ONLY one word comes to mind when Philippine elections is mentioned: dirty.
It has long been a controversial event in Philippine politics. This is a time when cheating, corruption, and killings are widespread all over the country.
Ever since the start of elections for the first President of the Philippines, it has been a dirty self-serving political games played to win the most coveted prize of all—a seat in the Philippine political office.
The Filipinos blame the aspiring politicians, with their Michiavellan games, their Sun Tzu power plays. Often overlooked is the contribution that the media has, the COMELEC has, and even the Filipino people themselves.
The Greedy Politicians
Emilio Aguinaldo, dubbed as the first Filipino traitor, was always speculated to kill his presidential rivals. Rumors had it, that he did nothing when Andres Bonifacio and General Luna was killed because they were his rivals in obtaining the presidency.
This controversy was very much refreshed in the Filipino minds when the movie General Luna was opened to the public.
Here the obvious problem is in fact a candidate’s thirst for power wherein they are willing to commit the mortal sin of murder to abolish any rivals that could beat them in elections.
Another example is the 1949 dirty elections by Elpidio Quirino wherein he was accused by Carlos P. Romulo and Marvin M. Gray in their book The Magsaysay Story (1956) of intimidating his opponents by the use of military force.
Perhaps the most popular exhibition of dirty politics in the Philippines is the infamous Marcos scandals.
Benigno Aquino was a forerunner of winning the elections against Marcos in 1973 but Ferdinand Marcos cancelled the elections.
We fastforward to the “snap” elections of Marcos and Cory Aquino wherein Marcos attempted to cheat his way into winning back the votes he lost in his presidential run.
Here we see again the greed of politicians taking over the democracy that the Filipinos expected when they were set free from colonizers.
These are the greed of politicians at work.
The Irresponsible Media
Next, let us see how the media takes a role in the dirty elections as well.
In 1992, Miriam Santiago sought to become the second woman president of the Philippines. The votes were very close and she could have won the presidency. However, here we see the media, perhaps hired by other politicians or perhaps not, set out to destroy the senator and turn off her supporters. Santiago’s mental health was questioned.
In an article written by Philip Shenon in May 10, 1992 in The New York Times, he says that “Mrs. Santiago's opponents are well aware of her popularity, and she has become the target of a well-orchestrated rumor campaign, abetted by some of leading Manila's newspapers. There have been suggestions that she is mentally unbalanced and that she suffered a nervous breakdown a decade ago.”
This was the time that Miriam was dubbed as “Brenda” meaning “brain damage” by the media circulating rumors that she was not quite right at the head.
Fidel V. Ramos won the presidential race in 1992.
Although it is the media’s role to inform the citizens of the wrongdoings of the candidates who are seeking office, one has to question their loyalty to the Filipino people.
They are bought. They are paid to write and air news about political candidates to ruin their reputations.
Instead of helping the people become wise decision-makers, they are making fools of their fellow Filipinos by feeding them false information in exchange for a brown envelope.
They just become propagandists.
The “trustworthy” Comelec
Of course let us not forget the Comelec.
The scandal of Comelec that shook the whole nation was when Gloria Macapagal Arroyo ran for president against actor Fernando Poe Jr.
Nobody has forgotten the “Hello Garci” scandal. The alleged recordings of Arroyo asking Comelec Commissioner Virgilio Garcilliano if she will still lead by 1 million.
This is an act of electoral fraud by Garcilliano. One can wonder just how many other Comelec officials are in cahoots with politicans.
In the more recent Comelec scandal, a whistleblower said that Jejomar Binay allegedly bought 7 million votes for 20 pesos each which amounted to more than 1 billion pesos in the 2010 elections. This vote-buying, if true, may have been the reason why he won as Vice President last 2010.
The country cannot assure a fair voting if the Comelec itself is biased.
The stupid, perhaps uneducated Filipino people.
One stakeholder is often overlooked when we talk about dirty elections—the Filipinos themselves. Often we hear of vote-buying by politicians, but we do not hear much of the Filipinos who can be bought by money or goods.
These are citizens who are willing to give up their right to vote and their right to democracy in exchange for a few hundred pesos and a week’s worth of food.
