On the surface at least, the current election campaign appears to be a slight improvement over past ones. The Commission on Elections’ strict enforcement of its rules on poster size and common poster areas, for instance, has drastically reduced the blizzard of banners and posters that used to choke every available space in the country come election time. Airtime limits have also generally held despite the late-breaking status quo ante order by the Supreme Court, sparing the public of airwaves clogged day and night with political ads.
These are laudable incremental changes. Once the dust settles after May 13, however, it’s a safe bet that this exercise will still be seen as a rehash of the tired, dysfunctional politics of old.
Consider the critical issues that should have occupied front and center in this election: Even as the country’s economy has received consistently glowing marks from international observers, the rates of poverty and unemployment remain staggeringly high. The boom times, in fact, only seem to be reinforcing the obscene social inequality that has been the hallmark of Philippine society throughout its history.
Law and order, too, is quite a joke—if only the joke weren’t on us. The victims and survivors of the Maguindanao massacre are still awaiting justice; same with numerous victims of human rights abuses. The Philippines continues to rank as one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists. And, as Cezar Mancao’s recent no-sweat escape from official custody shows, the influential, powerful and high-profile in this country have the option of going on the lam without any serious risk of pursuit or recapture by a lackadaisical government.
Social injustice, economic inequality, the breakdown in public safety and security, not to mention the blackouts in Mindanao, the long-festering insurgency, the environmental blight everywhere—yet what, so far, have been the most talked-about topics this election season? Chiz Escudero’s show-biz romance, for one. Jack Enrile’s shady background, for another. Loren Legarda’s undeclared property in New York, Nancy Binay’s aversion to debates, Migz Zubiri’s and Koko Pimentel’s volleys at each other, the sordid Erap-Lim mudfest.
The politicians and their dirty-tricks departments are not entirely to blame for this. Media play a part in the disproportionate share of shallow, sensationalistic stories in the news. Much of the public, too, as dispatches from the campaign frontlines attest, end up basically tuning out in the face of issues-based rhetoric from the candidates, preferring instead the usual populist bombast spiced with singing-dancing divertissements.
One institution could have made a difference by swinging the debate back to the substantive issues. The Catholic Church could have used its powerful voice and widespread reach to demand that candidates vying for public office measure up to the task by steeping themselves in the problems of the country and offering pertinent, viable solutions for them. The Church could have raised the flag for social justice, better governance, the war on poverty and corruption, this government’s seeming inability to consistently walk the talk on its “daang matuwid” mantra, etc.
Sadly, in quite a disservice to its voting flock, the Church has chosen to see this election as a one-issue exercise—sort of a referendum on its bete noire, the reproductive health bill. In the wake of its defeat in the campaign to junk the bill, the worst tendencies of the Church has been on display this season, from reducing the debate to the candidates’ RH bill affiliations irrespective of their other (perhaps more telling) qualities, to the actual demonizing of pro-RH names via the “Team Buhay/Team Patay” posters adopted by some dioceses.
If only the good bishops could apply the same zeal and energy they’ve expended going after pro-RH candidates to the fight for social justice that even Pope Francis himself has made the early centerpiece of his young papacy. But, given the tunnel-vision moral guidance emanating from the local Church these days, conscientious Catholics will have to go beyond simplistic “pro-life/pro-death” labels and to be extra-discerning about their choices at the polls next week.
“As she stepped out of a Manila church after Sunday Mass,” reported the Agence France Presse recently, “retired civil servant Minnie Nicholas, 62, told AFP she considered herself a devout Catholic and an active parishioner.
“But when asked if the birth control issue would influence her voting, she laughed and asked: ‘How is that related to running a country?’”
What a difference an election makes. Three years ago, the one thing that occupied our minds was the extent to which Arroyo’s government would cheat. It was the first time votes would be counted electronically, which caused widespread anxiety and fear. The possibilities for cheating had just been jacked up a hundredfold, computerized canvassing threatening to make “Hello Garci” look like child’s play.
Gus Lagman warned so, Jun Lozada warned so, I warned so. Sure Noynoy Aquino was up there in all the surveys, but the question was, would his votes be counted?
But lo and behold, none of these fears materialized. Before election day was out, the presidential results were already known: Aquino was leading far beyond the capabilities of his rivals to catch up with, much less overtake. The swiftness and relative cleanliness of it stunned pretty much everyone—including me—who had thought cheating would never be abolished in our lifetimes.
I still don’t know if it has been so, or would be so. But meanwhile, something has changed, and that is the public expectation of cheating. Few now seriously consider we’d be back in Arroyo’s time when it could be expected as a matter of course. Though concerns have been raised about the source code, some clamoring for it to be made public, they have not been of the scale or stridence they were three years ago. And unless there are glaring or eye-popping gaps between expectation and result, the elections will generally be taken, like the previous one, as reasonably clean.
Other banes or scourges remain however, if indeed this one has entirely gone. Two come to mind, the first one easily, being a patent boon or scourge, the other not so easily, being both a boon and bane.
The first is “command votes,” which is just a fanciful term for bloc voting. Chief of those blocs being the religious groups, or cults, or churches, and chief of them being the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC). Gringo Honasan points it out. The ones who are languishing at the bottom of the ladder in the senatorial race—such as he—would now be making a beeline for the INC, commander in chief of the command votes. Equally so would be those candidates locked in a dogfight with their rivals. Chief of them Asiong Salonga and Dirty Harry, pitted in the Battle for Manila. Though Erap still holds a lead, Lim has stormed mightily back, and both are now looking at the INC to tilt the balance in their favor.
