CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/20 May) — Now that the elections are over, it is said that the people have spoken, that they have decided what sort of government they want to have, that they have made it clear how government is to perform, or that those who represent them in it will behave in accordance with expectations—i.e. conscientious, responsive, transparent, and accountable. Is it fair to say these things?
Or is it fairer to say that people merely voted to comply with unwritten covenants that accompany patronage, favors, and gimmicks that they are party to in the course of selection? How about the observation that most, or certainly a large number of the voters, made their choices on the basis of popularity and name-recall?
These are legitimate questions in light of what is now universally admitted that vote-buying, vote-selling, and related corruption have become so widespread, occurring before and during the electoral period.
Before the vote-buying, there was widespread use of Pork Barrel funds (or simply, Pork) which congressmen and senators showered on local projects to impress the community and win its approval and support at election time.
Initiating such projects has nothing to do with a lawmaker’s duty, much less is funding them with taxpayer money, but they do it because it impresses naïve, impressionable, or corrupt voters. In other words, they use it to manipulate perceptions in the community, to create a favorable opinion. It is done in the name of development, but in reality it is personal propaganda and promotion, i.e. self-glorification designed to promote re-election. And all of it, from start to finish, including the billboards trumpeting the lawmaker’s name, is funded by taxpayer money.
So widespread is this cavalier spending of the taxpayer’s money by lawmakers that it has attained the status of normality. Pork-funded projects are now a regular feature in every community, a sight so common that it is taken for granted as part of the landscape both in its environmental and political sense.
Note, for example, that hardly anyone gives it any significance, not even the fact that it has become a major source of corruption, or the fact that Pork allocations attract greedy, unscrupulous traditional politicos—TRAPOS—and keeps them in office. No one questions how it finances their expensive campaigns year-round. Very few voters are aware of it happening in their own backyard. Worse, no one seems aware how Pork fills the bottomless pockets of politicos all the time (effortlessly!) since kickbacks and commissions from projects are regularly funneled into their accounts by contractors and suppliers.
Handouts to provide immediate relief are the stock-in-trade of a TRAPO—money for fare, a few kilos of rice, a job referral, a few square meters of urban land or a sidewalk to squat on, a few doses of medicine, funeral expenses, or even a cake for a wedding, etc.. Instant gratification with no thought of the future or for the kind of governance that creates opportunities greater than what political favors could ever provide.
This is the insidious art of patronage politics, favors in exchange for votes, handouts to ensnare the needy, misguided charity (with a mercenary purpose). The noble mission of politics and statecraft is transmogrified into a marketplace for the miserable and the wretched in which the currency is political accommodation.
No better example of the insidious effect of this brand of politics can be found than in the city of Cagayan de Oro under Vicente Y. Emano, its just-vanquished mayor. Years ago, with the view to solidifying his voter-base, he adopted a policy of total accommodation to landless in-migrants (translation: voters), buying up tracts of land, which he distributed to “informal settlers” at the mere payment of one peso at first, then fifty centavos later on.
Labeled “Piso-Piso Program,” then “Singkwenta-Singkwenta” later, it was sort of a Robin Hood scheme: Collect taxes from productive sectors (locals), spend the money on giveaways to the homeless settlers (tax-exempt being part of the informal economy, and keep their votes captive. This was paralleled by a so-called “No Vote, Ibot!” policy of retribution (“If you don’t vote for me, out you go!”).
The scheme proved so potent as a strategy for political domination and longevity that its mastermind and the self-styled party he founded was able to keep a hammerlock on the city’s administration for 15 years until just recently. But it was no less potent, and lethal, for its having produced a city whose—let’s call a spade a spade—squatter population today outnumber its bona-fide residents.
Unless effectively challenged, patronage Politics turns elections into a mere formality. It predetermines election outcomes long before the election period and away from the polling precinct. Waged by trapos all year round, it is an unending campaign, election period or not, saving them the pretense of formulating party platforms or programs, or having to debate rival parties or candidates.
The purpose of patronage or Pork, its handmaiden, is to control votes through political favors, big and small. Each act of patronage, each release from the pork barrel, is calculated to rig the results of any election—so that by the time actual elections roll in, the cards are stacked against any opponent. It is the traditional way to snare and control votes, the principal tool of trapos to keep themselves and their dynasties in power.
Thus, with Pork as the Horn of Plenty backing them up, and patronage fueling their campaign machinery, it should surprise no one if the recent elections merely multiplied the number of trapos and dynasties in power, while also exponentially multiplying the likelihood of corruption, dishonesty, venality, and malaise afflicting our society as never before.
In casting a vote, did the people really make a decision or merely complied with their part of the bargain in the Pork Barrel/Patronage transaction? (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Manny Valdehuesa is the president and national convenor of Gising Barangay Movement Inc. He can be reached at email@example.com )