Filipinos are also quite lazy when it comes to voting. According to Comelec, they are expecting three-fourths of the registered voters to vote in the upcoming elections in 2016.
One fourth of the country is not voting and their votes could be game changers.
Another reason why Filipinos are also to blame is because of their blind predilection for celebrities turned politicians.
Perhaps we can call this corruption of the mind. Celebrities are often favored by the Filipinos.
A good example of this is former President Erap Estrada. Estrada whose famous tagline is “Walang kaibi-kaibigan at walang kamag-anak-kamag-anak” gained country-wide popularity as an actor who starred in many feature films. He used his popularity as a means to gain a seat in office.
The Filipinos are all too pleased with his decision to become a politician, supporting him and voting for him until he eventually became President of the Philippines.
There are many actors who ran for office and won because of their work as an actor. Examples of these are Lucy Torres-Gomez, Bong Revilla Jr., and Vilma Santos.
Another well-known name outside politics, a quintesstial celebrity turned politician, shows just how blind Filipinos are when it comes to voting for candidates that are actually qualified for office—Manny Pacquiao.
Pacquiao became congressman by a landslide of votes even beating old names for a seat at the House of Representatives. The best thing about this is, he rarely even shows up for work.
With all this, it seems as if the elections and politics in the Philippines will never improve.
Dirty elections by the Filipinos, for the Filipinos.
Take the scandals and media coverage each presidential candidates are facing right now: the American Poe, a daughter of the beloved actor FPJ, the corrupt Binay, facing charges of corruption everywhere, the incompetent Mar Roxas, who performed less than satisfactory in managing the victims of typhoons, and the ‘Punisher’ Rodrigo Duterte, who is attacked by human rights accusations.
We see the role of the candidates themselves in turning this election dirty—Roxas and Duterte arguing like children on national tv. We see the role of media who loves to expose charges and accusations and sensationalized news about the candidates. We see the role of COMELEC who promises to have a fair voting for 2016. We see the role of Filipinos, their passion (or lack thereof) in Philippine politics. Everything is in chaos and it seems like history will once again repeat itself.
Still, a political analyst of The Manila Times, Yen Makabenta, remains optimistic about the upcoming 2016 elections. He writes about how 2016 may be a game changer in Philippine politics. His byline says it all: Elections 2016: A chance for change.
In his article, he says that “Millennials are beginning to demand better (they are interested in solutions for present problems, and future plans, not to be stuck in the past)”.
He presents the youth as possible game changers saying “Tomorrow’s world will not be built by yesterday’s men who helped tear down the fabric of Philippine democracy, and weakened the political institutions.”
Another expert, Manuel L. Quezon III of Philippine Daily Inquirer, analyzes the 2016 elections in his “The Great Referendum: The national election of 2016”.
He emphasizes the importance of media in this elections: “Here media and academe can make a difference, just as committed bloggers and others can, too. There is also a perceptible demand for debates between the candidates.”
He also says that the Presidential candidates are giving the Filipinos four options of a possible government which has never quite happened before: continuity for populism, Binay, who is a traditional politician, experimentation for populism, Duterte, for his plans of federalism, experimentation for reform and populism, Poe, and of course, continuity and reform, Roxas who will continue what politicians before him did.
Quezon remarks that the elections this 2016 will be quite different from the past, calling it The Great Referendum. It will probably be the first and last of its kind.
He ends the article with the words “You will be the judge”, referring to Filipinos and how in the end, it will be them who will ultimately decide the outcome of the 2016 elections. Only one word comes to mind when Philippine elections is mentioned: dirty.
In the end it is self-interest that makes politicians, the media, Comelec, and Filipinos to act dirty.
But will 2016 finally change this?
Analysts hope that this will end the long controversial elections held in the Philippines.
If the predictions of political experts are indeed true and this elections will become a game changer for Philippine politics, one thing is for sure: the politicians, the media, Comelec, and the Filipinos all have a role to play and it is with great hope that they play it just and right. (Isabel Victoria Sanchez)
Isabel Victoria is a student of Ateneo de Davao University.