I can’t imagine a worse scourge. We do our best to discourage the practice in the Muslim South of one village-one vote, or of chieftains getting their clans or tribes to vote as one. Yet we do nothing to discourage the religious groups, or churches, from doing exactly the same thing, or worse. In the case of the INC, it’s not just one small constituency, it’s one whole congregation. That’s anti-democratic in the extreme, the vote being the most basic expression of democracy. It’s also, not quite incidentally, anti-constitutional, openly flouting the separation of Church and State.
The bane of it is obvious. You win with that kind of help, to whom will you be beholden afterward—your constituents or your benefactor? What exactly the INC’s help means, you see in its efforts to keep Magtanggol Gatdula, a pillar of the church, as NBI chief despite P-Noy firing him for extortion. Thankfully, P-Noy never solicited it and never felt beholden to it.
Frankly, I don’t know why we don’t ban it. Beyond legal sanctions, I don’t know why we don’t make this practice an object of scorn and opprobrium. It’s worse than epal or dynastic politics. Hell, it’s even worse than vote-buying. I don’t know why we don’t hang a symbolic sign around the candidates who do this, saying, “Huwag tularan: Mambebenta ng kaluluwa.”
The second thing is surveys, which are both boon and bane to elections. The boon is that it has helped curb cheating. That was so in particular in the last elections. There are many reasons why the expected massive cheating did not take place, but I suspect that one of them was the surveys which showed P-Noy, despite some bumps along the way, to be miles ahead of the pack. Given the explosive outpouring of grief and goodwill, commiseration and celebration, that accompanied Cory’s death, massive cheating would have been an engraved invitation to revolt. Election day showed so: It was an Edsa masquerading as an election.
How would we have known there was massive cheating? Pretty much only through the surveys. They had established an expectation, or indeed a sense of inevitability, of a P-Noy victory.
That expectation, or sense of inevitability, is also what makes it a bane in elections. Throughout the years, I’ve been against surveys in elections for that reason. As the threat of cheating diminishes, the threat of conditioning increases. It’s inversely proportional to it. In other countries, surveys creating a bandwagon effect are not that much of a problem because elections rest on something more substantial than the popularity of the candidates. Debates matter, policies matter, what the candidates would be expected to do if they win matters. We saw that in the United States where Barack Obama’s ratings plummeted after he lost the first debate.
Here, where the candidates do not really represent anything, surveys can be crippling. Indeed, here, where going along with the crowd is reckoned the wise thing to do—you’d be a fool to vote for the Ang Kapatiran candidates or Teddy Casiño, they’re way down there—surveys can be baneful. They help push back thought and discernment. Additionally, they supply a moral justification, or excuse, for selling votes: “He’s going to win anyway, might as well sell my vote to him. Where’s the harm in that?”
Ah, but we’ve got a long way to go yet in the daang maayos.
Philippine Daily Inquirer 12:03 am | Thursday, May 9th, 2013
Malacañang rejected speculation about a massive power failure on May 13, Election Day, as Metro Manila and much of northern and central Luzon reeled from an outage on Wednesday.
President Aquino was about to go into a conference on security preparations for the elections when the outage struck at 1:51 p.m.
What really caused the Luzon-wide power failure remained undetermined as of early Wednesday night, said Raul Seludo, head of Luzon system operations at the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP).
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) also assured the public that power failure cannot stop next Monday’s vote.
Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said the Comelec had sent power generators to the polling centers so the balloting would go on despite a power outage.
Seludo said six power plants went on emergency shutdown initially attributed to tripping on the Biñan-Calaca transmission line.
The opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) expressed fears that a similar, or worse, power disruption could happen on Election Day.
“I hope this is not a dry run for the May 13 elections,” said Toby Tiangco, spokesman for UNA.
“The President must use all his powers to ensure that there will be no brownouts on Election Day. It is important to ensure the credibility of the elections,” Tiangco added.
Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said the outage was worrying, because the Comelec had no contingency plan for running the automated voting machines in the event of a massive power failure.
“President Aquino should have the source of the blackout investigated and should see to it that it would not be repeated on Election Day,” Colmenares said.
The Comelec should disclose its contingency plan should a blackout happen on Election Day, he added.
Nothing to worry about
But Malacañang said there was nothing to worry about.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said Energy Secretary Jericho L. Petilla assured President Aquino that the country would have adequate power on Election Day.
Valte said Petilla gave assurance of “ample” energy supply, as Election Day would be a holiday and industries would be closed.
“The elections are still days away so I don’t think this will have an effect,” the Comelec’s Jimenez said.
“If there’s a brownout, we have standby generators and batteries,” he said.
Comelec chief Sixto Brillantes Jr. earlier said the election watchdog had sent power generators to all the polling centers in the country to ensure uninterrupted operations even if a power outage occurred during the balloting.
Brillantes said the Comelec bought power generators for the general registration of voters in 2012.
Generators all over
“We have generator sets all over. That was a problem in Mindanao in 2011 and 2012 but we had a general registration in July 2012 and we bought new ones,” Brillantes said.
“In fact, we have many extra gensets that we can bring all over the Visayas but we have distributed at least one for every municipality,” he said.
Brillantes said the voting machines had also been fitted with batteries to ensure they would run for up to 12 hours in the event of a power outage.
“That’s automatic. If the power goes out, it would immediately shift to the batteries, so the machine would not stop. At least, that’s what I know,” he said.
Power failure cut through northern and central Luzon just before 2 p.m. on Wednesday, disrupting economic activity from Metro Manila and surrounding provinces to as far as Bataan, Zambales, Pangasinan, La Union, Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte.
