COMMENT: Election 2016 as We See It

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 6 May) – We have observed Philippine elections since the 1930s. While blest with the most modern facilities, the 2016 election is old tale retold, the dirtiest and most enigmatic.

As Inquirer’s Ma. Ceres P. Doyo wrote last May 3, the Philippine Catholic Church sees the same: “Desperately seeking divine intervention, Catholic Church parishes, religious congregations and various groups are turning to prayer and fasting in the run-up to the national elections on May 9.

“Given the muck, mud, slime and scum being thrown about during the election campaign, given the quality of candidates lording it over at the hustings and regaling crowds with pies in the sky and inappropriate jokes, these are desperate times indeed.

“On May 1, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) president, Socrates Villegas, issued a “pastoral appeal” titled “Prophets of Truth, Servants of Unity” that urged voters to “discern (their) choices.” Other bishops have issued pastoral letters making the same appeal. (Philippine Daily Inquirer, May 3, 2016: Nuns all over PH pray for divine intervention) The two cardinals – the Archbishops of Manila and of Cotabato – have separately issued their own exhortations.

What will happen after May 9? We have faith there will be Divine intervention. But as the great Russian novelist Leon Tolstoy said: “God sees the truth but waits.”

God has given the Filipinos the faculty to discern, the conscience for discernment and the free will to follow their conscience. He will not stop the Filipino voters from electing their president according to their conscience, discernment and free will. But, later, if they realize their mistake, God will intervene. Is that not the story of EDSA 1986? When the Filipinos realized through martial law their mistake in electing and re-electing Ferdinand E. Marcos as their president, He intervened.

EDSA Miracle

What happened at EDSA (Epifanio de los Santos Avenue) was difficult to comprehend. How can it be explained?

Their plot uncovered on February 22, coup plotters to unseat President Marcos, led by Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and PC Chief Lt. Gen. Fidel V. Ramos, barricaded themselves at Camp Crame. Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin mobilized more than a million of Cory (Corazon C. Aquino) supporters, armed only with rosaries, prayers and flowers. They stopped tanks at EDSA. No blood spilled. Armed forces loyal to Ramos and Enrile defected. The US intervened. Marcos and family fled via USAF helicopter on February 25.

[NOTE: EDSA is where the Philippine Army and Philippine Constabulary national headquarters, Camp Aguinaldo and Camp Crame, respectively, are located.]

That two top dogs of martial law regime and the victims of martial law would unite in a bloodless revolution to topple the dictator Marcos was a miracle. God had long seen the suffering of the Filipinos. But He waited for Filipinos within and outside of the regime to rebel and intervened to end the regime peacefully. Again, He saw the truth but waited for the Filipinos to determine how to unite to rebuild their nation.

Ironic 30 Years

The 30 years since 1986 is a period of irony. Every year, Filipinos celebrate EDSA to glorify people power and the democracy it had restored – oblivious of the fallacy of that power now, the hypocrisy behind that democracy, and the monopoly of powers following the fall of dictatorship.

All looked well with the revolutionary government instantly set up. Cory, presumptive winner of the February 7 snap presidential election, was president; Salvador H. Laurel, her running mate and a veteran politician, vice president; Enrile, defense minister; and Ramos, AFP chief of staff.

According to Homobono Adaza, a leading member of the opposition bloc in the Marcos Batasang Pambansa, the original plan was a government with President Cory Aquino as head of state and Vice President Laurel, considering his expertise in politics, as prime minister and head of government. The plan fell apart and the loose alliance started unraveling before the inauguration. The political bloc led by Cory’s brother Jose “Peping” Cojuangco preempted the plan.

That explained the nine coup attempts against Cory led by Col. Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan, Enrile’s protégé. They, too, had a plan. Eventually, Enrile resigned from the cabinet. Ramos stuck with Cory as defense secretary.

The 30 years saw frustrations not success in truly empowering the people and in truly establishing a democratic government in peace and progress under the genuine reign of social justice, human rights and rule of law.

  • The Presidential Commission on Good Government was created to recover the ill-gotten wealth of Marcos and his cronies. The Marcoses and their cronies, their vast influence undiminished, have used the “rule of law” to frustrate full recovery.
  • The Cory revolutionary government honored the unjust and onerous foreign loans incurred by Marcos to burden future governments and unborn generations.
  • Right in the first congressional election under Cory in 1989, the Marcos loyalists started their comeback. Not long after, most were back in power under different parties and aggrupation. Now, the Marcoses are fully back with Sen. Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. leading in the voters’ preference surveys for vice president.
  • The Cory and the Marcos loyalists were really of one mind – no sincere intent to empower the people. In the Congress, they blocked the anti-dynasty law that the 1989 Constitutions has mandated but they enacted enabling laws for the multi-party, party-list and term-limit provisions to perpetuate themselves in power and propagate political dynasties instead of eradicating them.
  • Corruption of people’s money, power and national integrity did not die at EDSA. They only lay low evolving into new forms or avenues including the legal – from President Aquino, the mother, to President Aquino, the son.
  • Every administration boasted of robust economy but admitted the gains had yet to trickle down to the poor. Economic progress has been for investors, the business elite and those close to the powers in government.
  • Justice, rule of law and human rights are held supreme but least for the ordinary Filipinos – the lowly-paid workers, poor litigants, slain journalists, etc. The wealthy and influential among law breakers manipulate the rule of law and invoke human rights to evade, if not to mock, justice – the evasion of taxes included.
  • The Moro and Communist problems, among the principal reasons of Marcos in declaring martial law, have remained unsolved with no solution in sight.

