The eternal “only”

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ANOTHER event that in this country comes almost as often as its fun-filled fiestas is over, and everyone’s happy – or at least appears to be, except those few, pesky critics of the way things are done in this earthly paradise. The Commission on Elections is happy. Malacanang is happy. The Philippine National Police is happy. The Armed Forces of the Philippines is happy. The winning candidates are happy. Even the voters are happy.

The elections were “successfully held,” says the Comelec — and what election in the Philippines isn’t, and when was the last time anyone said otherwise? “Only” 200 to 300 of its 78,000 plus Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines hiccupped, rejecting ballots being fed into them, or even refusing to turn on, in some instances requiring the use of the latest high-tech Comelec device — e.g., broom handles — to fix, in others being consigned to wherever and whatever technological junk pile the Comelec has designated in advance (they knew some of them would fail; that’s why they bought them — which makes sense in the Comelec parallel universe).

The Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting’s Henrietta de Villa, who fought hard in 2010 to be designated the Comelec’s citizen arm, similarly dismissed the failure of some PCOS machines — some 400 of them, she said — as a “minor” bug. Forget about the 200,000 or so voters disenfranchised by the PCOS machines’ failures, and how much those uncast ballots could have made a difference in who won or lost in some localities. That’s “only” 200,000, after all, and who’s counting and who cares?

Not the Comelec and certainly not the PPCRV. If both the Comelec and PPCRV were content, Malacanang was delighted over the looming nine to three win of Benigno Aquino III’s Team PNoy, and ecstatic over the poll showing of Grace Llamanzares Poe, who’s leading in the Senate polls despite the predictions of survey group (don’t call it a firm) Social Weather Stations — which incidentally didn’t seem too pleased with the way its prediction that Loren Legarda would lead the Senate polls turned out to be as flawed as its claim in 2004 that Gloria Macapagal Arroyo would beat Fernando Poe Jr. in Manila. But not to worry: that’s “only” two predictions SWS has made that’s turned sour — or is it?

As usual, the ever upbeat Philippine National Police described the elections as “peaceful,” with “only a few” — i.e., 52 — people killed. The Armed Forces echoed the sentiment, despite the occasional grenade-bombing, assassination, beatings, harassments and other incidents across this peaceful, fun-loving , archipelago. Their message: let’s not be overly critical by saying that one assassination is an assassination too many, and makes claims of “peaceful” elections totally misleading.

As for the electorate, there are signs of happiness even from that amorphous mass, with some voters once again declaring, as most Filipinos are wont to do, how great Filipinos are even in adversity, how well they once again performed their civic duty.

The result of all this is there for all except the willfully blind to see.

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo handily won reelection as the Representative of Pampanga’s second district, she being the lone candidate. Imelda Marcos ditto in her home province of Leyte. Joseph Estrada is the mayor-elect of Manila, in a contest the media described as between Dirty Harry (Alfredo Lim) and Asyong Salonga (Estrada): that is, between a crypto-fascist and a gangster. At least one Estrada ex-mistress is an incoming mayor, and two sons likely to be in Congress, where brothers and sisters will be in ample evidence come July.

As for the Senate, the list of likely winners for the twelve slots in that once august body, down the halls of which Tanada, Laurel, Diokno and Recto used to stride, reads like a Filipino version of Burke’s Peerage.

Nancy Binay’s impending proclamation, and that of a brother and a sister in Makati, as well as her Mama’s, portends Papa Jejomar’s moving into the appropriately named Presidential Palace in 2016. There are so many Binays in government they might as well take out a patent for holding public office — except that they’re not alone, the Estrada-Ejercitos and the Ampatuans, among other clans, being their likely competitors.

Down south in the land of broken promises called Mindanao, dozens of candidates surnamed Ampatuan made it, including one who’s in the list of those accused in the November 23, 2009 massacre of 58 men and women including 32 journalists and media workers; the wife of another creature accused of masterminding the massacre; and some who even ran under the Team PNoy of Maguindanao Governor Esmael Magundadatu, who lost his wife and some women relatives in the same bloodbath. But that’s ok, “only” a few of the winners being among the “bad” Ampatuans, so say — who else, but the “good” Ampatuans?

It’s easy enough to apportion blame — or credit, if you’re a politician waiting to be proclaimed — for election results that keep putting in public office plunderers, human rights violators, warlords, looters of the public treasury, incompetents, clowns, even a murderer or two, and other creatures from the black lagoon called Philippine politics.

There are the voters, who, no matter how often they’re told to vote wisely still don’t. Many can hardly wait until it’s time for another election because it’s their only opportunity to sell the only thing they have that’s worth anything, and that’s their vote. These are the same people who whine about high prices, absent jobs and social services, demolitions, police beatings, and the many other ills Filipino flesh is heir to, but who on election day happily turn the country over to the very same scoundrels responsible for the poverty, injustice and mass misery that’s been its lot for 300 years.

Of course there are also the political clans who’ve made elections in this country an every- three-year ceremony during which they’re re-anointed like the crowned heads of Europe. And let’s not forget the Comelec and its so-called citizens’ arm who can’t see anything wrong with what they’re doing because they’re doing it, and the police and the military who every three years proclaim that everything’s ok, because only a few were killed, and who won’t say otherwise because they’ll be rightly blamed for the lawlessness that’s rampant in this country whatever the season.

But above all this looms a level of satisfaction, even of happiness, with politics, governance, and practically everything else so low it defies standards. It’s exemplified in the “only” syndrome, which sees virtue even in the worst of cases, including political assassinations, mass disenfranchisement, and dynastic dominance. And it’s what makes both governor and governed conspirators in the making of the putrid governance that’s kept this country in the dark ages while its neighbors leap into the 21st century.

(BusinessWorld)

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