Six plants down
Petilla told a press briefing that failure started with the tripping of a power plant in Batangas.
The tripping spread to four other power plants, downing the transmission lines operated by the NGCP.
Petilla said the outage affected 3,700 megawatts, representing 45 percent of Luzon’s total peak electricity requirements.
Luzon’s total power demand stood at roughly 8,000 MW on Wednesday.
Petilla identified the crippled power plants as the Sual coal-fired plant in Pangasinan, owned by Japanese-led Team Energy and managed by the energy arm of San Miguel Corp; Korea Electric Power Corp’s Ilijan gas-fired plant, also managed by San Miguel; First Gen Corp.’s Sta. Rita and San Lorenzo natural gas plants; and the Quezon Power Philippines Ltd. plant, majority-owned by Thailand’s Electricity Generating Co.
Speaking at a news conference early Wednesday night, Seludo said six power plants in all conked out—the five named by Petilla earlier and the Calaca coal-fired plant in Batangas.
He said the outage was initially triggered by a tripping at the Biñan-Calaca transmission line. But the real cause had yet to be determined because the plant had been found to be “clear and OK,” he said.
NGCP spokesperson Cynthia Alabanza said the transmission operator found no “physical obstruction, technical glitch and hacking.”
The fault could be “beyond the Biñan-Laguna line,” she said.
Petilla ruled out “sabotage,” saying there was no indication that the outage was an “election-related event.”
He said the outage began with tripping at the Ilijan plant and spread to other plants that supplied power to the Luzon grid.
The NGCP said the areas hit by the outage were Laoag City and the towns of San Nicolas, Currimao, Badoc, Pinili, Paoay and parts of Batac City in Ilocos Norte; Ilocos Sur and Abra; La Union, except the La Union Electric Cooperative-Naguilian franchise area; and Pangasinan, except the western areas of the province.
Sections of Pampanga, including the City of San Fernando, lost power at 3:30 p.m., although the power supply was restored 30 minutes later.
The towns of Arayat, Mexico, Sta. Ana, and Candaba, which were served by the Pampanga Electric Cooperative 1, also lost power.
Baguio City escaped an outage because the Baguio Electric Cooperative resorted to load shedding, or engineering a power shutdown in selected sections of its system to prevent a total shutdown.
Putting a positive spin to the event, Petilla said that since the problem was in the transmission lines, it would be easier to restore power, as repairing transmission lines took only hours, compared to repairing power plants, which took weeks or months.
As of 7 Wednesday night, three plants—Sta. Rita, San Lorenzo and Ilijan—had gone back on line, restoring power to 77 percent of Luzon and enabling the Manila Electric Co. to fill the demand from 89 percent of its 5.1 million customers in Metro Manila and surrounding areas, the NGCP said.
“This is the first time that something of this magnitude happened, a first for NGCP and even for National Transmission Corp.,” Alabanza said.
Petilla said a repetition was unlikely.
“[Six] power plants bogging down [at the same time] is extremely unlikely and it did not happen today, because it was the lines that caused the brownouts, not the power plants,” he said.—With reports from Michael Lim Ubac, Amy R. Remo and Christian Esguerra in Manila; Cristina Arzadon, Gabriel Cardinoza and Yolanda Sotelo, Inquirer Northern Luzon; and Tonette Orejas, Robert Gonzaga, Greg Refraccion, Anselmo Roque and Jo Martinez-Clemente, Inquirer Central Luzon
6 senatorial candidates slugging it out for last 3 slots
Philippine Daily Inquirer 1:56 am | Thursday, May 9th, 2013
Nine administration and three opposition candidates are leading the race for the Senate, according to the final preelection poll taken by the Social Weather Stations on May 2 and 3.
But those in the last three spots are not sure of still being there next Monday, Election Day.
One administration candidate and five opposition candidates are slugging it out for these last three spots.
The nine administration candidates are Team PNoy’s reelectionist Senators Loren Legarda, Alan Peter Cayetano, Francis “Chiz” Escudero, Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III and Antonio Trillanes IV, Las Piñas Rep. Cynthia Villar, Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara and political newcomers Grace Poe and Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino.
The three opposition candidates are United Nationalist Alliance’s Nancy Binay, San Juan Rep. JV Ejercito and reelectionist Sen. Gregorio Honasan.
Fighting to wrest the last three spots from Angara, Trillanes and Honasan are Cagayan Rep. Juan Ponce Enrile Jr. (UNA), former Sen. Ramon Magsaysay Jr. (LP/Team PNoy) and former Bukidnon Rep. Juan Miguel Zubiri (UNA).
Legarda still tops
Controversy swirling around Legarda (NPC/Team PNoy) involving underdeclaration of assets failed to dislodge her from the first place in the Top 12 of the latest SWS poll.
On May 2, self-styled public interest advocate Louis Biraogo accused Legarda of not declaring real property on Park Avenue, New York City, for four years.
Legarda denied the accusation, calling it “black propaganda” intended to pull her down from the top in the preelection polls.
Results of the latest SWS poll showed Legarda with 57 percent, 2 percentage points down from her April rating.
Legarda’s rating could be virtually unchanged from last month, considering the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.
Poe (Independent/Team PNoy), former chairperson of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board, posted the most gain, with 45 percent, 6 percentage points up from her April rating.
Poe, who ranked fifth in the latest SWS poll, previously occupied the 10th to 11th spot.
Villar (Nacionalista Party/Team PNoy) suffered the biggest decline, garnering 44 percent, 5 percentage points down from her rating last month.