Old Tale Retold

The issues in this 2016 presidential election were problems Marcos had vowed to solve with martial but failed; instead, they worsened. They were the same problems, the post-martial law governments, from Aquino the mother to Aquino the son, have pledged to solve but have eluded solution.

They, in fact, pre-dated Marcos. Corruption took root right after World War II; the Moro and Communist problems, bred by social and historical injustices, started menacing peace and order in the 1950s. Other issues, new or related, emerged later, their solutions – like their older cousins – forming part of promises every election. Candidates won or lost votes depending on how voters perceived the sincerity of their promises.

In this 2016 election, the presidential candidates tout their personal qualifications – their education, integrity, experience, commitment to good governance, champion of the poor, etcetera, etcetera. They promise to create more jobs; provide local governments more funds; stop corruption, criminality, drug menace, etcetera, etcetera. Recall past elections and ask: “What’s new?”

They present programs to improve the economy, to improve governance, to improve the life of the poor – programs that envision “change for the better”. Recall past elections. Had similar promises then been fulfilled, the Philippines would have stood out, by now, as the “Paradise in Asia”. But those programs for change only re-entrenched the status quo”. Will the well-crafted programs in this 2016 election be different?

What do we mean by program for change re-entrenching the status quo? Take a very close look into President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III’s “Daang Matuwid”, the core of his 2010 election campaign. He has acclaimed it as a resounding success. He wants this continued and is the platform of Manuel A. Roxas II, standard bearer of the Liberal Party. To President Aquino, the 2016 election is a referendum for “Daang Matuwid”; for the Filipinos to reject it would be tragic to the nation.

Common sense question: If “Daang Matuwid” is a resounding success, why are poverty and corruption the leading issues in the 2016 election? The slogan for “Daang Matuwid” is “Kung walang korap, walang mahirap!” In English, “If there is no corruption, there is no poverty!” Poverty is rampant; ergo, corruption is rampant.

“Daang Matuwid” is controversial. This merits full discussion elsewhere, some time.

Suffice it to see: the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the business communities of the country attest to economic development; but Aquino admits the gains have not trickled down to the poor. In his State of the Nation Address, he denounced smuggling at the Customs; but he rejected the resignation of the Customs commissioner, his ally. Government records show the tripling of smuggling incidence at the Customs under Aquino compared to that under President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Presidential candidate Miriam Defensor-Santiago (INQUIRER.net, May 5, 2016: Miriam Santiago: …) said “Daang Matuwid” has “turned out to be the ultimate frustration of the Filipino people. … The administration has failed to implement many reforms to curb corruption. These include the Freedom of Information Bill or Law, which I strongly supported in the Senate, and the Anti-Premature Campaigning Law.”

Are the well-crafted programs of presidential candidates in this 2016 election better than “Daang Matuwid” or are they just its close catchy variations like “Galing at Puso” of Grace Poe or “GP”, her initials?

To borrow from the comic character “Popeye”, this 2016 election is “disgustipating”.

(To be concluded tomorrow.)

(“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz is the recipient of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Titus Brandsma for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate. You may e-mail your comments to [email protected])

  • Miguel Cabrera

    Thank you for your view on you you see the elections. I would just like to add my own opinion as to why the Left is supporting Duterte:

    In
    the run-up to the elections in the Philippines, some in the media have
    asked why is Duterte coddling the Left. The real question should be, why
    is the Left coddling Duterte?

    If it is not obvious by now, open
    and not-so-open leftist organizations have been putting their full force
    behind the election of the presidential candidate from Davao. On one
    level or another, they have been campaigning for him in the countryside,
    in national media and, perhaps above all else, in social media.

    One
    of the most contradictory examples of this is the support from the
    militant women’s organization Gabriela. On the one hand, they have
    released statements condemning some of Duterte’s remarks about women and
    his rape “joke.” Yet they also came out in support of Duterte, asking
    people to “look beyond his words, look beyond his actions.”

