BOTH in terms of how they’re being conducted and their possible results, the elections of 2013 are shaping up as expected.
Name recall and membership in a well-known political family are what most of the leading candidates for senator have in common. That’s in addition to huge war chests, of which a significant portion is being poured into political ads, particularly after the Supreme Court struck down the Commission on Elections resolution limiting media ad exposure to 120 minutes each.
Among the latter are candidates who don’t conceal — and who have never concealed ever since they started running in 2007– their religious loyalties in their pursuit of public office in this officially secular Republic. Unfortunately, their loss at the polls in 2007 and 2010, and their impending rout this May, are proving several times over that there’s no such thing as a Catholic vote — or even the Catholic command vote the bishops think can be mobilized against those who voted for the RH bill. And that’s no matter how anxious their efforts have been to pander to that mythical bloc by declaring that they’re against divorce, same sex marriage, and providing couples information on how to plan their families through the Responsible and Reproductive Health Act of 2012.
Meanwhile, the incidents of violence that have characterized local elections since 1947 are occurring with more and more frequency as election day approaches, while in the warlord- dominated localities there’s hardly any question who’re going to prevail come May.
Maguindanao is a case in point. Dozens of candidates surnamed Ampatuan are running in that impoverished province for various posts, in some instances in alliance with Governor Esmael Mangudadatu’s Liberal Party coalition. Mangudadatu lost his wife and several women relatives in the November 23 Ampatuan massacre of 58 men and women including 32 journalists and media workers, but it’s winning that counts, right? And as in 2010, or barely six months after what has been described as the worst election-related massacre in this country and the worst attack on journalists ever, most if not all are expected to win hands down.
It’s also in the localities where voter cluelessness about the issues, and their consequent focus on who can sing and dance to their amusement in addition to which candidate come election day is likely to share the wealth he or she hopes to amass once in office, is most pronounced. Part of the reason is the local media’s being populated by candidate-owned newspapers and radio stations and the persistence of that phenomenon known as radio and TV block-timing either by those in the candidate’s payroll, or even by the candidate himself.
And yet, there’s no denying the efforts of some of the major media players to make these elections different in terms of the candidates’ addressing the issues, and by introducing lesser known candidates to the voters. While the leading, error-prone Manila broadsheet has been devoting its pages to the latest chapter in the unending saga of Kris Aquino’s love-life, the major networks are leading what amounts to a quixotic campaign to make the elections meaningful, even if they do relish reporting on Kris Aquino too.
They’re expending so much effort on the elections that they’re threatening to push the major Manila broadsheets into second, even third place relevance, as the TV networks’ radio affiliates air their own election specials in addition to broadcasting the election-related programs of their TV counterparts.
Although you can always find someone in Twitter or Facebook who will say so, the facts say otherwise: the media have never been the only culprits in the making of elections that in terms of relevance to the on-the-ground concerns of the people of this country — led by the overwhelming reality of mass poverty and its consequences in terms of the poor’s limited access to education and health care — are practically meaningless.
The disturbing possibility is that the media are not even the main offenders. As focused as some media organizations have been since 2010 in selling the elections as an important event, and their consequent effort to make them meaningful by presenting the electorate with possible alternatives to the usual political dynasts, the wealthy and the popular, they can only do so much if the product itself is flawed.
If the 2013 elections are about as boring as a detective novel whose ending has been revealed even before the reading, it’s because their outcomes, as well as the way the campaign is being conducted, have become as predictable as a fairy tale in which the princess and the prince charming live happily ever after. Despite all the claims about consumer gullibility, it’s still difficult if not impossible to sell a defective product.
The shoddy goods Philippine elections have become would still sell if real alternatives to the predictable outcomes — i.e., candidates other than the moneyed, the popular, the already powerful and whose programs are limited to motherhood statements — were truly available.
But most of the so-called alternatives in the 2013 elections are alternatives only in name. They would be otherwise and truly authentic alternatives if (1) they had at least a ghost of a chance in winning; and (2) they had doable programs and platforms based on a sane assessment and criticism of the current state of Philippine society rather than a desire to transport it to some dim, romanticized past when all the men were brave and every woman virtuous.
As it is, most of the so-called alternatives, when asked about their intentions once in the Senate, for example, talk as if they were either living on another planet, or yearning for those days when Church and State were one and the Church was dominant in the relationship. Either that, or they can’t express themselves in any language known to man or beast. That in most cases the “alternatives” have neither the one quality nor the other doesn’t make them alternatives. That makes them — what’s the Comelec’s phrase? — nuisance candidates.