CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/27 Oct) — Election Day is still a day away, but let’s face it: even now we know that a lot of questionable votes will be cast and these will prove decisive in the final tally. There will be flying voters, fake voters, spurious voters, even ghost voters. So in many cases, the winners are already known.
It’s fairly easy to tell who the winners will be. Simply figure out who spent the most, where the money went or in whose pockets it landed, and which group scored the most violations. In Barangay Bel Air, Makati, for example, we know for whom over a hundred spurious votes will be cast: they are all registered as residents of the same address, which, news reports say, happens to be the residence of the incumbent Barangay Chair.
And the funny thing is, many winners throughout the regions will win a position that isn’t even listed or indicated in official ballots or in the law: “Kapitan” or “Kapitana.” A throwback to the days of the Spanish Guardia Civil when real captains and lieutenants headed the colonial barrios, it is persistently used either by force of habit or by design.
Its implication? Since neither the Comelec nor the DILG points out the error of substituting this title for the leader of our grassroots governments, we can expect further decay or deterioration of democratic process at the primary base of our shaky Republic. Instead of a little prime minister or a chairman (punong barangay) heading this parliamentary government of the grassroots, we end up with someone who assumes the role of a military commander or dictator, which is what a Kapitan or Kapitana is. Democracy transmogrifies into oligarchy or autocracy.
No wonder there’s little respect for election laws, or the laws in general in our communities. No wonder rules and regulations are taken for granted or interpreted any which way. There is no precision or exactitude. The law may say one thing, but we accept another meaning. No wonder we are having such difficulty getting our act together! We can’t even spell or define what we want accurately. By what authority do they transpose “chairman” into commander?
Also, money wasn’t supposed to be leverage the election, neither was campaigning in band, nor extravagant gimmicks or flamboyant posters. But who gives a damn? Money is flowing even now.
No vote is supposed to be bought or sold, no donations made to favored parties—in fact, parties are banned. But look around if anyone complies. Government facilities weren’t supposed to be used, and streamers were to have been mounted in designated places only. Again, look around!
Few or none of these rules are being observed. And no one bothers to check, not the government, not the citizenry, not civil society. So the name of the game is impunity. To Hell with rules! To hell with honesty! To hell with the election code! The Comelec won’t bother to enforce its provisions anyway; or if at all, only feebly—only a token show of enforcement. And of course the attitude is reflected in the shamelessness of the violators. .
Thus, we can expect honest and free elections to be frustrated again as in the past. There’s nothing we can do about the cheating and the corruption.
The National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL), the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), and other election watchdogs are helpless about all this. All they can do, like vote-counting machines, is help tally the votes accurately—including the fake and corrupted ones, which may outnumber the genuine ones.
This has always been the problem with our electoral system; rather, this has always been the problem with our society. We take too much for granted and do little or nothing to ensure that things work out as they should. We take pride in having a democratic system but do little or nothing to ensure that it operates properly.
Then we rely on others instead of do our part. If we do anything at all, it’s too little or too late; such that culprits are able to get away with impunity.
And so, like Sisyphus rolling the stone uphill only to lose control before he achieves success, we toil in frustration at the repeated failure of our efforts, always outnumbered by the votes of the corrupt and shameless exploiters of our society.
Lesson to be learned? Civic vigilance and involvement is a never-ending task. It’s the least a citizen can do, to be dutiful. Every respectable citizen, civic leader, and concerned resident needs to pay attention to his or her barangay’s governance—before, during, and after elections. Their presence must be felt as a positive influence in the community even occasionally.
It is through their presence that they can neutralize the forces of corruption as well as motivate misguided neighbors to resist temptation and corruption. They need to be made immune to the enticements of patronage politics. Otherwise they’ll keep replenishing the ranks of local trapos on whom the big-time trapos depend for the success of their conspiracies.
Finally, it should be obvious by now that it takes more than exhortations, “voter-education” campaigns, appearing in the precincts on Election Day—or even prayers, novenas, and threats of damnation—to influence the political choices of one’s community, let alone reform its political culture.
(Manny Valdehuesa writes from Cagayan de Oro and is the president and national convenor of Gising Barangay Movement Inc. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)