    Time
    and again, Duterte has been the one to “negotiate” the release of police
    or military captured by the NPA in Mindanao. These events have become
    almost predictable once someone from the armed forces is taken captive
    in the Davao area and beyond. Is this due to Duterte’s ability to really
    negotiate a lasting peace or is it because the Left is carefully
    orchestrating these events to add to Duterte’s presidential qualities?

    Why
    would so many individuals and organizations that had once denounced
    Duterte because of his alleged connections to the Davao Death Squads now
    be some of his most avid supporters?

    Even Jose Maria Sison,
    founding member of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), was
    quoted as saying that Duterte is good for national unity and that he
    would come home to the Philippines. Is Duterte already unifying the far
    left and the far right in the Philippines? Perhaps a better question is,
    does the right hand know what the left hand is doing?

    Here are three possible scenarios as to why the Left would be behind someone like Duterte:

    One: Duterte wins and establishes his “revolutionary government.”

    Since
    early on in his campaign, Duterte has claimed that he wants to
    establish a “revolutionary government.” Duterte has not elaborated on
    the details of what he exactly means by a “revolutionary government.”
    When he first stated he would do this, he said it would include shutting
    down the government, except for the judiciary, if he did not get his
    way. He then went on to extoll his plans for federalism, which
    apparently would be part of his revolutionary plan.

    For the Left,
    this would be far short of what they would consider a revolutionary
    government. To come close to satisfying Sison and the National
    Democratic Front (NDF), Duterte would have to nationalize major
    extractive industries, such as oil and mining, seize lands in order to
    implement a major land reform agenda and implement a redistribution of
    the country’s wealth.

    If this were to happen, the most likely
    outcome is that, as many analysts have pointed out (including Joma Sison
    himself) is that Duterte would be like a Filipino Hugo Chavez, the
    boisterous revolutionary leader of Venezuela from 1999 – 2013. As Sison
    said, Duterte has the character of a Hugo Chavez. Duterte could very
    well fit the populist mold that was part of Chavez rule, enacting (or
    imposing) laws and programs popular among the poor.

    How likely is
    this to happen? Not very. First of all, Duterte has never made claims
    that he would enact such radical reforms. If Davao City is the model for
    his new government, there are no signs in the city of any real
    revolutionary or even socialist agenda. His supporters have claimed he
    has done so much there, especially ridding the city of crime. Yet, there
    has been little change in the status quo. If social indicators have
    improved in Davao City, it is due to the major influx of financial
    resources associated with capitalist growth, not because of a socialist
    agenda.

    Two major factors that led to the success of Hugo Chavez
    (though some would even question the long-term success of his rule) were
    that it was an oil-rich country and that Hugo Chavez came from a
    military background, and thus had the support of members in the military
    when he took power. While the Philippines is rich in resources, it does
    not have the oil wealth like Venezuela. By the same token, Duterte may
    have his allies in the military, but they are unlikely supporters of a
    Hugo Chavez type revolutionary government.

    It may be a matter of
    degrees and he has his one particular mannerisms, but Duterte still
    comes out of the same general political mold as all politicians in the
    Philippines. He is a beneficiary and promoter of his familiy’s political
    dynasty. He has strong ties with the wealthy, and as has been recently
    revealed, is himself landed and wealthy (though how wealthy is
    debatable).

    It is hard to see the Left, itself, conceding power
    to someone like Duterte. Such a move would be in major conflict with the
    national democratic revolution of the Philippine’s principles of a
    protracted struggle from the countryside. An openness to dialogue?
    Perhaps. Ceding rule to someone like Duterte as the revolutionary to
    bring about true nationalist democratic change to the Philippines? Hard
    to believe.

    Two: Duterte loses

    With just a few days left
    before the elections, it is hard to envision Duterte losing given his
    leads in the polls. But this is the Philippines, and anything can
    happen.

    What would the Left gain if their supposed candidate loses? The Left has prepared itself for just such an outcome.

    Polls
    can be incredibly inaccurate in predicting the actual outcome of
    elections. They are only a barometer for a given moment and are usually
    done with a small segment of the population. Even at that, Duterte has
    only 35% as of the most recent Pulse Asia pole. Yes, a substantial lead,
    but not a majority of the Filipino people.

    Aside from the more
    scientific polls are the even less accurate online responses to the
    debates, always seeming to show Duterte as the winner. There have been
    accusations (from all sides, of course) that these have been
    manipulated, with some saying that Duterte was leading in one online
    vote before the debate even started.

    Accurate or not, polls can
    be an important propaganda tool. In the case of Duterte, his supporters,
    including a strong block on the left, have claimed that these polls,
    surveys and post debate voting have all indicated that he is really the
    people’s choice. The “president of the masa”—building upon this
    carefully crafted image—despite his wealth, property, family dynasty and
    personal connections.

