“Communicating hope and trust in our time.”

- Pope Francis

Election Time Again

Atty. Ceferino Baquilod

A few days ago, I was watching a morning TV program which talked about the ills of our electoral system. One important item they discussed was the genuineness of election results. Are our votes protected and really counted? According to the interviewee, it was clear that the voting machines used during the last elections were tampered with. This was among the findings at the congressional hearings. Safeguards were not followed and election results were found to have been transmitted already even before the tallies were done. These are crucial concerns that need to be addressed with utmost urgency, as they touch on the very core of our electoral system. But virtually nothing has been done on these anomalies except to set up more ‘safeguards’ on the same machines from the same company, Smartmatic. Of course we all know that no matter how many safeguards are installed, they don’t serve their purpose if the people manning the machines are not honest or incorruptible. It is not hard to understand why some quarters believe that the current leaders we have are mere products of Smartmatic tamperings and not the officials the electorate voted for.

 Is our current Comelec more trustworthy and dependable now, under this administration? What happened to the Comelec and other officials involved in various election frauds before? A lot of times their cases, if ever they are filed, just remain pending for years, burried underneath piles of more significant ones, and more often than not, are dismissed without much ado. 

Campaign Frenzy

To a lot of voters, Facebook plays an important role in gathering information on current politics. One can readily see this because our newsfeeds are flooded with self-serving posts from all political camps. Mudslinging and digging up dirt against each other are the games they play to the delight or displeasure of the reader. This is true among national candidates as well as those vying for local elective positions.  

Aside from FB and other online platforms, we also have tv, and other main stream media outlets, as sources of political info and venues for campaigning. Others have shown biopics/movies to boost their image thru tv and theaters. One such movie was Ronald Bato’s life story which turned out to be a major flop, with hardly anyone watching it. It seems to me like a clear indication of how unpopular or disliked he is. 

Supersized campaign banners, expensive radio/tv ads are visible all over the country. And even with Comelec’s ban on posting them in prohibited places, these ads are still pervasive and illegally displayed with the wrong dimensions.

It becomes a real challenge to filter and see the truth about the candidates in view of all the lies and fake news abounding the web and news forums. Hence public debates should really be encouraged because they offer a fair chance to all candidates to demonstrate their capabilities. On the national level, we have learned that the invitation by one party (Otso Diretso) for the other camp to a debate was not welcomed. Comelec too was unable to set up any debate. One wonders why they refused the opportunity. In this critical time when people are in the process of making their decision who to vote for in May’s election, there are personalities who stand out negatively. Mayor Sara Duterte, who heads the Hugpong  Ng Pagbabago believes that honesty is irrelevant in elections. Ex PNP Chief Bato announced that his concept of campaigning is for pure fun and entertainment only and not about issues and platforms.  Imee Marcos on the other hand had been making false claims about her educational attainment. The truth is Imee did not have the required pre-law course, hence she was not allowed to graduate from the UP College of Law. We also believe that Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla, who were put behind bars for their involvement in pork barrel scams  are not exactly our ideal candidates.

Local Leaders and Vote Buying

What kind of candidates do we have in our province? To start, our congressional candidates are mostly involved in graft and corruption cases.  Of course they all claim that these cases are all harassment and politically motivated with no other purpose but to besmirch their reputation. One candidate is allegedly too lame and too young to represent us in Congress. Another one is allegedly not comfortable and generally avoids speaking English. How do we expect them to join discussions and represent us in Congress? Some candidates, including those running for the provincial board, mayor and other positions are hardly fit for the jobs they are longing to hold. With no credible credential or track record to boast, voters are left with nothing to base their votes on. Voters get a glimpse of who they are thru political ads and campaign sorties only. Some advertise themselves by being  visible at parties and other events  with lots of cash thrown away during kuratsa. But how does one really get to know the candidates? It is difficult but we just need to do our best to know them. We all should do our own research, encourage discussions with friends, read and get updates. Certainly, voters should not base their votes on how much money they receive from the candidates. This is a real challenge for people from poor provinces like Eastern Samar, where majority still live under the poverty line. Vote buying is illegal but it is a fact that voters expect money from candidates during election. Campaign leaders usually have a ‘List of Supporters’ which comprises the names of everyone who will receive money from their candidate. Politicians need to be shrewd and discerning as there are unscrupulous, self-proclaimed ‘campaign leaders’ who make a business out of these ‘lists’ by selling them to unsuspecting candidates. Since it seems that vote buying cannot be stopped or contained, we can only hope that voters who receive money can still decide to vote for the most qualified candidate. It is a sad reality that generally, candidates with low campaign funds are not seriously considered by voters.

Since candidates spend a lot of money to effectively campaign and buy votes, their first priority, as soon as they get elected, is to recoup the money they spent during elections. How? We all know it is thru the ’10% – 30% commission’ from projects. This is where the vicious cycle of corruption begins.

Hope for The Best

In light of all the scandals and anomalies surrounding our electoral processes, it is quite frustrating to think that we seem helpless and hopeless. Election in the Philippines has always been marred by rampant vote buying, voting machine tampering, overspending, and killings. Politically motivated killings have started early on for this coming election. In this administration, killings they say are inspired by the our leaders’ attitude towards destruction of life, and an atmosphere where no less than the highest official of the country publicly threatens to kill (even admitted to killing some), and pledges to pardon policemen involved in killings. Be that as it may, it is still our fervent hope that this coming election be uneventful, honest and peaceful.

So Rich Yet So Poor

A friend of mine from a northern part of the country once told me that the people of Eastern Samar are so blessed because the province is so rich in natural resources. Unlike his province where it is mostly mountains, Eastern Samar has so much to offer from its rich plain fields, vast virgin forrests, and the surrounding seas where aquatic food is abundant. He could not understand why our province is so poor. I told him my province has the misfortune of having an abundance of corrupt political leaders. This statement of mine is merely a reiteration of what one resource speaker told me in one tv program I attended in Manila when I asked why Eastern Samar is so impoverished.

 As Filipinos we need to vote wisely, for the sake of our beloved country. We should not vote for those who had been repeatedly elected and  given a lot of chances to improve our plight but miserably failed to do so. No report of their so-called accomplishments will erase the fact that our province still remains among the poorest.

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