Villar slid from third to fourth place in April to sixth to seventh place in the latest poll.
The rest in the top nine spots saw minor changes from their April ratings, considering the poll’s error margin.
Trailing Legarda was Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano (NP/Team PNoy, 50 percent), who also shed 2 percentage points from the April poll.
Political newcomer Nancy Binay (UNA) retained the third to fourth spot, with 48 percent, down by 1 percentage point from last month.
Tied with Binay in third to fourth spot was Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero (Independent/Team PNoy, 48 percent), up by 1 percentage point from his April rating that put him in the fifth place.
Along with Villar in sixth to seventh spot was San Juan City Rep. JV Ejercito (UNA, 44 percent), up by 1 percentage point from the previous poll, where he ranked seventh to eighth.
Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III (PDP-Laban/Team PNoy) secured the eighth place with 43 percent, unchanged from his previous rating. His previous ranking, however, was seventh to eighth.
In ninth place was Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV (LP/Team PNoy), first cousin of President Aquino, who slid from sixth place last month, garnering 41 percent, down 3 percentage points from the previous poll.
Both in 10th to 11th place were Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara (LDP/Team PNoy, 38 percent) and Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV (NP/Team PNoy, 38 percent).
At the tailend of the list of probable winners was Sen. Gringo Honasan (UNA), whose 37 percent rating was unchanged from last month’s poll, in which he placed 12th to 13th.
Although they failed to make it to the top 12, three candidates could still statistically figure in the top 12: Enrile Jr. (35 percent, 13th place), former Senator Magsaysay (33 percent, 14th to 15th place) and Zubiri (33 percent, 14th to 15th place).
For the noncommissioned poll, SWS asked 2,400 registered voters nationwide the question, “If the elections were held today, whom would you most probably vote for senator of the Philippines?”
Twelve of the 24 seats in Senate are at stake in midterm elections next Monday.
SWS said 44 percent of respondents chose a full slate of 12 candidates; 3 percent were either undecided or did not have an answer; another 3 percent had invalid ballots.
Philippine Daily Inquirer 5:59 am | Thursday, May 9th, 2013
ROXAS CITY, Philippines—Vice President Jejomar Binay denied Wednesday that the reason the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) did not hold a rally here was because of fear that it might not be able to gather a big enough crowd in the political bailiwick of his bitter political rival, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas.
“No. We changed the strategy. We revised that part (the rallies),” he told reporters in Filipino.
According to Binay, the UNA has scrapped big rallies in favor of the coalition’s holding two big political gatherings just before the elections on Monday.
The “new strategy” was in effect during the UNA campaign sortie here during which Binay and four senatorial candidates only attended a caucus with local leaders and a motorcade.
To show that UNA also had supporters in so-called Roxas country, he pointed to the gathering of local leaders at the Kapis Mansion which was led by UNA mayoral candidate Vic Bermejo, whose entire National Unity Party ticket was endorsed by Binay during the affair.
The UNA’s miting de avance (final rally) has been set for Friday on busy Bustillos Street in Manila. It was deposed President Joseph Estrada, a senior UNA leader, who picked out the location in the city where he plans to end his political career as its mayor.
The gathering had originally been planned to be held in Bagong Silang, a populous residential area of Caloocan City. The rally in Caloocan will still push through on Saturday, with Binay leading the final endorsement of the coalition’s nine-person senatorial ticket.
For the Caloocan rally, Navotas Rep. Toby Tiangco, the UNA campaign manager, said the idea was to “bring the rally to the people, not the people to the rally.”
“It’s a conscious way of telling the people that if we win, we will bring the service to you,” he said in a phone interview.
Tiangco said the original choice of Bagong Silang was “out of the box” in terms of campaign strategy. He said it was not unlike the decision to hold the UNA proclamation rally in Cebu, and not Manila, last February.
Cheers! Here’s to SC rule cutting liquor ban duration
By Christine O. Avendaño, Philip C. Tubeza
Philippine Daily Inquirer 2:01 am | Thursday, May 9th, 2013
“Cheers! Drinkers toast SC decision…” was among the reactions on social media to a Supreme Court order reducing the five-day liquor ban imposed by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to just two days, or on the eve of the elections and on Election Day.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday stopped the Comelec from implementing the liquor ban starting Wednesday until Saturday on a joint petition filed by two groups—Food and Beverage Inc. and International Wines and Spirits Association Inc.
The high court issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) on three of the five days of the liquor ban that was imposed by the Comelec to help ensure the conduct of peaceful and orderly elections.
“The court resolved, without giving due course to the petition, to require Comelec to comment on the petition not later than 5 p.m. of May 9, Thursday,” Supreme Court spokesman Theodore Te said at a brief news briefing.
Te said the TRO enjoined the poll body from implementing the liquor ban from May 9 to midnight of May 11.
Food and Beverage Inc. and International Wines and Spirits Association Inc. sought the TRO because they said they would suffer irreparable injury from the implementation of the ban.
They also claimed that the poll body had acted in excess of its jurisdiction because it modified the provision of the Omnibus Election Code, which specified prohibited acts during the election period.
Violation of the liquor ban is an election offense and punishable by imprisonment of less than one year but not more than six years. The violator will also be disqualified from holding public office and will lose his right to vote.
Except hotels, foreigners
Under the Comelec ban, it is unlawful to sell or buy intoxicating drinks starting Wednesday except in hotels and other tourism establishments that secured an exemption. But even in these places, only foreign tourists are allowed to buy alcohol, Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. said Wednesday.
“We will implement this very strictly. We’re also reminding the public, especially the retailers, to follow this,” Brillantes said in an interview.
