May elections as referendum

This is my column today at the op-ed section of the Manila Standard Today.

WE know that the election season is definitely here because the level of duplicity, froth, and hysterics in the political front is reaching absurd proportions. One does not know whether to laugh, cry or do both at the antics of our politicians. I have said this before and I will say it again, elections really bring out the worst and the best in people.

The horsetrading, backroom wheeling and dealing, and what can only be surmised as the grand scale auction of souls and principles, also euphemistically known as “coalition building” is reaching fever pitch. Why our politicians insist on putting up their own political parties that supposedly articulate their distinct ideologies, philosophies and platforms when they have no qualms about running for elections under the wings of another party with a set of ideologies and platforms diametrically opposed to the original party, is deeply disturbing.

This only validates the long-standing view that despite their verbose vision and mission statements and their grand claims to be the long-awaited messiahs of this country, political parties in the Philippines are really nothing but makeshift structures used for launching political careers. (I am being generous here because the prevailing view is that political parties are really nothing but a social club of the controlling bullies on one hand, and the various factions of the rejected, the outcasts and the disgruntled on the other hand.)

In the last few weeks, there have been frantic speculations as to who shall become part of the administration and the opposition slates for the May elections. Ordinarily, the selection process should not be such a big deal. What makes the current process highly irregular is that the mad scramble to complete slates seems to hinge mainly on two factors: winnability and attitude toward President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. All other considerations are currently out of the question.

Let’s talk about chances of winning first.

It is very sad that the prevailing point of view about this is that popularity and consequently, the winnability of individual candidates strengthens a whole slate. Thus, this whole mad scramble to pick candidates that have been anointed by Social Weather Stations, Pulse Asia and the other purveyors of prophecy in this country regardless of political persuasion, competency, political ideology, etc. And because the prophets have divined that the opposition will win the elections, the queue at the resthouse in Tanay Rizal has become unusually longer.

On the other hand, the administration has tried to downplay the role of popularity in elections by trundling out arguments such as “elections are won at the local level” or that “it is political machinery that counts.” It is actually a long shot, but one that was worth the risk if only this administration had worthy candidates to begin with. If it was able to get people of unquestioned competence and integrity to run, say, for the senate, then political machinery would have done the magic. Too bad it seems that the search was limited to within 100 meters of Malacañan Palace. So it appears that the chest thumping has been all for show—now it seems the administration camp is now moving heaven and earth to get first dibs at the more popular candidates.

This is sad because if our political parties continue fielding candidates who are already popular (or notorious, I am told there is no difference when it comes to elections), instead of throwing a whole machinery behind relatively unknown candidates but who are truly competent and deserving, then we shall be forever stuck with celebrities who already have built-in advantage over others in terms of exposure in media and name recall.

This is sad because politicians will have to be more imaginative and creative to ensure their continued visibility in the public eye. This will translate into more populist but unprincipled actions, more grandstanding and verbal swashbuckling over nothing, and in general, increase the phenomenon of politicians dabbling as celebrities and celebrities going into politics. I think we have to pay dearly for this development in the near future.

It has been said that the May elections is mainly about one issue: the legitimacy of President Arroyo. It has been said that this election will be a referendum on GMA.

The dangerous implication of this in terms of the selection of candidates is that as far as the opposition is concerned, anyone is welcome into their fold provided he or she is anti-Arroyo (or at least commits to being one henceforth). And as far as the administration is concerned, anyone is welcome to join the administration slate provided they are prepared to pledge loyalty to the President, or at least commit to become “neutral.” I think these are troubling developments.

Making this election an indirect referendum on the legitimacy of the Arroyo administration is a double-edged sword because the legitimacy of former President Joseph Estrada’s claims to innocence and to being a victim of injustice and persecution are also riding on the same vehicle.
And God knows Estrada is itching to be exonerated through public approbation where his charm and iconic status can be put to better use rather than through the justice system where reason and evidence hold sway.

Despite the grand claims of the opposition, I also have reason to believe that electing representatives to the House is really a function of political machinery and the candidates’ clout in their respective localities. National issues have very little influence in the towns and barrios where the main consideration is where the food for the morrow will come from. Thus, I think that the administration will continue to enjoy a majority in the House of Representatives after the May elections.

This is why the emergence of the so-called third force is ordinarily a welcome development, if only it does not increase the possibility of neutralizing the two opposing camps. In such a situation, the administration wins by default.


Anonymous said…
Hi Bong!
Once again you're on point, and I could only heave a heavy sigh at what we will face before, during, and way after the elections, which is more of the same woes for the country given the type of people lined up on both sides. I was reading the Inquirer over breakfast last Saturday and in the inside page is a photo of the opposition incumbents and wannabes with their forefingers raised. And it was hard keeping the food down my stomach. Strangest bedfellows, those who sought Erap's ouster sitting alongside his sons and cohorts. A huge, sorry, cruel joke for people like us in Laguna who spent grocery money to hire a van to bring us to EDSA 2 in those forgotten days. Do we, Filipinos, deserve this?
Ciao, MommyJo

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