In Catanduanes, according to our report, all the electoral districts saw vote-buying. In San Isidro, a village with only 1,000 voters or so, the front-runners paid P300 per voter. In San Jose, with a voting population of only 179, two rivals paid P400 per voter. In San Pedro, whose voters numbered all of 243, one candidate at least paid P1,000 per voter. Elsewhere, candidates distributed noodles, 3-in-1 coffee, pan de sal, and cash.
No one seems to have noticed, or minded, that they were doing this in places named after saints—Isidro, Joseph, Peter.
That was the gold. The guns and goons were not far behind. Late last Monday, the police reported that 22 candidates, 11 of them incumbents, and several supporters had been killed in poll violence. Eight people, including a barangay captain and a barangay councilor, were missing. Even as they spoke, the police said, reports were flowing in about fresh casualties.
This is not a presidential election, a senatorial election, a local election, or at least a mayoral one. This is, believe it or not, a barangay election!
There are only two explanations for this, the first completely batty and the second perfectly scary.
The first is that Filipinos have suddenly been filled with a desire to uplift their villages that they don’t mind spending a not-very-small fortune—P1,000 x 243=P243,000, enough for a down payment on a car—for the privilege of being able to do it. Filipinos have suddenly been filled with a desire to serve their kabaranggay that they are willing to wreak mayhem on their rivals for the honor of doing it.
The second, and saner, reason is that Filipinos have gotten more insane in their desire to get into public office.
On paper, a barangay chair gets only P1,000 per month in honorarium and his councilors P600. That is not something a prospective Jollibee delivery guy would aspire for, let alone spend P100,000 or more for, let alone kill or die for. Beyond paper, however, as Mon Casiple explains, barangay officials have quite a pile to work on. That includes the IRA (Internal Revenue Allotment), or their share in national taxes, and the taxes they themselves are able to squeeze from businesses in their localities. That is quite apart from the perks they are able to get from being allied with mayors. In Quezon City, says Casiple, all barangay officials get cars of their own.
The bottom line is that public office remains one of the most lucrative jobs in this country. The only startling revelation here is that even this most basic level is so. It is, quite incidentally, an indication as well that as far as public perception goes, pork has not gone with the PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund) but remains alive and kicking in other forms. So long as the promise of part of the lard trickling, however stickily, down to this level is there, so long will people fight tooth and nail, or with gun and gold, even for this seemingly lowly position. There’s nothing lowly about the pelf and power it commands.
We can always complain about how the Commission on Elections and police have done a sorry job keeping the vote clean and keeping the peace, which I’ve heard all over the place, and there’s arguably that, too. But there are limits to what they can do. Whereas on the other hand, there are no limits to what we ourselves can do about it. Except that we are not doing it.
Not least is mounting a furious voters’ education campaign, particularly at this time when the outrage against pork is at an all-time high. My first reaction when the Janet Napoles scam broke out and implicated three senators and several congressmen was how bad the timing of it was. None of those senators, Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, and Bong Revilla, was running, and in any case it was too late, the scam had been exposed months after the elections. Had the three been running and had the scandal broken out a little earlier, we might not have them to entertain or infuriate us right now. Or ever.
It’s not too late to harp on the point. I’ve always thought that was a natural spin-off of the movement against pork, the campaign against pork, the marches against pork. You want to stop pork, do not vote for the candidates that want pork. Or, put more positively, you want to stop pork, vote for the candidates that are antipork. The Kapatiran senatorial candidates, for one, were so. They would not ask for pork, they would not accept pork, they would not abide pork.
Which is also to say that you want to stop pork, do not vote for those who propose to buy your vote. How else will they recover what they spent—and it’s terrifying how vote-buying has reached this scale even at barangay level—except by demanding their share of pork, or balato from the pork of their allies at the top? And, as foreshadowed by their willingness to buy votes, using their share the way Napoles’ congressional friends did theirs? Everything begins at the barangay level, you can’t get more basic than that.
By all means let us shout our heads off against pork and against pillage. But let us go deeper and try to stop all these before they start, at the level of the vote. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. We do not vote for the people who buy our vote, we will not have officials who rape us. We do not sell our vote the way Esau did his birthright for a pot of porridge, we will not have officials who pillage us.
Now is the best time to mount a campaign to help people appreciate the preciousness of the vote, the sacredness of the vote, the power of the vote. The scandal of the barangay elections and the scandal of the Napoles scam provide the backdrop for it: The one is to the other as cause is to effect.
We don’t do it and the horror will continue, well past Halloween.
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