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POV Philippines by Jon Joaquin

Music and politics

by Jon Joaquin

By the time this article sees print, the midterm election in the Philippines shall have been finished and the winners declared, which means things would have quieted down a little already. I don’t know how it’s done in North America, but election period here can be a real circus. Political rallies have actors, singers, dancers, comedians, and yes, clowns – and often they are all just one person. Song-and-dance routines are virtually required, and the audiences (that is, the voters) seem to lap it up. I get it, of course: despite the seeming superficiality of it, singing and dancing can bring politicians down to the level of the masses, who appreciate that their leaders or candidates also do the things they do. They sing, they dance, they eat, they sweat, and they curse. But it’s one thing to sing and dance to the hearts of the people, another to explain to them what their platforms are.

I can actually understand the value of entertainment even for political exercises. Aside from the aforementioned “singing and dancing their way to the people’s hearts,” there is also that need to build up a program so that by the time the main speakers are on stage, the audience is fully prepped and charged up to listen to listen to their message. I used to question this; politics, after all, is supposed to be not just about the heart but the mind as well. But after stepping back a little, I realized the human mind often requires a gradual build-up if it is to understand and accept something. Every meeting, even the most serious ones, has preliminary parts before the main element is arrived at. The human mind must be made ready to receive information — think modern church service where “praise and worship” precedes the preaching of God’s Word. If we can accept singing as vital elements of worshipping “in spirit and in truth,” then we can certainly understand politicians employing music for their rallies.

But it’s one thing to perform at a campaign rally, quite another to blast music down the streets and force it into the ears of the people. At least the rallies are done in more or less controlled environments. What I dislike the most in the campaign season are jeepneys and minivans doing the rounds of communities blaring the campaign jingles of candidates over and over again. They disrupt our daily lives and make it impossible to concentrate on anything. Imagine being on the computer, or watching Netflix, or having lunch, and then being subjected to music coming from lo-fi sound systems.

Aside from this disturbance, there is the issue of candidates using popular songs without paying the composers. Most jingles are simply swiped from popular songs, and when I say “swiped” I do mean “steal.” According to the Filipino Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers, Inc. (FILSCAP), only two candidates in this particular election secured public performance licenses to use copyrighted music for their campaign. The rest simply appropriated the songs for themselves without thinking of the composers’ rights over their own material. According to FILSCAP, the Intellectual Property Code of the Philippines says a candidate who uses copyrighted music without a license may be held civilly and criminally liable for copyright infringement, but I am not aware of any candidate who has ever gotten into legal trouble for this.

But again, I get it. Music is such a powerful force that politicians are willing to break the law and literally steal songs. As a musician, I am inclined to believe that more than any other form of art, it is music that is able to grab people’s hearts and make us move in certain directions. When we listen to a song, it is not just our mind that is activated but also our entire being. Politicians have mastered this and, in their own simplistic way, have used music to their advantage. We may get annoyed by it, but their campaign jingles show us how good politicians are at communicating their message in all means possible.

The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the original author, and do not necessarily represent those of the Pilipino Express publishers.

Jon Joaquin is the Editor-In- Chief of the Davao City-based Mindanao Daily Mirror. E-mail Jon at

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