JR Lopez Gonzales 11:42 AM 4
It’s election time once again.
Everyone’s hyped up for what’s about to come and who’s going to win. It is that time in our democracy where everyone’s turning the ‘election switch’ on. And our politicians are again hopping in for the boodle fight of votes.
It seemed that elections are but manifestations of our people’s predilection towards festive activities. From the start of the campaign up to the ‘day of reckoning’, it is reminiscent of ‘fiesta’ celebration where a lot of fanfare and hype is attached.
Elections, including this coming May 2013 elections, are one of the most essential features of our Philippine republican democracy. This right of suffrage was defined in the case of Pungutan vs. Abubakar (1972) as a “political right intended to enable them to participate in the process of government to assure it derives its powers from the consent of the governed". All are in, including much dough.
In this economically-divided country, money is but one aspect of the “3Gs of Philippine Elections”. The guns, gold, and goons continue to cast a dark shadow on what is supposed to be a free and fair exercise. Political scientist Carl H. Lande was right when he observed that “Philippine elections are very expensive”. All the other assortments are like those pieces that make up the kaleidoscope of Philippine elections. These unique features of our elections are the assortments of the Philippine elections which comprises that collective bag of political ‘mixed nuts’ (no pun intended).
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The first ‘festive feel’ of the elections happen on the campaign period where it paints any town or city with graffiti of election posters and other visual gimmicks. Some politicians campaign even if the campaign period has not started yet. How? Through those very inspiring messages indicated in those sturdy tarpaulin streamers.
These credit-grabbers advertise themselves like the new active ingredient in a certain brand of toothpaste. These colorful ‘campaign-paraphernalia-in-disguise’ are nothing but eyesore only aimed at name recall for future elections. But thanks to some sensitive senate legislations, the nice grinning days of the ‘epal’ (those credit-grabbing people) would soon be over. This brings us to another uniqueness of our electoral system: our elections’ “personalistic” nature.
We have a largely personalistic view of political leader (by ‘we’ I referred to that bulk of Filipino masses). Voters rely on the personal appeal of a certain candidate like his or her demeanor, looks, charisma, and political pedigree. Most voters pay no heed to those ‘trivial’ things such as, well, party platforms.
Personal lives concern the mass voters instead of the party platforms in terms of taxes, regulations, open markets, and the like. In order to resolve this I guess I good step would be institutionalizing an alternative to patronage-oriented political parties.
Another flaw for the elections is violence and its other relatives. On this side of the archipelago, political tricks are employed by those people who wanted to ‘take the seat’ or ‘continuing sitting on it’. Eliminating the other party through violent means sometimes becomes an efficient option, especially when competitors have parity in resources and campaign machinery. Election, it seemed, became a depopulating tool.
I would never forget what my sister shared to me regarding her experience as a volunteer paralegal staff, a couple of years back. I was appalled when she told me that some unknown armed groups tried to snatch the ballot boxes and fired their M16s and other high-powered ammos. My sister hysterically found herself lying on the ground, face down, in order to protect herself. Luckily no one was hurt because some soldiers returned fire which had sent the goons backpedaling.
Fast tracking on the recent developments in the Philippine electoral system, we just had the Automated Elections in 2010. Despite the public’s initial skepticism on the PCOS machines’ efficiency, the scanners were proven to eventually be quicker and reliable. Some dailies say that a large percentage of election-related violence was averted due to the new automated system. I’ve got to agree, for if it was automated back then, maybe my sister did not have to go through those ‘trying’ times.
While it is true that we just had the new automated elections, some old Pinoy election traditions, however, remain unchanged. Lately in the news, the Commission on Elections is planning to seek amendments to the 27-year-old Omnibus Election Code to attune it with election automation laws. But looking at suffrage with a critical eye, I believe a lot still has to be done on both the electoral system and the statutes that regulate it.
A decent move but like in any other government policy, it boils down to its implementation. I believe that the COMELEC should follow what transpired in the 1992 elections, where the administration mobilized various government agencies to collectively assist in the conduct and administration of the elections. President Ramos, continued these policies and records show that it saw relatively low levels of election-related violence compared to other elections.
They might also explore the feasibility of forming a special body during elections that would share the burden of dealing with election offenses. Maybe it could strictly impose penalties for those guilty of rigging the elections. Same on how DOJ and BIR are chasing after tax evaders. That is an election-cheating deterrent, right there.
Another flaw on our electoral system is the exceedingly slow pace of election case resolution. Especially on the appeals, our legal system makes it possible for parties on the losing end to prolong the litigation with the goal of getting them through their terms before a decision is finally handed over. More often than not, election cases are resolved after the contested terms have expired or elections for the next terms have passed. This make me want to scratch my head.
About two months from now, it will be election time once again. And the questions are: What will win the people’s trust and confidence this time around? Will it still be the politics of the gun, gold and goons? Will the coming general elections of 2013 be any different from previous elections? Are we going to have leaders saying “I’m sorry” on live TV?
To wrap up, I still have faith in our institutions despite its complications. But as long as the lack of effective regulation and swift sanctions remain, the Philippines will be far from achieving truly peaceful and orderly electoral exercises. It will remain a topsy-turvy political fiesta where everyone’s hopping in to take their share of the voter’s pie.