Thanks to the politicians, but with no little help from the citizenry itself, the May elections are turning into one more futile exercise in a country world-renowned for the vanity of much that it does.

But the elections are no circus; they’re not as entertaining. What they are in terms of substance is an immense bore, primarily because of the skill with which every performer has avoided addressing what these elections are really all about.

As if by mutual agreement, both regime and opposition candidates for Senator have focused on the particular bills, down to the last paragraph, that they’d like to sponsor once elected, rather than on the issues of the hour. Among those issues are the gross abuse of power, the re-emergence of the police and the military as instruments of terror, the extra-judicial killings and human rights violations, the assault on the Bill of Rights—the return of authoritarian rule–that the Arroyo regime has driven like splinters into this country’s heart.

To this your average citizen responds with a yawn and a shrug and goes about the daily business of survival. But if much of the electorate is not beside itself with passion, it’s because these elections, much like American TV sitcoms, don’t seem to be about anything that matters, or even about anything at all. Whatever their outcome, things will go on as before: it will be business as usual.

And yet what they’re about is the future of democracy in this part of the planet. A regime victory in the House and the Senate will not only assure Mrs. Arroyo and company’s remaining in power until 2010 and even beyond. Such a “mandate,” even if achieved through fraud, money, and terrorism, will also provide the regime the pretext to complete– via constitutional amendments, the Anti-Terrorism Act (renamed, for PR reasons, as the Human Security Act) and anything else it can devise or concoct– the restoration of authoritarian rule it began in 2006.

Few of the regime’s leading lights are unaware of that game plan. In what was certainly a Marcosian slip (and in the presumption that things will not remain the same for the regime after May, they will be better), Defense Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane has declared that the regime “will intensify” its “anti-terror” campaign in July, when the Anti-Terrorism Act takes effect. Other regime creatures have also coyly suggested that they’ll be “defending democracy” with more rigor come July.

“Defending democracy” is a phrase whose meaning is fast becoming its opposite, much like “salvaging.” It will mean more of the same: more of the killings, the arbitrary arrests, the violent dispersal of public assemblies, the threats against the media that add up to an aggressive campaign to dismantle what little remains of what the regime claims to be defending.

Meanwhile, if the opposition has failed to make the electorate aware of this dismal scenario, it’s likely due to some of its own members’ opportunism. Ironic that precisely because they fear a regime victory, some oppositionists are wary of antagonizing Mrs. Arroyo and company should they focus on what a regime victory will mean. They’ve seen enough in the last six years to know what she and her police and military allies are capable of, and they’re prepared to make peace with her during the usual “reconciliation” phase of the post-election period. They don’t call them “traditional” and “politicians” for nothing.

True children of the vile political system that has run this country into the ground, both regime and opposition politicians are in a de facto conspiracy to dismantle the democracy allegedly restored in 1986. That is why the regime is literally and figuratively getting away with murder, including the extra judicial murder of such State institutions as the Commission on Elections, a Constitutional body that’s right in there pitching for the regime—for example by accrediting at least 22 party list groups headed by various lowlifes in and out of government.

There is also its loyalist military, whose involvement and participation in assuring the victory of its bosses is the precondition for its recapturing its martial law standing as the dominant—and well-endowed– power broker in the country of Filipino afflictions.

Regime honchos also declare without shame that their candidates for the Senate will sweep the elections because of the “command votes” they have at their disposal, and the “well-oiled machinery” they’ve put in place. The regime’s own Secretary of Justice—a square peg in a round hole if there ever was one—has declared that he’ll provide a P10,000 “incentive” to every barangay (village) leader who delivers a 12-0 regime victory in the Senate elections.

They forget—as if they ever knew—that elections are about free choice, and that being commanded who to vote for, or being chewed up by a machinery “well-oiled” by public funds, manpower and other resources, denies voters that right, as does bribing community leaders to coerce, cajole, or persuade voters to vote for their chosen candidates.

They—and this includes the current occupants of Malacanang and their creatures in the civilian and military bureaucracies– also forget that it’s all illegal. But not to worry: legality has become of little moment during the interminable dominance of a regime that more than any other in Philippine history has learned a crucial lesson from the sorry record of Philippine governance since 1946: you can bend, twist and break the law while citing it so long as you have the guns. As for the citizens, never mind them. In these elections they remain as clueless as ever, and are likely to be as silent as lambs being led to the slaughter in the aftermath.


Luis V. Teodoro

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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