There are two things that the common tao considers as indicators, if not necessary proof, that our political system is a democracy. The first is national elections. The second is the Philippine Congress.
When Ferdinand E. Marcos decided to suspend both in 1972, there was no doubt in the ordinary Filipino’s mind that a full blown dictatorship was upon us. When he was overthrown in 1986 and both elections and the Congress were restored, the common tao rejoiced in the end of the dictatorship and the “restoration of democracy” in our country.
Thirty years later, we now have a clearer picture of what kind of political system was really restored or what it had become.
The definitive arrival of the election season is heralded by the hoopla, gimmickry, horse trading, political intrigue and disinformation thrown in with the grotesque as well as hilarious line-up of candidates from serious to not-so, from relative to absolute cuckoos.
We are being gulled into thinking that 130 instead of a handful of presidential candidates to choose from would make the process or our choice more democratic. The real irony is that while it is very likely that one or two of them are better qualified and more deserving of the presidency than any of the established frontrunners, there is absolutely no chance or hope in their getting elected.
Is the key question making the right choice? What choices are available in the first place? Is it really a level-playing field or is the system skewed in favor of those with the advantages of the backing of a political dynasty and the economic elite; the incumbent’s “pork barrel”; name recall, media exposure and popularity; and last but not the least, the good housekeeping seal of the mighty US of A.
Clearly what candidates stand for — not just in terms of pronouncements and promises but track record — is of least importance. It is more the image that is created and built up that is why advertising tricks do make a whale of a difference. One’s political party — its ideology, politics, and even affiliations — have all gone down the drain. Running as a supposed “independent” suddenly makes sense as the candidate can distance himself from the opprobrium of traditional parties even as he can be “adopted” as a guest candidate by the same parties or coalition of parties.
Everything is reducible to winnability — who has the resources, the image and the machinery to win.
Resources are the key to mounting an effective campaign. Dominant mass-media visibility means hundreds of millions, if not billions, for political ads and media padulas. Actual campaigning through sorties is still important for creating illusion of accessibility; one’s mobility, entourage and campaign rallies depend on how much money you are willing and able to spend. As to political machinery — the layers of campaigners, vote-getters and vote-buyers down the line from the provincial to the barrio level — it has been proven that this truly has no loyalties. It goes to the highest bidder and proof of this is that party switching is at its peak as the electoral exercise nears.
What of the leftist Makabayan Coalition (currently composed of six progressive parties) that has invariably ended up as parliamentary opposition no matter the regime in power? It is clear that electoral politics for them is not the be-all and end-all. The struggle to overhaul the exploitative and oppressive socioeconomic and political system to one that is truly of, for and by the people does not hinge on participation in elections as such. Arousing, organizing and mobilizing the people, most especially the masses, is still the mantra of these parties. Elections are maximized as an occasion to highlight their nationalist and democratic program, gain adherents and allies, as well as elect their top caliber leaders into office. The latter is an uphill climb but given the proven validity and viability of the Left’s platform, and the accumulated strength of the progressive movement through the decades, it has been proven possible.
And now the question of the electoral exercise itself. Convincing the voters to vote for a candidate is one thing; getting them to actually do so is another matter. Massive vote buying/selling continues to this day and will be around so long as people are kept destitute and look to elections as a means to tide them over another day. Getting the vote counted correctly is another matter. This used to require an army of poll watchers and a bevy of election lawyers. In time electoral fraud grew into a sophisticated, high-stakes operation run by a well-entrenched mafia in the Commission on Elections (Comelec). By means of wholesale dagdag-bawas, a presidential candidate could win by “convincing” margins and senatorial wannabees could make it to the magic 12 of winning candidates or even top the race.
So the real clincher is the question of who actually controls the electoral process in a really insidious but critical way that could spell who wins and who doesn’t. Automating the elections was supposed to significantly reduce, if not totally eliminate, manipulation and fraud. But because automation is known to have inherent dangers and pitfalls the law mandating automated elections put in place necessary safeguards.
Thus the 2010 and 2013 elections were automated, but with Comelec and Smartmatic, the US-based company commissioned to conduct the elections, ignoring the required safeguards. The poor performance of the precinct count optical scan or PCOS machines in the 2010 and 2013 national elections and the dedicated effort of the information technology experts and anti-fraud groups under Automated Election System Watch to expose the flawed system have taken away much of the gleam of automation.
It is perhaps a measure of how blatantly foreign interests can intervene in our supposedly “independent” electoral process and spoil the “sanctity” of our ballots that a foreign businessman and “political strategist,” British Lord Mark Malloch Brown, could publicly boast that he had played a key role in securing the electoral victory of Cory Aquino against Marcos in the 1986 elections. This, when the Omnibus Election Code barring foreigners from participating in the electoral process and aiding any candidate in any way was then barely three months old.
This revelation is even more appalling and alarming now that this person — certainly not by chance — is the Board Chairman of SGO, the parent company of Smartmatic, and has no qualms in saying that the coming elections is very important for the future of the Philippines’ business relations with the US, Britain and other centers of foreign capital.
It would be the height of political naiveté, and falling into the trap laid by our elite politicians and their foreign patrons, to fall for the repeated lie that elections are the litmus test of a democracy. The democratic character of elections in a particular society is always shaped by the democratic or non-democratic character of that society.
The elite classes continue to rule by violence and deception. Periodic elections are part of the deception. The different factions of the elite make it their business to master the electoral game to their advantage. The democratic classes wishing to change the rules of the game — not just to have a fighting chance to win under its rules — cannot rely on reactionary elections. Only by actually strengthening the independent, organized power of the people can they have a real chance to change the ruling system.
Carol Pagaduan-Araullo is a medical doctor by training, social activist by choice, columnist by accident, happy partner to a liberated spouse and proud mother of two.
Published in Business World
18 October 2015