“If you notice, there are now many incidents involving peace and order. So, maybe the liquor ban would at least minimize more incidents of election-related violence. That’s the purpose. So, we are expanding the two-day period into a five-day period of the liquor ban,” he added.
Drinking at home
Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said that those who have hoarded alcoholic drinks before the ban started and intend to drink should do so inside the privacy of their homes.
“It’s not that we are going to deploy policemen to look for people drinking, but yes, it is illegal to drink outside their private property. It should be inside,” Jimenez said.
The Comelec in February extended the liquor ban for the midterm elections upon the request of the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA), which had even asked for a 45-day liquor ban.
In its Resolution No. 9582, the Comelec said it was unlawful for any person, including owners and managers of hotels and establishments to “sell, furnish, offer, buy, serve, or take intoxicating liquor anywhere in the Philippines.”
“Hotels and other establishments duly certified by the Department of Tourism as tourist-oriented and habitually in the business of catering to foreign tourists may be exempted from the liquor ban, provided they secure prior written authority upon showing that there are justifiable reasons,” the Comelec said.
It added that foreign tourists taking intoxicating liquor in authorized hotels or establishments were exempted from the prohibition.
The Comelec said hotels and business establishments that intend to serve alcohol to their foreign guests should get exemption from city election officers or provincial election supervisors, or the Comelec regional director in Metro Manila.
The commission ordered the National Bureau of Investigation, the Philippine National Police and election officials to implement the liquor ban.
Comelec Commissioner Grace Padaca urged the public to avoid alcohol to ensure orderly elections on May 13. “Isn’t orderly elections one of our prayers? So, let’s discipline ourselves,” Padaca said.
It is a testimony to the undifferentiated nature of our political system that many other social institutions are mobilized during elections. There’s the family, there’s religion, there’s the business sector, and then there’s the science of surveys. Their chief purveyors try to convert the power they wield into the currency of politics. We are disturbed by this because, more than ever, we now have a clear sense that it is not right.
It is not right that the power to govern is monopolized by a few families, or transferred along kinship lines. It is not right that priests and religious ministers can decide who their flocks should vote for. It is not right that money from the propertied classes should determine a candidate’s chances of winning. And it is not right that paying clients should determine the agenda and content of scientific studies.
Interestingly, theorists of modernity do not fret over the fact that premodern societies do not measure up to these standards. They believe that societal evolution eventually favors the emergence of autonomous political systems. In short, whether or not there’s an explicit law banning them, political dynasties, religious meddling in politics, corporate financing of electoral campaigns, and the use of surveys to sway voters are bound to become less important, or even obsolete, as society becomes modern.
Maybe this is an over-optimistic view. But there’s plenty of evidence to show that, as societies become more complex, they do tend to form differentiated institutional systems as a means of reducing complexity. Of course, people will always try to bring other values to bear upon politics, as they do on other systems. The big difference is that in a modern society, they may not always be understood or appreciated when they do. That is when we say a society has changed.
But, of equal interest to students of transitional societies is what happens to basic institutions like the family, religion, the economy, and science when they are heavily tapped for politics. Will love survive when the family is converted into a political machine? Will notions of the transcendental life outlive the engagement of the clergy in the partisan contests of the temporal world? What happens to economic production when the owning classes are invested heavily in the fortunes of individual politicians? And what happens to science when its agenda is set by politics?
We have seen in the course of our life as a nation how political power, like money, can so distort the operation of the justice system that people who could not win their cases in court attempt to redeem themselves in the polls, or buy protection from prosecution by winning in elections. Unable to preserve its autonomy, justice becomes no more than a commodity and a tool of political power.
Why would it be any different when the family, religion, or science are fed into the mill of politics? Marriages become tools for forging political alliances. An ambitious politician chooses a celebrity spouse or partner to enhance his political assets. Children are valued not for who they are but for what they can contribute to the family’s political strength. Or vice versa, ties of kinship are thrashed when members of the same family take different political sides.
It was in view of these real dangers that Benedict XVI counseled against the clergy taking partisan positions in politics. Doing so, he said, would be to risk undermining the moral authority of the Church. It would go against the Church’s principal function of educating consciences and serving the poor.
This kind of reflexivity, I’m certain, has also begun to take root within the corporate community, which has become accustomed to setting aside a huge amount of resources every election for campaign contributions. It is an obligation they are minded not to shirk, given that those who wield political power can easily put businessmen who back the wrong politicians out of business. But no economy can flourish in the long term under these conditions. Vulnerability to political shifts limits the scope of rational economic planning and decision-making.
But, it is the effect of politics on scientific activity that concerns me most as a sociologist. I have been keenly observing the public reception of preelection surveys. It is worrisome to see how much value Filipino voters and political coalitions assign to surveys to determine the suitability of candidates for public office. I am bothered by the way the science of opinion surveys in our country has been massively shaped by the short-term interests of partisan politics.
I am not merely referring here to the danger of deliberate data manipulation in order to serve the propaganda needs of certain clients. I am particularly troubled that the scientific study of public opinion itself appears to have become narrowly focused on the concerns of electoral politics. There’s hardly any attempt in these surveys to uncover or illuminate the long-term developments in the nation’s political life. Whatever scholarly objectives they may have are vastly overshadowed by the informational requirements of paying clients. One wonders how long our survey firms can continue to invoke the authority of science.
Until now, we have only worried about the way other sources of social power have distorted our politics. It is time we also paid attention to what politics is doing to our families, our churches, our economy, our justice system, our scientific community, etc.
