Tuesday, May 29, 2007

How the Local was Won

Patrick I. Patiño
Political & Electoral Reform Program
Institute for Popular Democracy
May 28, 2007

The May 14 elections gave us more of the same and in many occasions more than that. Vote-buying has become an open galore and sophisticated. Election-related violence and deaths have become prominent during the counting and canvassing of votes. The decades-rule of some political families has been shattered but political dynasties have penetrated various layers of elective offices.

In the coastal city of Tuguegarao, Cagayan, vote-buying is massive but discreet. How was this done? The price range from P200.00 to P500.00 with free bangus fish because the money is wrap in plastic and hidden inside the fish belly. But the system was exposed on eve of election day because it became unusual for people seeing men with pails of bangus going around the neighborhood. In Sto. Tomas, Batangas, vote-buying is through five-kilo rice bag with one-kilo pack of tocino and beef-tapa per household. It is more enticing and cheaper. An operator of a mayoral candidate in Mabalacat, Pampanga herded the officers of an elderly association to a house in San Fernando to bribe them for the association's vote. Unfortunately, the mobilization was uncovered before the vote-buying was made.

In Albay, money flowed from different levels. Instead of a one-slate vote-buying, each elective post has a price, depending on the target – individual vote or family vote. Mayoral posts range from P500 to 1,500; and P500 to P2,500 each for congressional and gubernatorial seats including the senatorial slate. Vote-buying became prominent in areas there was battle of margins among candidates.

There are many forms of vote-buying, but the system of giving cash is directly to undermine voter to vote for a specific candidate. But a new form of vote-buying was innovated - the negative vote-buying. Instead of buying votes which is tedious to follow-through to ensure that the voter really votes for the candidate and highly potential to be uncovered, negative vote-buying aims to dissuade voters not to vote. This system is done in areas where the candidate is weak. Another way is taint the voter's right finger nail with indelible ink to assure that he/she could not vote anymore. Negative vote-buying is one way of disenfranchising voters of their suffrage – but at least, a win-win exchange between the candidate and the voter. As they say, “hindi disimulado at hindi garapalang nakakahiya.” Many ordinary and poor voters in Pampanga, were given packed biscuites (with money inside) just to stay home on election day and deny gubernatorial candidate Among Ed his important votes. The election result: Among Ed won in a very tight battle of margins and very low and unusual voter turn-out.

On election day, have you noticed many children near the polling centers giving sample ballots to voters? The children's parents and/or elder siblings were recruited as poll watchers by various candidates. Recruitment of poll watchers more than the required number in a precinct is a legitimized form of vote-buying. A mayoral candidate in Caloocan City had huge number of poll watchers besides his other supporters who were accredited as Commission on Election (Comelec) Marshalls.

Election-Related Violent Incidents (ERVIs)
Election-related violence is a fixture of Philippine elections. What differs one election with another is the number and nature of incidents, deaths and wounded. There are three issues that came about ERVIs in the recent elections. First, although the Philippine National Police (PNP) boasts of lesser number of violent incidents compared to the 2004 elections, the death rate is high relative to the number of incidents – more than 50% death rate (117 deaths against 227 election violence incidents from start of election period to May 12). This is expected to go further high from election day to end of election period.

Second, among the victims killed, 72 are politicians (incumbents) and candidates unlike before where majority of victims are ordinary supporters and civilians. Does it mean that violence in the recent election is planned and pre-meditated? If there is parity among contending candidates in terms of resources and machine, is violence and/or killing an effective technology for winning? But why is killing done during the campaign where before it is done months ahead of election period?

Third, the PNP has discovered a formula how to downplay the impact of election violence, like government economists innovating measurements for less-impact poverty threshold and unemployment. The police has developed a categorization of election violence – one is politically- motivated and the other is personal grudges. Because the police has found out that not all 227 election violence incidents are politically motivated, therefore there are fewer deaths and wounded.

Regardless of how the police presents the data, election violence not only manifests the weakness of the state to curtail violence but also an extended expression of how the current dispensation uses the coercive instrument of the state for its partisan and political interests. Expect that post-election harassments and deaths will continue in Pampanga and other places where local politicians are alter-egos and have high stakes in Malacanang. Election violence also manifests the blatant disregard of politicians and candidates on election laws and disrespect to the Comelec, that has become completely inutile in implementing election rules and sanctioning election violators and criminals.

Family as Political Machine
Is the defeat of a number of political dynasties in the elections means the loss or weakening of the family's monopoly of local power or plain campaign blunder? Can the Joson's of Nueva Ecija, the Espinosa's of Masbate, the Acosta's of Bukidnon, the Imperials of Albay; the Espinas of Biliran, and Dimaporos of Lanao del Norte recover from their loses the next time? While most political families either exchanged elective posts or did changing of the guards, political dynasties not only maintained their rule but expanded the family's control in various elective positions. Prominent among these dynasties are the Marcoses of Ilocos Norte, Singsons of Ilocos Sur, Ortegas of La Union, Romualdezes of Leyte, Duranos of Cebu, Ecleo's of Surigao del Norte and Dinagat Island, Cerilles of Zamboanga del Sur and the Ampatuans of Maguindanao.

Post-1986 emerging clans are trying to catch-up with the old traditional political families by expanding their own clout like the Garcias of Bataan, Magsaysay's of Zambales, Umali's of Nueva Ecija, Garcias of Cebu, Zubiris of Bukidnon and the Barbers of Surigao del Norte. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo also entrenched her own family in the Lower House by having two sons and a brother-in-law in the Lower House. A sister-in-law attempted to join the Legislature through the party-list elections.

Political dynasties will stay as long as the political-economy of local politics remain and as long as the election institution allows them. On the other hand, they may be considered as exception to the case, but the victory of Among Ed in the gubernatorial race in Pampanga against the entrenched patronage, coercive network and political machines of the Pinedas and Lapids; of the re-election of Mayor Robredo in Naga City amidst multi-prong attack of the Villafuertes with the support of two Comelec commissioners; the victory of Glenn Chong over the political patriarch of Biliran and Grace Padaca's struggle against the manueverings of the Dy's in Isabela are rays of hope that provide possibilities for agents of reform.####

No comments: