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Kris-Crossing Mindanao

A fabulous P300-M war chest

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Have we progressed or have we degenerated in our conduct of elections? Voting and vote count have now gone automated, though belatedly. But that we can now determine victor and vanquished in less than a day is something not to crow about before the league of nations, many of which have been into this cutting edge generations ahead of us. But we are already there, to say the least.

The Aquino administration has instituted a revamp of the voters’ list in central Mindanao, where the senatorial tailender used to be decided. That is progress; may the revamp be satisfactory enough to correct what had been a grave abuse of electoral will. But that we need to see in the long run. May it finally delete all fictitious names, flying voters and resurrected dead used in vote-padding that had, in past elections, been the last resort for fictitious winners.

But there are other elements in our electoral exercise that even automation cannot address. Dynasticism is certainly not the least significant of them. What we see in the current senatorial lineups are only the tip of the iceberg. At the local level, it is more blatant. Which town or city does not have the wife or husband or son or daughter or mother or father or brother or sister to replace the outgoing incumbent? Even lolo and lola have joined the fray.

“We are not a dynasty; this is not succession but election; it is the people who decide” should by now be a discarded run-of-the-mill answer. Dynasts must have better answers for an electorate that has grown conscious of its rights. It may take time for Filipino society to correct that flaw, for a flaw it truly is. The same family names and bloodlines in power already create, wittingly or not, an inherent limitation to those challenging members of political dynasties in power.

Let’s face it. Elections in the Philippines are not decided by votes but by the highest bidder. And the highest bidder is the one who holds the richest purse, who is no other than the holder of the public coffers.

Despite the automation and PCOS machines, Philippine elections are not yet free.

In our Manila-centric culture where the presidency and the senatorial elections are looked up with much awe and hence draw more government and media attention, we often forget that it is in local elections where the voter is largely disenfranchised—when he is “led away” from casting an honest ballot.

The Commission on Elections has recently announced it will soon release a resolution that will address the crime of vote-buying.

It is a fact that in local elections, vote-buying is still rampant. It is one age-old moral wrong that has not been corrected to this day. “Until now no one has ever been jailed for it,” says Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes Jr. It is even the deciding factor in elections for the Sangguniang Kabataan. Yes, we start our future leaders young in the ways of corruption.

The Comelec must know that in local elections, talk of the highest bidder is neither both fable and gossip nor fantasy. It is being bandied about by local parties in a brazen display of political hubris.

The strong arm of the Comelec must extend to the provinces, cities, municipalities and barangays. In local elections, vote-buying is so common, it is talked about matter-of-factly, but Manila up high does not get to hear it because the talk on the ground is drowned by the noise generated by its own power struggles, like an arrested Isko Moreno getting aggressive support from a clearly incoherent former president. It is silly. But the real pettiness lies in local contests where petty tyrants are so often created election after election, and this the Comelec has failed to address. It is a moral wrong that our national system, ever fixated on Manila-based politics, overlooks.

In the city where I vote, there is talk about a very huge war chest of a long-entrenched politician (15 years in power). But it did not seemingly emanate from malicious sources. One of Cagayan de Oro Mayor Vicente Emano’s councilors in fact started the rumor when he revealed to an opposition councilor that their camp was awash with P300-million in campaign funds allegedly amassed from Tropical Storm “Sendong” donations. A campaign with that much in cash? The implications of vote-buying are staggering.

Even before the cash gets distributed (and barangay chairs reportedly will be part of the distribution scheme and thus will benefit big from the largesse), think of how many voters are already being disenfranchised at this point. An informal survey conducted among persons-on-the-street as to who they will vote for generated the classic answer: “It depends on who will give the higher amount.”

In such a scandalous situation, what can the Comelec do? Brillantes has promised that the resolution on vote-buying will come out 10 days before the May 13 elections. The PCOS machines may count correctly, but they can never identify which votes had been sold.

But from where I vote, elections have always been decided this way, they say. When will this all end? I am asking this for the country, not just for my own hometown’s parochial interest.


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