The rising consciousness against political dynasties may become ironic. We are laudably critical, asking candidates to present more than a famous surname. Some propose, however, to boycott anyone branded a dynast, credentials or none. To quote Obi-Wan Kenobi, “Only a Sith deals in absolutes.”
Paulo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV is the perfect case study. To cite credentials, Bam was a valedictorian and Student Council president of Ateneo de Manila, and received a summa cum laude in management engineering, its most difficult course. His Hapinoy program established his outstanding track record in social entrepreneurship, validated by a Jaycees Ten Outstanding Young Persons (TOYP) of the World award. To cite the dynasty, Bam is a cousin of President Aquino. He changed his eyeglasses to remind us that he is the stunt double of the late former senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino II, martyred icon of Philippine democracy.
Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara graduated from Harvard Law School, the University of the Philippines College of Law (where he was an editor of the Philippine Law Journal), and London School of Economics. A three-term congressman and a spokesperson of the prosecutors at the Corona impeachment trial, he has a sterling legislative track record highlighted by key finance and education laws. He holds a TOYP of the Philippines award and is a law professor. His father is Sen. Edgado Angara, a former UP president whose name is synonymous with Philippine education.
Few media reports are worded thus. It is counterproductive when our narratives increasingly cast Bam as the President’s cousin instead of a social entrepreneur and youth leader, or Sonny as Ed Angara’s son instead of a veteran lawmaker. Stereotyping has become easy to the point that some opponents emphasize they are not from any dynasty but offer little else, down to a candidate who was reported as believing “there should be no constitutional principle of separation of Church and State.” It is indeed a negative for a candidate to be running on nothing more than an inherited name, but it is not a positive to have an unknown name!
Equally counterproductive is criticism that focuses solely on candidates’ names. Inquirer columnist Neal Cruz has been most vocal, at one point citing Bam Aquino in the same breath as convicted child rapist and former congressman Romeo Jalosjos. Cruz, preferring the spelling “Bum,” wrote: “He came from nowhere wanting to be senator immediately just because he is an Aquino, a cousin of the President, and a Ninoy Aquino lookalike. He has not even served as barangay captain….” Unless critics delve into credentials and specifically claim that Bam’s helping thousands develop sari-sari-store livelihoods does not qualify him for national office or that Sonny’s Expanded Senior Citizens Act embodies flawed policy, it is impossible to have a constructive conversation. The stereotyping has become so ironic that were their surnames less storied, we would uniformly tout Bam and Sonny as the fresh young faces to watch in the next Senate.
Admittedly, Bam’s glasses are such a turnoff that his Facebook page subtly reminded voters he has worn glasses since Grade 6. My frustration, however, is directed more to our political maturity. The reality is that repeating “Tito Ninoy” often enough gains more votes than being an Ateneo summa cum laude, and Juan Edgardo Angara dropping the “Juan” gains more than Ivy League distinction. I remember voting for Bam well before the cheesy glasses, when I knew him only as an upperclassman who welcomed me into Ateneo. My college claim to fame was being editor of The Loyola Lampoon in 1999, and President Bam gamely posed for my front page, not knowing we were running the Bill Clinton-inspired headline, “Sex Scandal in Sanggunian.” Not once did Bam ever mention Tita Cory, and I only found out he was “that kind of Aquino” when he was conspicuously absent from a function on Ninoy’s death anniversary.
I hope to see more credentialed, idealistic young senators, and I would be irresponsible if I blindly ruled out TOYP awardees such as Bam and Sonny. The present reality is that boycotting anyone connected with a political dynasty will leave a woefully subpar pool. Even the beloved Jesse Robredo was the scion of a dynasty.
It is not completely accurate that our Constitution outlaws dynasties. It actually reads: “The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.” The key words are “equal access” and the true goal is to one day see the talented son of a farmer or a fisherman credibly seek public office alongside an equally talented Aquino or Angara. It is our loss when anyone connected to a political dynasty is summarily cast aside as the price to curb this legitimate problem.
In an ideal world, the sight of a candidate with a famous relative will be taken as no more than a pledge of his good name to bond the post sought. The United States has seen and admired its share of political families, from the Kennedy mystique and its evocation of a sense of royalty and Camelot to Hillary Clinton seeking the presidency as her own woman independent of Bill.
The ideal world will unfortunately not take shape in the scant days I have to decide who I am voting for. In the meantime, I am happy to see Bam the young Ateneo valedictorian and Sonny the young Harvard lawyer in the Senate.
I just realized the other day I hadn’t done a column on elections, so I’m going to make up today with two election-related topics. One is a lighthearted search for the origins of the word “halalan,” which will then allow me to take off into the topic of wise voting.
First, halalan. I looked the word up in Jose Villa Panganiban’s “Diksyunaryo Tesauro” and it’s defined as “vote” with the synonym “boto” and “selecting” with the synonym “hirang.” Apparently the word is limited to the Tagalog, with the Kapampangan using “alal.” Other major Philippine languages use “pili” to mean “to select.” By and large, it is true most Filipinos will just use boto rather than “halal” and “eleksyon” rather than halalan, (which some of my “spokening English” friends keep confusing with “halaan,” which means clams).
We’re left on our own then to search for the origins of halal, and I’m sure it has no relationship to clams. I doubt, too, that it comes from “hala,” which we use to warn people, children especially, of something dire, although sometimes elections can spell danger in some parts of the Philippines.
There’s also hala in gay slang, which means “to look for men,” but R. David Zorc and Rachel San Miguel’s 1991 “Tagalog Slang Dictionary” suggests it might have come the Spanish “hada,” which means “fairy.” You learn something new every day.
