THE WORM’S EYEVIEW: Trapo mentality and winnability

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/31 Aug) –With politics heating up in anticipation of the 2016 elections, it may be useful to review the playing field and the tricks of the game, including the mindset of traditional politicians (trapos).

A trapo looks at politics the same way he views cockfights, beauty pageants, and sports-fests. His yardstick is “winnability” – a concept having less to do with competence or character as with name-recall, wealth, popularity, or connections.

Generally it doesn’t matter to a trapo whether a candidate is incompetent, a crook, or lives a scandalous life; if his name rings bells and cash registers, and he’s willing to spend, he’s the man!

Watch how this mindset plays out as the line-ups for the 2016 election are decided by the so-called parties; parties that are not really parties in the proper sense of the term but personal-convenience vehicles for ambitious trapos.

Apart from wealth and the willingness to spend it generously, connections and charisma also count of course. But the overarching consideration is the candidate’s his skill in prying the public coffers loose when in office and his readiness to spread the loot around.


In the trapo’s calculus, these are what make for winnability in a candidate. Bet on him and earn lots of balato!

Think of deposed President Erap with Chavit Singson (before their falling out), Atong Ang, Mark Jimenez, the gang that made his candidacy bankable, and their army of sycophants.

As with the buccaneers of yore or the modern-day pirates of Somalia, a share of the loot is the reward for sycophancy.

Patronage and sycophancy are the Gemini twins in the political firmament. Like Mafia or Yakuza enforcers, these twins patrol the neighborhoods, ensure that local officials are loyal, and scoop up the neighborhood votes for safekeeping. That’s the way their bosses in the capital (big-time trapos) corner the votes of the masses.


It would be interesting to see what gimmicks the incumbents will devise now that the pork barrel is supposed to be abolished.

Imaginative deployment of pork barrel funds used to be their mainstay. For example, pork barrel-funded projects were the major source of kickbacks before—which they could give away without using their own money to repay favors and political debts as well as feather the nests of their sycophants and supporters. What will replace these practices this time around is the question.

As the Napoles scam reveals, pork was virtually a bottomless well for the enterprising scammer, an unending source of easy money for unscrupulous congressmen and senators.

There was so much to skim from their allowances that the bathtubs in Napoles condo apartments had to do double-duty as cash receptacles. Can you imagine bathtubs full of bundled cash!


To be sure, the congressmen and senators have always known that there were kickbacks galore from public works projects, infrastructure, unsolicited grants and gifts from contractors, outright skimming from their budgets, and other sleight-of-hand financial tricks.

To cover their tracks, their operatives and ward leaders served as conduits of the pay-offs and themselves became big-time players and patronage dispensers.

That’s how their loyalty and gratitude became inexorably intertwined with their bosses, the wayward lawmakers.

In turn, the lawmakers used the loyalty and debt of gratitude owed them as chips in their power games, leveraging them.


Ferdinand Marcos was a consummate practitioner of the art of buying loyalty and sowing patronage to harvest sycophancy—which he then converted into political capital.

It was the sycophancy of the bogus “citizens assemblies” and the KBL’s Kabataang Barangay which enabled him to simulate public support for Martial Law, the conjugal dictatorship, and his so-called “constitutional authoritarianism.”

Since many of the trapos in congress today were incubated and grew up in the Marcos political hatchery, they are virtually unbeatable in the game of patronage today.

And they have the confidence of gaming operators who know that gambling odds always favor the house.

They know they can’t lose as long as grassroots votes are securely corralled in precincts that are controlled by their operatives. And of course they’re right; so we had be better forewarned! (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Manny is former UNESCO regional director for Asia-Pacific; secretary-general, Southeast Asia Publishers Association; director, development academy of Philippines; member, Phil Permanent Mission to the U.N.; vice chair, Local Government Academy; member, Cory Govt’s Peace Panel; and PPI-UNICEF awardee, most outstanding columnist. Today he is President, Gising Barangay Movement Inc