    Already being declared the winner, the
    Left is setting the stage for violent disruption if Duterte loses the
    election. Rumors are circulating that the elections will be rigged or
    there will be ballot tampering. The important thing for the Left is to
    already plant the seeds in the minds of many Filipinos here and abroad
    that any loss by Duterte will not be because of the vote, but because
    someone, particularly the Aquino administration, violated the rights of
    the Filipino people.

    In an interview with Sonny Mallari, Sison
    was quoted as saying, “If he is cheated, Duterte and his followers among
    the broad masses of the people and within the armed forces and police
    will have great and sufficient strength to overthrow the cheaters within
    a short period of time, especially if the revolutionary armies of the
    Filipino people and Bangsamoro come to the aid of the Duterte forces.”
    Sison finds himself in odd company with others who are also willing to
    fight for Duterte if he loses, including Apollo Quiboloy, executive
    pastor of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ the Name Above Every Name, who
    said he would lead a revolution if the mayor gets cheated.

    It is
    doubtful that a post election loss by Duterte would unite such disparate
    forces who would ultimately be quite opposed to one another. The armed
    forces and police, who have been fighting the NPA for decades, are
    unlikely to stand arm in arm with them to assure Duterte would be able
    to assume “his rightful role” as president of the Philippines. In his
    own words, Sison states IF the revolutionary arms come to the aid of
    Duterte forces, which would be a big if.

    In more likelihood,
    whether Duterte supporters are successful or not in brining him to power
    after a loss, the Left benefits from the destabilized situation in the
    Philippines. They will then be able to further their claims that the
    present administration is an elitist, unjust (most likely fascist)
    imperialist puppet of the United States. The many supporters of Duterte
    who previously had no interest in or leaning toward the Left may just
    take a look in that direction. While not likely to result in alliances
    with those who follow Quiboloy or the Iglesia ni Cristo, the Left would
    look to expand its base among many of the disaffected people who view
    Duterte as the one and only savior of the Filipino people.

    Three: Duterte wins and sets up a strongman rule

    The
    last scenario seems to be the most likely and the most frightening.
    Simply put, Duterte does bring to the nation the kind of rule that he
    had in Davao City. It has been a combination of patronage politics and
    populist rhetoric combined with at least tacit complicity in the
    operation of the Davao Death Squads. He controls the city because he
    controls every barangay, with his political machine gradually
    eliminating any opposing barangay leadership through coercion and
    cooption.

    Here is the main problem with bringing this to the
    national level. There is still some check and balance at the city level
    because Duterte has to be accountable to the national government. When
    he assumes the highest office in the land, Duterte will not have a sense
    of being accountable to anyone. That is what he has more or less said
    in his claims that he will eliminate most of the government.

    The
    future does not look bright under Duterte’s rule, despite the people’s
    hope for change and greater discipline. If Duterte tries to impose his
    system of rule on the Filipino nation, especially with Bongbong Marcos
    in tandem, it will likely deteriorate to one man (or two men) rule that
    will do anything to restore order. Duterte, himself, claims there will
    be a bloodbath, and if it even comes partly true, it forebodes a return
    to dark times for the Philippines.

    So we once again return the
    the question of why would the Left support a man who would most likely
    lead the country down such a path. Perhaps many on the left truly
    believe that the first scenario is a possibility. Chances are that there
    may even be a honeymoon period, with political detainees being released
    and opportunities for dialogue put on the table.

    Yet, the Left
    will most likely continue to pursue a political agenda that will not be
    acceptable to the military establishment and the oligarchy in the
    Philippines. Duterte will not be able to side with the Left in
    overturning such an establishment, and will become more dependent on
    them to maintain his power. The Left will then turn to the many
    supporters of Duterte and say to them that, once again, the Filipino
    people have been betrayed by the system in place, and the only option is
    armed struggle for a national democratic revolution.

    So, in the
    end, the Left’s careful cultivation of Duterte as their candidate for
    president presents them with a win-win-win situation. The leadership of
    the CPP/NDF know that theirs is a protracted struggle that will not be
    won by a traditional Philippine elections. They also know that this is
    an opportunity, after a long period of disarray, splits, and distrust
    within their own ranks, to unify their followers and to broaden their
    base. In the language of the Left, this has allowed them to “consolidate
    their forces.”

    How effective this will be in the long-run only
    history will tell. In the meantime, they have done their best to
    convince (and it seems deceive) many Filipinos around the world that
    Duterte is the “messiah” for whom they have all been waiting.

    Perhaps
    the saddest revelation in this is that so many Filipinos who claim to
    be followers of Christ have failed to live up to the values of the
    Gospels in supporting a candidate like Duterte. Perhaps it was Christ,
    himself, who best foretold, “For false messiahs and false prophets will
    appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even
    the elect” (Matthew 24:24).