Social capital

By Artchil B. Fernandez

Social capital, specifically lack or less of it is one reason that explains the difficulty of Du30 and the nation in general in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Had there been an abundance of social capital in the country, it would have been a lot easier for Du30 and Filipinos to cope with the current health crisis. What is social capital?

Robert Putnam defines social capital as “features of social organization, such as trust, norms, and networks, that can improve the efficiency of society by facilitating coordinated actions.” Spontaneous cooperation facilitated by social capital Putnam contends is developed and nurtured in civic organizations and associations or through civic engagement.  He maintains that “social trust in complex modern settings can arise from two related sources—norms of reciprocity and networks of civic engagement.” Social capital in turn is an important element in institutional performance Putnam argues.

Social capital such as trust according to Putnam is a “moral resource” and its “supply increases rather than decreases through use and which become depleted if not used.” He considers trust as an essential component of social capital.  “Virtually every commercial transaction has within itself an element of trust, certainly any transaction conducted over a period of time. It can be plausibly argued that much of the economic backwardness in the world can be explained by the lack of mutual confidence.”

When a leader assumes public office, s/he carries with him/her a relative degree of social capital regardless of the bitterness and division generated by the electoral contest. Du30 is no exception. Like his predecessors, he had a high trust rating in his first three months in office at 86 percent and by December, 2016 his trust rating in the Pulse Asia survey is 83 percent. He could have built on this high trust rating to generate more social capital.  Instead Du30 squandered the opportunity to unite the country and increase if not cultivate his social capital among Filipinos.

Driven by either arrogance or pure naivete Du30 chose the path of division, hatred and fear. He launched his bloody and gory war against illegal drugs slaughtering thousands of suspected drug addicts/pushers immediately upon assuming the presidency. This instantly placed him at odds with human rights groups and the international community. Among his first acts as president is to allow the burial of Dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani immediately alienating a significant portion of Filipinos who were outrage by the move.

Du30 further fueled the atmosphere of hate and division with his dirty mouth. His public speeches are full of vitriol, laden and laced with curses, foul language and angry rhetoric. Goaded by his fanatics, he insults his perceived enemies with coarse and filthy words. Drunk with power, he even went to the extent of calling God stupid, mocked and ridiculed many biblical accounts to get even with the Catholic Church critical of his bloodbath against suspected drug addicts/pushers.

Furthermore, Du30’s presidency ushered in the era of the Golden Age of fake news in the country. His troll armies led by fake news queen Mocha Uson polluted the social media and the digital world with lies, falsehood and bitterness. Du30’s troll farms and factories cultivated the nasty, vicious and hostile political atmosphere now pervading in the country, sowing hate, distrust and blind fanaticism.

Now Du30 is reaping the bitter fruits of what he sowed with COVID-19 ravaging the land.  In this dark time of pandemic where the nation is facings its most serious health crisis in decades, social capital, particularly trust is vital and is most needed. A leader trusted by his people can manage the situation much better than the one least if not trusted at all.

Du30 and his officials are acrimoniously complaining that it is hard to implement protocols during this pandemic because Filipinos are hard headed. They are also exasperated that their messages hardly come through and if they do often misunderstood by the skeptical public. The reason is simple. People do not trust Du30 and his officials. Du30’s gibberish and senseless midnight talks where he spew insults than inspirational words only reinforced public mistrust of Du30 and his administration. He and his officials seriously suffer from lack of social capital. This severe deficit of social capital – trust, badly hampers the effort of the national leadership to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

When Du30 implored the nation to pray to God in this critical moment for example, it hardly resonated among Filipinos and got pale and lame response. Du30 sounded shallow and phoney after calling the same God stupid. What circulated in the social media instead is a video which compiles Du30’s attacks on God and Filipinos religious beliefs.

Contrast the predicament of the national leadership with the situation in some local government units specifically the cities of Pasig and Iloilo. Mayors in these cities manage the crisis much better than the national leadership due to the abundance of social capital of the local leaders. It is easy for these leaders to mobilize and harness local resources, specially the cooperation of the private sectors because they have the trust of their constituents. As Putnam notes, social capital facilitates cooperation and this is important if the community has to survive a serious crisis like pandemic.

A leader who uses insult as a tool of management can not and can never generate social capital. Leaders with no social capital have to rely on fear, intimidation and violence to deal with a crisis. Leaders with social capital govern through cooperation, generate goodwill and with citizens’ participation handle the crisis much better. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown who among Filipino leaders, both national and local have social capital.