Benjie Oliveros | Name Recall, The Folly in Philippine Elections


What’s in a name? A lot, if we are talking about Philippine politics and elections. That is why candidates do commercials, ‘infomercials’, post their faces in billboards, posters and streamers, sing, dance, and do just about anything just to make the public remember their name.

It has always been an advantage if one is from a political family. Sen. Noynoy Aquino is hoping to ride on the goodwill of his parents, Cory and Ninoy, to get himself elected to Malacañang, so is his running mate Sen. Mar Roxas who also comes from a political family. Others like Sen. Manny Villar is spending on commercials to make his name stick to the public’s consciousness. Insidious are the candidates from the administration party like Defense Sec. Gilbert Teodoro and Local Government Sec. Ronaldo Puno, and also MMDA Chairman Bayani Fernando, who have been making use of their positions in government, as well as the national coffers, to make themselves visible.

This contest for name recall has been underpinning the personality politics that prevail in national elections, supported, of course, by guns, goons, and gold of political warlords, and massive fraud in the canvassing of votes. The sad thing is that the contest for name recall is not based on solid platforms and accomplishments but by sheer popularity, thus the engagement of showbiz personalities in politics. Indeed, the divide between politics and showbiz is very thin.

The Aquino-Roxas tandem is trying to show that they are above personality politics by endlessly repeating that they are for tunay na pagbabago or genuine change. But they have never elaborated on what changes they would be implementing, if they get elected. It seems they are only mimicking the campaign slogan and strategy of US Pres. Barack Obama, complete with the fund-raising aspect of getting people to contribute to the campaign funds. Even the “good versus evil” campaign packaging has no substance. While, no doubt, there is a preponderance of evil in the current administration, it is not clear what makes the Aquino-Roxas tandem different. During the snap elections when Cory Aquino challenged the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Cory clearly presented herself as the exact opposite of Marcos and as a symbol of the Filipino people’s struggle against martial law. What exactly does the Noynoy-Mar tandem represent? Nobody knows up to now.

Villar has also been vague about what alternative or platform he is presenting. Former Pres. Erap Estrada has again been using his tried and tested formula of projecting himself as the “hero of the masses” even as the masses never experienced any form of relief from poverty during the three years he was president. At least the Teodoro-Puno tandem is bold enough to present themselves as a continuation of the widely unpopular Arroyo administration. Perhaps, they are not relying on personality politics, but whatever it is they are banking on is anybody’s guess. Teodoro has been quoted as saying that machinery would trump popularity. The question is, machinery for what? Cheating? Vote buying and coercion? Surely, a people voting according to their own free will could not be swayed even by the most well-oiled machinery in the land.

As for Senators Loren Legarda and Chiz Escudero, they still have to shift to high gear in their campaign to show what they represent. Only the progressive partylist groups and candidates such as Bayan Muna, Gabriela Women’s Party, Anakpawis, Kabataan among a few others, have a clear platform.

Who is to blame for the sorry state in Philippine elections?

Civil society groups, the different churches, and even the big media networks have been urging the people to exercise their right to vote, to vote wisely, and to guard their votes. They have also been condemning those who sell their votes. It seems that they are barking at the wrong tree. For what exactly are the people voting for?

The media is partly to blame for not probing into the candidates’ platforms and merely being content with reporting the intense jockeying for positions, the candidates’ political bickering, expose´s and mudslinging, as well as their campaign sorties.

Elections for the highest position in the land have been held ten times in the past. This is already the 14th Congress and the people would be electing the 15th Congress next year. Have the Filipino people’s lives become better? Presidents, senators, representatives, governors, mayors, and other local officials come and go. And yet the lives of the Filipino people have only become worse through the years.

The selling of votes is at the minimum opportunistic. But could we blame those who do if that is the only palpable gain they get from elections?

In the kind of ‘democracy‘ that we have, voting in elections is the only expression of the people’s sovereign will and participation in governance. Perhaps it should be the other way around. Voting in elections should be a minor part in the people’s participation in governance. It should only complement direct political action by a people asserting their sovereign will. (

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