IT’S BECOME nearly standard practice for NGOs and other groups to heap praises on the Filipino electorate in the aftermath of every election.
The puffery was especially pronounced after May 10, and consisted of two types: one praised the voters and the Commission on Elections for walking them through the first automated elections in the country’s history. The other praised the voters but not the Comelec, which some groups had been saying since about a year ago was neither adequately prepared nor preparing for the exercise.
The second approach was the more accurate, though only in its assessment of Comelec preparedness. Over a year ago that body was already being warned of the many pitfalls that awaited the exercise, among them the complexities of the technology involved. Among other imperatives, the technology had to be protected by a number of security protocols, many of which, for reasons of its own, the Comelec did not put in place. To use the same technology the teachers who would comprise the Boards of Election Inspectors also needed training, but got it late or not at all. The debate over the reliability of the results we’re currently witnessing in Congress is primarily fueled by the inadequacy of BEI training as well as security issues.
The praise lavished on the voters by both the media and the NGOs that in one way or another were involved in or monitored the elections is based on the electorate’s having supposedly made a problematic exercise successful. The voters are credited for their alleged militancy in guarding the ballot as well as for their dedication to democratic practice, which they allegedly demonstrated by standing in line for hours in the summer heat, and by keeping a watchful eye out for irregularities.
Unfortunately, the praise has a distinctly hollow ring to it once the results, which after all matter most, are examined. After standing in line for hours and finally managing to vote, the voting millions elected a President who spent most of his time in Congress as a spectator, and who’s sounding more and more like a petulant 50-year old boy who can’t stand the pressure of giving up smoking and living alone in Malacanang but who insists that he can stand the pressures of running an entire country. Granted that their second and third choices were worse: a convicted plunderer and a real estate magnate whose riches were built at least partly on the abuse of the powers of his office. But that still makes their first choice only the lesser evil — and could there be, among the nine who ran for the office this year, a choice who wasn’t?
The same voters, in stark demonstration of that inability to learn from experience that’s a constant theme in the history of this country, also voted into the Senate two movie actors noted for their cluelessness over public affairs, a creaky relic from the martial law period, a son of Joseph Estrada, and Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
A publicly acknowledged Estrada mistress the voters also elected mayor of San Juan, while a nephew is now governor of Laguna. Marcos Jr.’s sister Imee is now governor of Ilocos Norte, and his mother a member of the House of Representatives, where, together with Manny Pacquiao and such representatives of the marginalized as Mikey Arroyo, Mike Velarde, Angelo Reyes and a host of old time politicos and former military men, she should be in pleasant company as she and her children attempt to recover the Marcos billions from sequestration.
Let’s not forget that the same electorate also voted for Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as representative of the second district of Pampanga, so she can continue doing in the House of Representatives what she had been doing in Malacanang for the last nine years — i.e., destroying the country’s political, social and even religious institutions, and trying to amend the Constitution so she can come back as prime minister.
The mention of Pampanga should remind us all that the same electorate the NGOs have been praising threw out Ed Panlilio and put an Arroyo ally and rumored jueteng operator in his place, despite Panlilio’s sterling record as governor of Arroyo’s home province. Grace Padaca has also become an ex-governor, with her replacement by a member of the Dy dynasty in the long suffering province of Isabela.
Indeed what the voting millions accomplished in the last elections can be summed up in one phrase: they renewed the strength of the political dynasties by electing them in record numbers. Beyond the fetish over technology and the hype and beyond the self-boosterism, is the gruesome possibility that this country of tears will remain in the same situation as before under the rule of the same handful of families that have been leading it down the road to perdition for decades.
Despite the self-praise — and the condescending congratulatory messages from such countries as the United States, Japan, China and those of the European Union — the putrid results of May 10 are keeping the voters in the same category of dumbness as those in other countries who elect professional wrestlers governors, and porno queens members of Parliament.
Voter mis-education or total lack of education has often been blamed on the media. And yet this year, as media research and monitoring confirms, the major media players tried their best to put in place a number of initiatives, among them several fora, debates and public affairs specials, to educate the voters. Some also enlisted the help of citizen volunteers to watch for and report irregularities. Despite these programs and the efforts of a virtual constellation of NGOs, the results still reflect a level of voter ignorance — of history, of the issues, and of their own self-interest — that has hardly changed over the decades. Apparently change, no matter how often Filipinos and their alleged leaders proclaim their commitment to it, will elude this country most if it continues to rely on elections.