By By Ramonfelipe A. Sarmiento
Island Politics
posted 17-May-2007  ·  
1,805 views  ·   0 comments  ·  

(Last of two parts)

I wrote this piece two weeks before May 14 but by the time you get to read it, two days had lapsed after the elections. This article is on vote-buying. If you think no massive buy-and-sell of the right of suffrage took place in Catanduanes two days ago, then you stop reading because this would be irrelevant. Then we must offer a misa de grasya because that would be the miracle of miracles! But if the last election was still a grand tiangge of the sacred boto (i-pronounce ng malumanay) like it had been in the past, then we cover our noses because we would (again) be in deep sh_t.

In the last article, we noted that elections in our province are such a costly enterprise so much so we need to import candidates who can afford to fund a campaign. They are those Catandunganons who had long been exiled from the island and made fortunes in other places. What really makes these elections exorbitantly expensive is the practice of vote-buying. But vote-buying and its many forms consist only one-half of the arsenal of means to cheat in elections. The other half involves the rigging of results, such as altering summary reports. While candidates determined to win by extraordinary means would come up with a combination of both types of cheating, there is still a preference to use vote-buying over the outright rigging of results.

Why is this so when vote-buying is more expensive and entails more time and effort? There are several reasons. For one, it is safer. Rigging of results would leave evidence and is plainly and patently a criminal act. For another, vote-buying can be made to appear as a form of generosity and therefore makes the candidate feel good about one’s self. Somehow, the vote-buyer desires a "real" mandate, with his/her name appearing indeed on the ballots. The candidate wants to get votes, not to invent them. It gives one an illusion of being loved by the people, even if such love has cash value. Oh, pitiful indeed is the "import" neophyte candidate who made money through sheer ability and long years of hard work while in exile from Islang Catandungan, only to be splurged in a costly campaign for a local position. Sobra nang pangangailangan ng pagmamahal, ng pagkilala ng iba, at kelangan pa itong bilhin? It makes me wonder: ano ba’ng meron sa pulitika?

Sabi ni Fr. Ping kang buhay pa: "Atang tur-tur. . ."

But the fate of these political aspirants who are infirmed with unusual need for social regard is not my concern. Hayaan mo na sila’t mayaman naman eh. When a candidate wins by rigging and manipulation of results, it is an uncomplicated matter because the object of our indignation would be clear: a handful of obviously evil men, the candidate and his/her conspirators. But if the victory was obtained through vote-buying, people’s view of it becomes ambivalent. In a recent national survey, over 50% said vote-buying is not exactly a wrong thing. It makes many people happy (those who received money). It doesn’t put guilt in the winner who instead is elevated to high heavens: he/she gets the power and the glory, the reputation of being rich and generous, becomes worthy of canonization to sainthood. But it sends the guardians of morality into a consternation. And who gets the flak? Nobody but the people, at least the big majority. They become the object of disdain, or at best pity, by these moralists. They are called names: daing prinsipyo, mga ignorante, mga nagpabakal ning dignidad. Now this is what is disturbing.

It is unfair to bad-mouth the vote-sellers. My conviction has always been that these people know exactly what they are doing and that they are not necessarily without a sense of dignity and principle. To understand vote-buying, we should look at it in terms of the entire context of elections. What are elections? They are the basic mechanism to achieve democracy, specifically representative democracy. As we have it here in the Philippines, our brand of representative democracy is really foreign, something borrowed, particularly from the Americans. But for all our blind worship for things American, we do not really understand that most important of American institutions which is representative democracy. We can quote Lincoln and Kennedy, but we never fully imbibed what a "government by the people" is all about and wouldn’t take seriously "asking what you can do for the government."

In our Filipino thinking, it is the government that should do something for the people, ano ka? Not that the people are dependent on the government. Quite the contrary, we Catandunganons are a hardy people of survivors, and mostly on account of our own diskarte and abilidad. The government for the most part has nothing to do with it. The local government is marginal in the everyday life of the masa. To survive in this harsh world, the more sources one has, the better are the chances. We are not dependent on the munisipyo or kapitolyo, but these anyway are still sources to tap for our needs, among many other sources such as relatives, friends, institutions, and of course there is always God.

So definitely, it must be a "government for the people." But a "government by the people"? Come on, it would be too much to bother the toiling masa: they are busy with the rigors of day-to-day living to burden them with the cares of governance. So therefore, elections, which are imbued with elevated notions of "sacredness" in America, are reduced to a mundane exercise of exchange of goods in the Philippines. We go through the motions of the rituals of "democracy" for appearances, but in essence it is nothing but simple commerce where the rule is "no such thing as free lunch": your money or any useful favors, in exchange for my vote. Amanos lang. Why should anybody feel guilty? Tutal, after the elections, kanya-kanyang drama na uli, everybody busy trying to live according to one’s diskarte, including the local government, ay bahala sila kung mag-busy-bisihan din sila. Well, if they can give more favors along the way before the next election, fine. It’s part of the bargain. The thing is that this buy-and-sell of votes is an honest enterprise because nobody takes someone else’s money for nothing.

Although vote-buying was a well developed practice during pre-martial law days, I have the strong suspicion that it prospered after the so-called EDSA revolution. For one thing, it would have not been necessary during the dark days of the dictatorship because 1) there were practically no elections then, and 2) during the rare exercises of suffrage allowed, it was so easy to win by using violence and manipulating of results. When democracy was "restored" in 1986, the "democratic space" was gaping wide that it encouraged our exiled Catandunganons to fill it in, they who made fortunes in the mainland, to come and invest their money and experience in the beloved island-province by running for top local positions. And because they were practically unknowns, they must buy votes to insure victory. Eh paano, sinanay ang mga taga-Catanduanes sa vote-buying, blame it on those who came first. So let’s play with the music muna, anyway hindi problema ang pera. Basta maka-tulong. Oh yes, they come overflowing with good intentions!

To sum it up, vote-buying may not be as bad as it appears to be. In fact, its proliferation is an evidence that democracy is at play. Its prevalence indicates only the reign of freedom: the freedom of the buyer and seller to trade votes, loyalties, principles with cash. There are those moralists among us who advice people to accept money so long as you "vote according to conscience." No problem. The honorable person is bound by conscience to vote for the candidate who gave the money. Walang dayaan, ha? The fact that candidates who buy votes win means that the Catandungan people are honest and honorable. In a true democracy, American style if you will, among the freedoms being assured us is the liberty to sell one’s merchandise, including one’s soul, to anybody who got the money. Including the devil.

Email your comments and suggestions to monxar@yahoo.com

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