root causes of national miseries – whether political or cultural. But when these same educated people choose to look the other way and instead attack the “masses,” the situation only strengthens the rotten status quo and deprives the nation of enlightenment and unity in changing the system.

Magic happens when we stop and reject being “matapobre.” We tend to unite to support disaster victims. We tend to cheer Filipino athletes and artists. We celebrate success stories. We understand and get to know our people more. We find out we’re all this together, and adopt nobler and higher goals

Try it. Change your outlook, discard the “matapobre syndrome” and aspire to be servant-leaders. You’ll see our people in a whole new light and you’ll find out first hand just how our greatest heroes and martyrs viewed the country and the world.

First published in the Manila Bulletin on 29 Sept. 2015. Republished here with edits for clarity.