Yesterday’s den of thieves
Somebody recounted that staple wires ran out of stock in local shops yesterday. Why staple wires? Standard. Money bills need to be stapled on sample ballots. These are then placed, at least for some modicum of dignity, inside little brown envelopes. Well, little brown envelopes had also run out of stock.
Today is Election Day but the voting is over. Yesterday was the crucial day, the day when candidates mount their special operations perfected through the years as both art and science. Dynasties have that added ability because they have been in politics long. In Cebuano-speaking regions, the operation is known as “kamang,” crawl. That very well describes the stealth of the procedure. Leaders descend upon neighborhoods in the dead of night, bringing stacks of envelopes filled with money. There is a list on hand, the better to check if beneficiaries have received the money after knocking on their doors.
It is a labor-intensive operation. For some, the candidate’s family members and trusted aides accompany the operators to guarantee actual handover of the goods.
Easily, one-third of a candidate’s expenses are spent on vote buying. The total amount, however, all depends on the
cash that was hoarded, nay, stolen from public office. If pork barrel had been efficient (it is), it can even run up to half
or more of a candidate’s expenses. The average buying rate today in local government elections is at least P2,000 and that amount is paltry.
How is the cash sourced? For mayors and governors, there is the intelligence fund, proudly proclaimed as free of audit, hence the rampant abuse of it. There are a myriad of ways to raise the cash over three years in office; having ghost employees and ghost projects are among some. Then there is the SOP (standard operating procedure), a euphemism immediately understood among local governments in the context of infrastructure projects. The SOP used to be that 20 percent of the cost of infrastructure projects went to the pockets of the LGU head as grease money. It could go higher if the contractor was a favored one. After all, bids and awards procedures are just theatrically performed. That is a fact.
In local governments, the rule of thumb is: the mayor/governor/congressman on their last term is hard to beat because the plundered money accumulated over the past six years must have been enormous.
District congressmen and senators also give money to the local candidate, to ensure their names are on the sample ballots stapled on the money bills. An Imee Marcos win, for example, is not unfathomable to understand in this context. The presence of that sample ballot is brazen. It is hard evidence of vote buying, a crime punishable under our laws. But pray tell me, who is the politician who is not brazen?
Vote buying is one of the most severe kinds of bullying against our democracy. It has both paper and bank transaction trails yet we, our electoral laws and the Commission on Elections, look the other way. The crime has become an inevitable fact of our political life. It is one of the greatest moral dilemmas we hardly admit to.
Receivers are not exactly clueless where the money is coming from. Public office is this country’s wealthiest source of funds. What is more vexing is how we have lost all sense of moral compass about this audacious crime.
And so, we have allowed public servants this formula every three years: buy votes today, recover the money in the next three years.
Metro Manila’s political analysts who chatter in our behalf on national television seldom talk about vote buying. But it is a stark reality in the provinces. It feeds precisely on economic disempowerment. Ever wonder why we remain poor? That poverty is imposed. That is the fate we get from our gods of politics.
Calloused as we already all are, vote buying is no shocking revelation. It is as mundane as it is pedestrian. In fact, it begins at the Sangguniang Kabataan elections. Training must start young, to ensure future careers as thieves, plunderers and liars.
The election results were sealed yesterday, not today. Today is just an expensive theater of the absurd.
On Twitter: @AntonioJMontal2. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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