Spectacle of a Problematic Election

As we understand it, the old style of a political dynasty was mainly based on the political success of a single patriarch and his or her allies in different sectors and classes. There seems to be evidence of a consolidation within a family where many of its members would seek positions at different levels of government.

The significance of this situation is still not clear. One view is that it simply represents a political fragmentation within the ruling class. Another is that it may be a kind of new and different structuring of political “sovereignty” as the political elite attempt – through the politics of personality and celebrity – to restore legitimacy in circumstances where the state has to rely increasingly on repressive state forces and laws.

In addition to the many formal state forces, the AFP and the Philippine National Police, along with other para-military groups, are usually connected with political candidates in areas where the competition is fierce and to some extent out of the major glare of national publicity. Some of the members of these groups are in fact “moonlighting” as security escorts. In some provinces, with many millions of voters, the fighting is pervasive and persistent and murder is done with impunity.

Ask any Filipino and he or she is wont to say that winning in an election requires “guns, goons and gold” (with the current addition of “Garci,” the nickname of a former Comelec official who allegedly helped Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo cheat her way to the presidency).

Under the Arroyo regime going back to her ascendancy in 2001, there has been a regime of violence. The Special Envoy from the UN Philip Alston has suggested that this is not state-sanctioned violence. Whether that is so or whether a cautious diplomat was simply unable to satisfy himself to some degree of certainty that it is so, is not clear. Nevertheless, he was able to establish what others on the ground have been saying for years. Opponents of the Arroyo administration, human rights activists, trade union and peasant leaders, progressive politicians, journalists and others involved in legitimate activities have disappeared in very considerable numbers (about 150) and more than 800 have been killed. This is an extraordinary record. And there can be no doubt that as Alston established, much of the anti-people activity constituting that record was carried out by the military.

So that is the “backdrop of violence” against which the 2007 elections were held and must be understood. It
is hardly an environment about which the Arroyo administration, the business community and the U.S. embassy can justifiably claim that the elections were “peaceful and orderly” and the expression of the people’s individual choices in a free and fair election, exemplifying a “vibrant democracy.”

Since the campaign for the election started earlier in the year, about 150 deaths have resulted from “election-related” deaths. If the 32 dead at Virginia Tech are a world resounding “massacre” providing a field day for the media, what then do we have in the Philippines? A super massacre surely.

The implications of this were not lost on ANFREL, members of which said that in the South, parts of Mindanao were “more dangerous than Afghanistan” and that the atmosphere was “not conducive to elections.” ANFREL observers from Southeast Asian countries were not judging the elections from the point of view of First World country elections. These were observers who have seen fraud, cheating, corruption and the involvement of the state armed forces and private armed gangs in their own countries or regions. Their observations were, however, very similar to those of the IOM which form the basis of the notes above.

Finally, it must be remembered that the RP is a very wealthy country with great potential for even far greater wealth. But it has been subjected to imperial conquest and exploitation in different forms over the last five centuries. The result is plain to see: Massive poverty and a huge imbalance in wealth. In such circumstances it is not surprising that there is substantial resistance to a corrupt and repressive state personified by the Arroyo administration which seeks to aid in the further exploitation of the human and natural resources of the Philippines.

Some of that resistance is armed struggle which is also not surprising and, of course, follows in a long tradition in the country. But even more pervasive, in every sector of Filipino society and in every part of the land, is the resistance of people in civil society organizations. The Philippines must have one of the most “dense” civil societies in the world. No one who goes to the Philippines from abroad can fail to be impressed by the people’s courage, dynamism and clarity of understanding of the state and neocolonial forces arrayed against them,

Thus the elections are a period when these conflicting forces play out an act in a long-running drama.

For those who control power, each election is crucial. They cannot afford to lose. They can, in another sense, afford to win through “guns, goons, gold and Garci.”(Bulatlat.com)

* Prof. Gill H. Boeringer of Australia joined the People’s International Observers’ Mission held from May 13-18, 2007 to monitor the conduct of the May 2007 Philippine elections.

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