My hunch right now is that halal comes from the Arabic word to mean “permitted,” the opposite of which is “haram” or “forbidden.” Is it possible then that halal as voting means to designate someone, to give someone a mandate to govern or lead?
Just a hunch, but a strong one. Which means it’s even more important that we vote wisely. But voting wisely means having access to information, and we’ve seen how the political campaigns have generally been circuses and fiestas rolled into one, mainly organized to get voters to remember candidates’ names, more like ad campaigns for particular brands.
The University of the Philippines has come up with a serious website (halalan.up.edu.ph) which, last time I checked, taps some wise women and men to help us with our voting.
The Halalan project is part of UP president Alfredo Pascual’s “Padayon” (Cebuano for “moving forward”) initiative, getting different campuses and units to work together, and to team up with the world outside, in the case of Halalan, with the Commission on Elections and ABS-CBN.
The main push for the project came from Prof. Prospero de Vera of the National College of Public Administration and Governance, who is also vice president for public affairs. Readers may have noticed him on TV programs giving his views on how the elections reflect so many aspects of Philippine society.
I’m quite proud of the Halalan site because a number of academics from my College of Social Sciences and Philosophy (CSSP) are heavily involved, notably Prof. Ranjit Rye of the political science department and Prof Nicole Curato of the sociology department. Both are among the younger crop of faculty bringing fresh insights into our understanding of Philippine society.
Enough of the bragging. Let me take you on a quick tour of what you can find on the site.
There’s a lot of voter information there. From it, I learned about a Comelec Halalan app, available in Android and Apple versions for free. I downloaded the app and tried to find out “My Status” as a voter. I was asked for my first, middle and last names and birthday, all of which I inputted. But after an hour of “search” running, it still couldn’t tell me my status.
That glitch aside, the Comelec app does allow you to know who’s running in your city or town. Just to show you how useless the “real world” election campaigns can be, mainly because we’re so overwhelmed with posters and motorcades, it wasn’t until I used this Comelec app that I learned my city had three people running for mayor and just one for vice mayor.
The Comelec app has a tab “My Ballot” where you can enter the names of people you want to vote for as senators, mayor, vice mayor, and party-list representatives. I presume that since the Comelec app has this provision, people will be allowed to bring their phones or computer tablets into the voting precincts.
As apps go, the Comelec Halalan app only gives very general information. If you want more information on candidates, go to the UP Halalan site and click on “Know Your Candidates,” which provides comprehensive information on each senatorial candidate, including Facebook and Twitter addresses.
Click on the “insights” tab and you get to choose to hear from faculty, students, alumni and opinion columnists. A sample of what you have from the faculty: anthropologist Carlos Tatel on elections as “Hala! Bira! Halalan!” and Nicole Curato with rather ambivalent views on Nancy Binay’s candidacy.
Postings from students were quite serious—for example “clientelist politics” (read vote-buying). From among the alumni, the two most recent postings were that of Julio Amador III on foreign policy and the elections, and lawyer Gloria Estenzo Ramos’ “greening of the Comelec.”
There’s more. The “analysis” tab has incisive papers on the party-list system, political dynasties, political parties, women and politics, and a UP forum on the elections.
Click on the tab “The Elections” and then click again on “Facts Check,” which picks up on campaign claims from candidates and checks their truth and accuracy. For example, Aurora Rep. Sonny Angara said he had filed 50 bills on education and health. The UP Halalan team checked congressional records and found that indeed, he filed 86 bills related to education and 31 to health. Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño said he had filed a bill to amend the Family Code’s provisions on annulment. The UP team checked and found that the main author was not Casiño but his colleague in Bayan Muna, Rep. Neri Colmenares. Casiño was one of 39 coauthors.
The Facts Check team goes beyond “did” or “did not” and attaches comments as well—for example, that campaign claims should go beyond the number of bills filed.
The Halalan site has something for everyone, including multimedia presentations. There’s even an interactive map produced by a team from the geography department (that’s our CSSP again), with one of our youngest instructors, David Garcia, involved. It has a map of the Philippines with all sizes of circles. Click on a circle and you get the province name, population, number of voters, and gubernatorial candidate. Poor Batanes’ population is so tiny I couldn’t even find a dot to click on.
The UP Halalan site does have web links to the Comelec, an overseas voters’ secretariat, various voter education organizations, and groups working for clean elections.
All these websites point to a future where we just might find more meaningful discussions of political issues in the Philippines, all done in the comfort of our homes, maybe even with beer or wine bought before the liquor ban, and in the company of good friends, in and out of the Internet.
Influential overseas Filipino groups endorse candidates on basis of competence, integrity
By Ted Laguatan
12:11 pm | Thursday, May 9th, 2013
Overseas Filipino voters can positively change the quality of Filipino leaders and the quality of Philippine government. In general, overseas voters cannot be bought or coerced. They earn money through honest hard work and hired gun toting goons are not around to intimidate them to vote for certain candidates. As such, given the proper objective information about candidates, they will vote for the best candidates. They are in fact the best voters that money cannot buy.
The US based US Pinoys for Good Governance (USP4GG) chaired by philanthropist Loida Nicolas Lewis and the Global Filipino Diaspora Council (GFDC), a global organization of community leaders from several countries – are two of the most influential organizations among Filipinos overseas. USP4GG has effectively lobbied with both the Philippine and US governments for policies, decisions and legislation that have benefited Filipinos everywhere. GFDC is recognized by the Philippine Commission on Filipinos Overseas as a global organization of Filipino community leaders from different countries whose goal is the betterment of life for Filipinos overseas and those in the Philippines.
