For politicians, being perceived as out of touch is a big no-no. It runs contrary to the qualities of an effective public servant and alienates possible supporters. How good can a leader be if they don’t fully make the effort to understand the lives of ordinary citizens or deign to share their experiences?
Perhaps the most recent example is aspiring national politician Sandro Marcos, whose January interview with Thinking Pinoy made the rounds on Twitter on Feb. 14 after the congressional candidate appeared to be oblivious to even basic migrant worker terminology.
The vlogger-slash-Marcos supporter, whose real name is RJ Nieto, introduces himself with the line “DH ng mga DH.” He then asks Marcos about his congressional campaign, to which Marcos responds, “First of all, ano ba ang ibig sabihin ng DH? Ano ba ’yan?” Nieto quickly explains that it stands for “domestic helper.” “Ahh. Ngayon ko lang na-gets,” Marcos says.
A number of netizens criticized Marcos, the economic consultant for the Ilocos Norte government, for being unfamiliar with the abbreviated term while running for office, as well as for the tone he used—which some claim sounded out of touch.
Marcos supporters argued that it shouldn’t be a big deal. However, critics raised that it showed a lack of awareness of his privilege. One netizen mentioned that it was especially worrying because Marcos is running for a position in Ilocos Norte, where a number of families rely on overseas Filipino workers’ incomes. Some raised that the possibility of Marcos not having a strong grasp of the issue might hinder him from coming up with legislative solutions for it.
The viral clip then prompted incensed netizens to bring up an excerpt from the 2019 documentary “The Kingmaker.” In the video, Marcos Jr. reminisces about returning to the Philippines after his family was exiled to Hawaii after the 1986 People Power Revolution.
“We weren’t allowed to leave [the States] but we left anyway. I remember very well buying the ticket. And I said, ‘I can’t come home in coach.’ I called my friends. I said, ‘I don’t have any money to buy a first-class ticket. Buy me a first-class [ticket]. I can’t come home. I’ve always been in first class. It’s just too embarrassing,’” the presidential bet recalled.
Circling back to the first video, the pair’s online discussion comes across as “apathetic” and “clueless,” based on netizen sentiments, to the realities of OFWs, migrants, and even just Filipinos who fly on a budget—most Filipino families got poorer by the end of martial law, the effects of which are still felt today. They also don’t seem to be worried about how that seeming disconnect from common Filipino experiences affects their image.
But no candidate is safe from scrutiny
Other presidential candidates and their family members have also been the subject of public ire for so-called insensitivity. Back in November, presidential aspirant Manny Pacquiao was asked whether his wife Jinkee is inclined to indulge in luxuries like former First Lady Imelda Marcos.
A former Sarangani official herself, Jinkee Pacquiao has received criticisms for flaunting high-end items like luxury bikes and designer pambahay looks, as well as luxury properties at the height of the pandemic.
When Manila Mayor Isko Moreno revealed that his net worth is currently at around P70 million due to excess campaign donations during his 2016 senatorial bid, netizens were shocked. He stated that there’s nothing wrong with his move under the law. On Feb. 2, he denied rumors claiming that he bought a P50 million mansion with the money.
Netizens also weren’t too happy when Senator Panfilo Lacson floated the idea that smuggled luxury cars should be used for police and military operations instead of being destroyed. “’Yung Porsche nga pwedeng gamitin for surveillance, sayang. Dahil sinong mag-aakala na ‘yung Porsche umaali-aligid sa iyong hideout e police pala,” he said in 2018. However, some questioned the practicality of this, considering the maintenance costs of high-end vehicles.
In 2018, Vice President Leni Robredo received flak for a photo of her and other Liberal Party legislators smiling as they posed at the Holocaust Memorial in Germany. The post was taken down but those in attendance clarified that the post was not meant to disrespect the Jewish community. The Office of the Vice President (OVP) also denied rumors that the trip was taxpayer-funded. Among other allegations Robredo has worked to disprove is the claim that the OVP spends P1 million in monthly rent. Robredo claimed that, in reality, her office’s rent amounts to only half of what the previous OVP used to pay.
Even labor leader Leody De Guzman has drawn flak for his “boujee” Christmas greeting photo in 2021. The photo showed a glimpse into his home, which some described as lavish-looking. In his defense, author Herbert Docena stated that the household was able to afford “nice dinner plates and that adorable corgi” because De Guzman’s family members have long worked as full-time employees and small entrepreneurs. De Guzman’s critics also caught backlash, with some arguing that these critics seemed to condemn middle class aspirations.
While some are more troubling than others, all these incidents show that voters are looking for humility and a sense of being grounded in a leader. Being “out of touch” and “ostentatious” are red flags in politics because we want to root for someone who truly understands our personal and communal plights. We need candidates who know how to listen and won’t trade public interest for personal gains.
On a politician, these red flags are qualities we shouldn’t ignore. And we won’t be able to regardless of whoever ends up winning.