Wasted Opportunity

With the national elections scheduled in the Philippines, one would hope a chance for better governance is possible. Reading this articles the hope for change is somehow lost when you realise the process is largely determined by amount of money given to win votes.


Election opportunities

SKETCHES By Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) 5 April 2013

A person who handles logistics for a local candidate told me that a reasonable campaign budget per district in Metro Manila during the official campaign period is P6 million.

This is for a candidate running unopposed, or with an opponent so weak the challenge can be considered token. Naturally, the budget goes up if there’s a serious opponent.

The amount does not cover posters and similar campaign materials. I asked what the money was for. The logistics guy would only say that the money is given to the candidate’s district political leader, who in turn is expected to distribute the money down to the grassroots.

In another city, a woman says the local leader gives her son and several others who make up the core group of supporters of an incumbent official P500 a week to ensure voter loyalty. Rice is also distributed regularly to selected households.

Told that a person can take the money and still vote for someone else – or according to his conscience, as famously advised during the Marcos regime by then Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin – the woman said she would give the source of the dole-outs value for his money. Even if there may be a more qualified opponent, the woman explained, all candidates behave the same anyway once in office – always looking out first for personal interest. So she might as well go for someone from whom she is already receiving benefits.

The logistics guy told me a similar story about voter loyalty. It’s how political dynasties are built and reinforced, he said. Once a person benefits directly from an incumbent official, the tendency is to want the benefits to continue. Rival candidates are seen as unknown factors who may stop those benefits.

Occasionally, a rival candidate who has cultivated, usually through show business (or sports), a generous and pro-poor image can overcome this edge of the incumbent and put an end to a dynasty.

But the recipient of the P500 a week is right: the show biz character, if he wins, will likely want to perpetuate himself in power and build his own dynasty.

As for competence, we can’t attribute the success in politics of entertainment and sports has-beens to voters who are uninformed. The average Pinoy voter in fact can be an astute observer of politics and governance. The recipient of the P500 a week, for example, expresses what I often hear in the wet markets and depressed communities: we’ve had presidents of exceptional intelligence, and how did they govern? They turned out to be exceptionally intelligent crooks. The rich keep getting richer, and too many Pinoys remain poor.

*      *      *

The political realities are such that in many areas, people find it more practical to support a dynasty – and benefit personally from the support – rather than waste time, resources and the goodwill of the incumbent by opposing him or his clan.

In several areas, different clans hold friendly discussions on division of turf and positions, to save on campaign costs.

Even when voters would rather pick a candidate outside the dynasty, they may be left with no choice. Many candidates belonging to political dynasties are running unopposed, or only with token opponents. This is the situation in my neck of the woods in Metro Manila.

Or else the principal opponents all belong to dynasties. An example is Parañaque, where second-generation politicians are running: Edwin Olivarez and Benjo Bernabe are slugging it out for mayor; Rico Golez, son of Congressman Roilo, is running for vice mayor; and Wahoo Sotto, nephew of the senator in the plagiarism scandals, wants to take his father Val’s seat as councilor.

Although I’m no Parañaque voter, motorists driving through one of the major thoroughfares in the city, President’s Avenue, cannot miss the campaign posters of the local candidates. In addition to the children of politicians, posters of Gus Tambunting and former mayor Joey Marquez (party uncertain) running for congressman are also pasted on lampposts and walls.

The Commission on Elections’ much-touted drive against the illegal display of campaign posters is non-existent along this avenue. If the Comelec can’t enforce its poster rules in Parañaque, it can’t possibly do better in areas outside Metro Manila.

And if the Comelec can’t enforce its rules against the display of campaign posters, it’s doubtful that it can regulate campaign expenditures.

There are voters who don’ t care. They consider elections as occasions for politicians to share some of their wealth. Election spending stimulates the economy and paves the way for a bit of wealth redistribution.

The voters are aware that the wealth redistribution is short-term. The income gap remains wide in this country despite free elections every three years. Elections merely validate the hold on power of political clans.

In almost every election, we even add more politicians feeding from the public trough, through gerrymandering and poor implementation of the party-list system. Consider some of the characters wanting to enter Congress through the party-list backdoor.

Elections are supposed to herald change, but this is rarely the case in many parts of the country. Too often, candidates who promise reforms end up doing the same things as their predecessors. For disillusioned voters, it’s better to see elections merely as opportunities for making a quick buck.

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