The lawyers for both groups, Atty. Rodel Rodis and myself, appeared last March before the Comelec and successfully persuaded the Chairman and other Commissioners to reinstate some 239,000 overseas Filipino voters who were disenfranchised for failing to vote twice. Rodis argued that the failure was not out of apathy but because of circumstances beyond their control. I argued that while Congress gave the power to Comelec to remove voters who failed to consecutively vote twice, it also gave Comelec the power not to remove them. In other words, I pointed out that Comelec is not absolutely mandated to remove voters who failed to vote twice – but in fact is given the discretion to remove or not to remove – and suggested that common sense and wisdom factors compel the Comelec to exercise their discretion to reinstate the disenfranchised voters.
To their credit, Chairman Brilliantes and Commissioner Grace Padaca listened to our reasoning and in a subsequent Commissioners’ en banc meeting, reinstated 239,000 disenfranchised overseas voters. I respectfully urge Comelec to continue exercising its good discretion not to disenfranchise in the future overseas voters who fail to consecutively vote twice. They usually fail to vote not out of apathy but because the ballots did not reach them for some reason or another which is not their fault.
USP4GG and GFDC have drawn up a list of Senatorial candidates whom they have endorsed. The list serves as a voting guide for overseas Filipinos as well as for those in the Philippines. Using the same objective criteria, it’s probably not surprising that the candidates endorsed by both groups are a mirror image of the other except for the addition of Teddy Casino in the GFDC list. Both organizations are non-partisan and selections of the endorsed candidates were based on: competence, integrity and a track record of accomplishing observable good results that benefit people.
The Senatorial candidates endorsed by USP4GG and GFDC are listed below. (Not listed according to priority preference):
1. Loren Legarda 2. Alan Cayetano 3. Ramon Magsaysay Jr. 4. Edgardo “Sonny” Angara 5. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel 6. Risa Hontiveros 7. Bam Aquino 8. Grace Poe 9. Edward Hagedorn 10. Eddie Villanueva 11. Teddy Casiño (endorsed by GFDC only)
The Partylist endorsed by both USP4GG and GFDC is Akbayan Citizens Action Party.
According to the Philippine Commission on Filipinos overseas, about 11 million Filipinos live and work abroad in 217 countries. Of these, only about 915,000 Filipinos overseas are registered to vote. Many more would have registered if there had been no condition in the Overseas Absentee Voting Act (OAVA) which required them to sign an affidavit promising to return to the Philippines. If they do not sign the affidavit, they cannot register to vote. On the other hand, if they sign the affidavit, they are compelled to return to the Philippines within three years or face imprisonment.
As such, thousands have refused to register because of this oppressive condition. A typical comment among OFWs: “Sure, it’s important to vote, but would I give up my right to stay and work abroad to support my family in just to vote. That would be stupid.”
How did such an onerous provision which clearly infringes on a citizen’s right to vote get included in the OAVA? A certain Congressman named Teodoro “Teddy Boy” Locsin insisted for it to be included. My understanding from those who followed the hearings on this legislation is that Locsin repeatedly questioned the patriotism and loyalty of overseas Filipinos for the simple reason that they left the Philippines to live and work abroad. He insisted that this anomalous condition be embedded in the OAVA.
Knowing the chilling effect of this required “promise to return” condition on potential overseas voters, the US based US Pinoys for Good Governance (USP4GG) – embarked on two courses of action: File a petition to nullify this condition in the Philippine Supreme Court – and also get the Philippine legislature to amend the OAVA to get rid of the offensive “promise to return” condition. In both actions, the USP4GG prevailed. The Supreme Court decided in the case of “Nicolas et al v Comelec” that the condition does not apply to Filipinos who have dual citizenships. And just a few months ago, the Congress of the Philippines amended the OAVA where the draconian condition was removed and the word “absentee” was also removed from the title of the law: “We are not absent when it comes to helping the Philippines.” OAVA has now become Overseas Voting Act. (OVA).
President Aquino should sign this into law anytime now. While it’s too late for this new law to have any effects on the elections next week, it certainly will have an impact on the 2016 elections. With the removal of the offensive Locsin condition, more overseas Filipinos will register to vote.
Another reason why many overseas Filipinos are not able to register is because registrations have to be done at Philippine Consulates or Embassies. So many live and work in far flung areas such as in the Alaskan fisheries processing plants, distant oil fields in the Middle East, isolated towns in the US or else work in ships that are constantly at sea.
Even for many of those who have registered, some still cannot vote sometimes as the ballots for voting have not reached them because they have either changed addresses or else work as crewmen.
In order to maximize the number of overseas Filipinos registering and voting, there is little disagreement as to the need to make online registration and voting online. Hopefully, by next year, online registration and voting will already be installed.
While the present number of registered overseas Filipino voters is not yet overwhelming, their numbers will eventually increase due to the changed legislation removing the “promise to return” condition and online registration. Moreover, in a very real sense, their ability to generate more votes eventually will be more obvious when they become more aware that they can influence their Philippine relatives to whom they send financial aid – to vote for certain candidates. As such, aside from the billions of dollars and other currencies overseas Filipinos send to the Philippines – which has improved and sustained the economic life of the country – they will also eventually positively change the quality of government leaders and government in the Philippines – for the good of all.
For OFWs like myself, to see a better Philippines where thousands of talented bright Filipino children can develop to their full potentials as human beings instead of digging through dirty smelly garbage cans for scraps of food just to survive – is a dream that I hope will someday come true.