Thursday, May 16, 2013

The path of least resistance

If we are to construct a hierarchy of excuses for the dismal performance of those candidates whom we would have liked to win in the last May 13th elections, on top would be “the idiots” who voted for those not supposed to win.
These are the masses, the ordinary people who are not educated to vote according to Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago. Yet, these are the same people that traditional Filipino politicians woo (or buy in most cases) their votes every election time.
We always blame the poor masses, because it is easy to point out their inability to choose wisely and their vulnerability to material inducements. Candidates from political dynasties take advantage of their families’ fame and the legacy of those in their families who did well in politics, movies, business and sports. Particularly in the election of senators, popularity and money are all the candidates need in order to win.
Results of the 2013 Philippine elections showing the 12 winning senatorial candidates from the
major political parties and political dynasties.
It is not the masses who are at fault. Rather, it is the politicians and the oligarchic elite they represent who have made elections a meaningless popularity contest.
Why do we elect senators nationwide, in the first place? They don’t represent a basic constituency. Besides, only those with money, power and name recognition could win. The results have always been the same ever since senators were elected nationally.
No senator, for instance, has ever been elected on the basis of job competency and integrity, except for a very few like Jovito Salonga, Jose Diokno or Lorenzo Tañada.
The likes of Teddy Casiño, Risa Hontiveros or Ed Hagedorn have virtually zero chances of winning despite their impressive political credentials compared to Grace Poe, Nancy Binay, Cynthia Villar, JV Ejercito Estrada or Bam Aquino who all relied on the magic appeal of their family names.
In 1946, Luis Taruc, former Hukbalahap Supremo and five of his fellow candidates for the Democratic Alliance decided to run for Congress. They abandoned their armed insurgency against the government and chose to take the path of least resistance. But once elected, all six members of the Democratic Alliance were prevented from attending Congress to vote against an important legislation such as the Bell Trade Act and an amendment to the Philippine Constitution that would grant United States citizens equal economic rights with Filipinos, particularly in the exploitation of natural resources.
Many Filipino nationalists including those in the left like Taruc and his colleagues in the Democratic Alliance opposed giving parity rights to American citizens. But the US government stipulated in the Philippine Rehabilitation Act of 1946 that payment of war damages amounting to US$620 million was contingent on Philippine acceptance of the parity clause.
Taruc and his fellow elected Democratic Alliance representatives were denied their seats in Congress on cooked-up charges of fraud and violence during the election campaign, which left them with no other choice but to dig up their arms and resume the Huk rebellion. In a similar vein, President Noynoy Aquino this time wanted all his candidates for senators to win in the last elections to secure a docile majority in Congress so he could easily shove his pet project, the Bangsamoro Framework Agreement, without stiff opposition.
The next time militant candidates would venture in electoral politics was during the post EDSA-elections of 1987 through the hastily-organized Partido ng Bayan, which fielded a senatorial slate that included former New People’s Army chief Bernabe Buscayno (Kumander Dante), National Democratic Front chair Horacio “Boy” Morales, Kilusang Mayo Uno leader Rolando Olalia, labour leader Crispin Beltran, newsman and publisher Jose Burgos, peasant leader Jaime Tadeo, and beauty queen-turned-activist Nelia Sancho. Partido ng Bayan also fielded 36 candidates in the congressional race and supported allies in the local elections.
Those in the Left found themselves painfully dancing with their enemies in the latter’s domain and the ensuing result was a miserable failure with all its senatorial candidates losing in the elections. Partido ng Bayan would soon disband after their disastrous foray in the political arena.
The legal Left would rejoin parliamentary politics in 1998 using the party-list system in entering the elite-dominated Congress.
Under the banner of Bayan Muna, the Left won three seats for party-list organizations in 2000 that surprised even some hardcore members of the underground movement. In 2004, Bayan Muna expanded its electoral base with additional party-list seats for the peasant and worker-based Anakpawis and the women party-list Gabriela. It added another seat for the youth-based Kabataan in 2007.
To further expand its influence, Bayan Muna and other leftist party-list organizations formed a broad alliance called Makabayan. It entered into a tactical alliance with mainstream political parties that would help improve the chance of its prospective candidates at winning in national elections.
In 2010, Makabayan fielded Bayan’s Satur Ocampo and Gabriela’s Liza Maza, whose terms as party-list representatives were ending, as senatorial candidates in an uneasy coalition with presidential candidate Manny Villar of the Nationalista Party. Villar’s senatorial slate also included Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., son of the late dictator and it meant that Ocampo and his Makabayan alliance would have to grudgingly campaign for the younger Marcos. Both Ocampo and Maza failed to win.
In last Monday’s May 13 elections, Makabayan fielded Teddy Casiño as its candidate for senator but Casiño failed miserably in joining the magic 12 by finishing in the 22nd spot. So with Risa Hontiveros, candidate of the social democratic party-list Akbayan, but at least she finished a notch higher than Casiño.
Why have the progressive and leftist groups not learned their lesson?
The biggest problem with Philippine electoral politics is that the system is rigged in favour of the candidates of the oligarchic elite.
Most, if not all, national and local positions are in the hands of powerful political families who also represent the interests of those who control the country’s economy. A combination of political and economic power is lethal. Traditional political parties or their coalitions can easily run roughshod over candidates fielded by the progressive and militant sectors of society. They have the machinery, the money, and their famous moniker.
To be successful in parliamentary politics, progressive organizations, including those in the Left, should not rely on elections alone. It’s probably their biggest mistake to aim at winning seats in the Philippine Senate which is anathema to real democratic representation. A better alternative is for civil organizations to return to the parliament of the streets by demanding the abolition of the Senate and the establishment of a unicameral legislature where its members will be elected by districts on the basis of proportional representation. This would be a long and protracted process, but it is still a better shot than fielding candidates for senators who have no realistic chances of winning.
Real and meaningful democratic reforms must start with the implementation of the democratic provisions in the 1987 Philippine Constitution such as the party-list system of proportional representation, prohibition against political dynasties, citizen initiative to amend the Constitution, people’s referendum to enact legislation, and the right of citizens to recall their representatives and elected officials who have failed to meet their expectations. This would entail a massive dose of political will by our elected leaders, but still attainable if civil organizations, the Left and other progressive groups, would mount continuing pressure on Congress to enact the necessary enabling law to implement these democratic provisions in the Constitution.
Many continue to clamour for the role of education in effecting social change as if education is the answer to everything. That the masses need to be more educated so that they should know who to vote in office, whether it be the president, member of Congress or city mayor. But that is short-sighted and places a heavy burden of responsibility on the masses when they are not to be blamed for our political malaise in the first place. For as long as the country’s mainstream political process continues to be wedded to a false ideology that democracy is all about elections, the oligarchic elite will always find it easy to dominate politics.
Ousted Philippine president Joseph "Erap" Estrada elected as mayor of Manila during the
May 13 elections. Photo by Associated Press. 
After almost twenty years of dictatorship under Ferdinand Marcos, the Filipino people have regained their democratic foothold by deposing the dictator and dismantling the institutions he had put in place to shore up his illegitimate government. The adoption of the 1987 Constitution augured the great promise of democratic renewal but successive leaders after Marcos forgot this potential to restore and rekindle democracy in the Philippines. Instead, the post-Marcos years until today restored and reinvigorated the old oligarchy and the results of every so-called democratic election confirm the re-entrenchment of the oligarchic elite and their families in the political system.
There is always a disruptive alternative to the path of least resistance when all options have been exhausted. But how much more would the ordinary Filipino people bear and persevere with a political system that has continued to deny their voice in the democratic process?

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