‘Simplimente summaryosep!’ | Opinion of the applicant

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My science communication students have a telenovela discussion session every semester. Some students cringe: The telenovelas they know are about exaggerated fights, swapped babies and rival families. Others laugh: they grew up with loveteams, costume dramas or fantasy worlds.

In Latin America, however, telenovelas have been used to change society. The most famous example is 1969’s “Simplemente Maria”, created for Peruvian audiences by producer Miguel Sabido.

Sabido reportedly called psychologist Albert Bandura, to consult him on a plot that would remedy the lack of women in the Peruvian workforce. Bandura’s social learning theory posits that people will only dare to do something if they see that they can succeed. “Simplemente Maria”, supposedly based on theory, could be used as a vehicle for an audience to learn, hope and act based on indirect experience.

The plot they dreamed up has been tweaked for decades: a country girl meets a city boy, chases him, is heartbroken. She improves, rises through the ranks of society, wows the boy, marries the boy.

Maria, however, was not a simple girl: despite her broken heart, she enrolled in night school to learn how to sew, which allowed her to carve out a career in fashion design. Nor was the telenovela a mere fiction: night school was a veritable trade school in Peru, which saw enrollment skyrocket after the telenovela aired.

The lesson this telenovela teaches goes beyond entertainment. It is this: people will not just obey what they are told to do unless they see a supporting infrastructure to facilitate the process, are assured of rewards for their hard work and that they can be assured of long-term stability.

Infrastructure isn’t just about cement and bridges: it’s about government adopting laws and policies to facilitate the path to success. Rewards are not just about money, but about services. Stability is not just a career, but climbing the ladder based on effort and merit. This whole journey of needs is about people asking for a government to be part of their lives, rather than just a prime contractor.

In the Philippines, we pay the government a quarter of our salaries to trap us in a cycle of hardship and despair. This cycle is everywhere.

We have to spend all day queuing for government services at the risk of losing our jobs because of our absence, or we can choose to take advantage of online services which are supposed to facilitate the process but which we must carry out using insane prices but horribly slow internet. We are required to apply for a variety of government IDs, but their prerequisite is another government ID. We are told that we must stay and serve the country, but the journalists are harassed, even killed; scientists and engineers cannot be hired; nurses and doctors are paid a pittance but can barely live on their salary and fall ill themselves; teachers are overworked and underpaid; college professors are expected to do research, but are also ordered to teach at least 12 hours a week.

This cycle has encouraged people to vote for any new zero-track hack that promises to end bureaucracy. However, newer hacks with no track record also end up sporting bureaucracy because they can’t stand the depth, complexity, and stupidity of the system. And then we look at each other and say to ourselves that we are disobedient when we complain, or lazy if we decide not to play the government’s game. We end up turning on each other, while the government continues to steal and sneak into parties.

We cannot label people as non-nationalists when they see no supporting infrastructure, rewards or stability. We have every right to despair when we see good people with backgrounds, like Leni Robredo and Leila de Lima, hurt and pushed aside in favor of people who falsify their credentials and are always praised for their “simplicity”.

Our people are not just asking for money. They want a government that recognizes the problems and sees a solution by creating an enabling environment. We are more than pets to entertain or things to pay for. We shouldn’t be victims of a real, dramatic telenovela forever.

It is neither resilience nor nationalism when we are trapped here, forced to accept hardship and condemned for wanting something better.

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