Loca local elections
The local elections interest me more than the lopsided race for the Senate. And without a doubt, when it comes to our daily lives, their effects are more tangible and deliver the harder punches.
The local elections first discombobulate us voters with their foregrounding of familiar faces. Some of those running are likely to be our relatives, friends, friends of friends, fellow churchgoers, ex-colleagues, etc., and not some old bloke Sara or Digong happened to have shaken hands with. Driving through a city in Surigao recently, I was surprised to encounter the campaign billboards of a batchmate in high school. I had to do a double take and ask myself, “Wasn’t he an urchin back then?”
In our small town, where progress runs slow and the water supply remains an odd dilemma—it rains year-round in Caraga—I tend to reconjure a mental picture I took of our mayor whenever I encounter a dry, coughing faucet. There he is playing mahjong, a bottle of beer beside him as he sits on a creaking, unvarnished wooden chair, his potbelly protruding. He was once summoned by one of the Tulfo brothers to answer accusations hurled at him, was somehow cleared, and is now running for reelection. In all probability, with all the money in his belt, he’d win again.
But beyond our proximity to the local candidates in our midst, it’s also easier to spot what changes Mr. Duterte’s ascent to power has effected in the local elections compared to the national ones. Perhaps the most apparent of these changes is the total dissolution of the meaning of party lines.
Here in martial-law Mindanao, it’s seen as stupid for anyone to run against candidates endorsed by the President. The popularity of the President remains unmatched, and with the kind of elections we have, the outcome will only serve to cement his foothold.
But at the same time, almost everyone is endorsed by this President, and no one’s really opposing anyone. As a consequence, streets are marred with posters that have the candidates all poorly Photoshopped with either the President or his daughter Sara raising their arms.
It follows that instead of squaring it off with actual platforms or upholding a certain party’s thrust in governance, we now have “teams” going against each other. These teams don’t really stand for anything except perhaps that the candidates “teamed together” are at least acquaintances. Yes, the local elections have become but a sport for many.
Political families running against each other also need to vie, first, for Mr. Duterte’s endorsement. And for added drama, you’d find members of the same family running in opposing teams. In our case here in Agusan del Norte, for example, two Amantes, brother and sister, are fighting for a seat in Congress. The campaign lines they have drawn are meant to show who curries greater favor with the President.
Angel Amante, it is bruited about, is the President’s ex-girlfriend. How this somehow translates positively among voters is beyond me, though rumor has it that votes for Angel in Cabadbaran City are being bought now at P15,000 per voter. On the other hand, Erlpe Amante insists that he remains a faithful friend to the President and supports him all the way, despite having a coparty member, the mayor of Jabonga, whose house was raided by the police. (Erlpe insists that the Jabonga mayor was merely a victim of the drug war’s overreach.)
While local governments were created to diffuse power from the center, it seems the peripheries actually prefer to never sever that connection.
A survey released recently by the Father Saturnino Urios University Policy Center (I teach at the university, but I was not involved in the study) showed that 73.54 percent of Butuanon respondents are “willing to accept money offered in exchange for their votes.” This comes as no surprise, since poverty in the postlogging era is widespread and debilitating.
Also, popular local history has it that the first cases of vote-buying happened here in Agusan.
The same survey also indicated a fair acceptance of the methods employed in Mr. Duterte’s drug war; the respondents said they felt the effects of the President’s governance through his Oplan Double Barrel campaign.
So, while it’s true that this year’s local elections are largely affected by the situation in the Palace, it’s also fair to say that the conduct of the local polls—the attitudes, the shallowness, the sense of impunity and spectacle—is but a reflection of what’s happening up there in the national scale.
DLS Pineda teaches at Father Saturnino Urios University, Butuan City. After finishing his undergraduate and master’s degrees in UP Diliman, he decided to reside in his father’s hometown in Agusan del Norte. Tweet @dlspineda.
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