THE candidates for the Senate will be focusing their energies in the coming week on getting the “command votes” of religious and other groups, said re-electionist Senator Gregorio Honasan of the supposedly, but not quite oppositionist, United Nationalist Alliance (UNA).

“Command votes,” said former Army Colonel Gregorio Honasan, “will prove crucial in getting the voters who are still undecided on their 12 choices (for senator) this late stage in the campaign.”

Senator Loren Legarda, who’s been leading in the surveys on who’re likely to make it to the Senate, agreed with Honasan. She said command votes, especially from religious organizations and political blocs in Mindanao “that are traditionally solid in their voting” are important in deciding the outcome of the elections.

Aurora Representative Juan Edgardo Angara of Team PNoy (the Liberal Party coalition), who’s running for the Senate for the first time, defined “command votes” as “those votes from large groups whether religious, sectoral, or political.”

What’s evident and hardly surprising is that these worthies (1) have a working understanding of what “command votes” are; and (2) agree that certain religious groups as well as political blocs are major sources of “command votes;” but (3) don’t seem to think that anything’s wrong with these groups’ control, no matter how putative, over the votes of their memberships.

Legarda did mention “political blocs” in Mindanao, but neither she nor her fellow candidates seemed oblivious to the fact that much of those Mindanao command votes are controlled by local warlords.

Neither did they seem to be losing any sleep on the possibility that the very existence of such votes contradicts, and in fact undermines, democratic precepts, particularly that one which mandates that every person no matter his station is entitled only to one vote.

If they do exist — meaning if, in certain organizations in which the leaders not only endorse candidates including themselves but also command their members to vote for them, and are obeyed — command votes endow warlords, local tyrants, religious leaders and political bigwigs with from several thousand to millions of votes more than what they are legally entitled to, namely exactly one each.

The Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC), whose alleged command votes have been and are courted by every candidate from President downwards during the country’s frequent elections, supposedly has control over 1.3 million votes, but claims more than that. Warlords aren’t so open, but depending on the areas over which they reign, they can control from a few thousand to several tens of thousands — or even several hundred thousand votes, as is the case with warlord clans with hundreds of family members running for this or that post in their feudal domains.

With 45 million Filipino Catholics of voting age, the Catholic Church is supposed to have the lion’s share of command votes. But that vote has often been dismissed as an illusion, the results of national elections during the last 20 years being contrary to Church mandate.

In 1992 the Church campaigned for the Catholic Ramon Mitra for President, but it was the Protestant Fidel Ramos who won. Again, in 1998, the Church warned against the “disaster” that a Joseph Estrada Presidency would be, but judging from the results, seems to have been ignored by the mostly Catholic electorate.

The Church has once again put on the block its command over the (probably non-existent) Catholic vote through the initiatives of certain bishops who have focused their energies on campaigning against those re-electionists from either House of Congress who voted for the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012, or the RH law as it’s more popularly known, and urging voters to support those who voted against it. It has also endorsed the candidates of a tiny, frankly Catholic political party with an unblemished record of defeats.

But the likely result is that none of these will matter, just as the Church position didn’t matter when the RH bill was being discussed in Congress, during which, because some 77 percent of Filipinos said they favored it, the bill handily passed both Houses and was promptly signed into law by Aquino III.

As for the INC, its choices for the Senate seem to reflect what were, to begin with, already the choices of its membership, among whom it usually conducts a survey every election season. Come election day, the results are likely to reflect the INC “command” over the voters even if they were from the beginning its members’ choices. The result, as it has been for decades, is to strengthen the popular and the politicians’ belief that the INC does have command over the votes of its voting members, which makes the courting of INC mandatory for many candidates.

What’s important is not whether there’s a Catholic or even an INC vote, but whether the individual members of each church in the end vote according to their conscience. That seems to be validated by a UP College of Mass Communication study in 2011 in which from 70 to 80 percent of those interviewed said they would vote for their own rather than their church’s choices.

If that’s the good news, the bad is that the votes that do seem to be under the control of a few individuals are those in the warlord zones of Mindanao and certain areas in the Ilocos provinces, Abra, and other provinces, where voters are either too intimidated, too ignorant of the issues, or both, to cast votes contrary to the wishes of local warlords and political kingpins.

These are the places where the one-man-one-vote principle doesn’t apply. One man or woman can have command over several thousand, or even several hundred thousand votes because of his or her clan’s control over the communities in its spheres of power. That kind of control amounts to the disenfranchisement of those whose votes even before election day have already been appropriated by local tyrants.

The command votes many candidates are courting make an even worse mockery of democratic choice. Already undermined by such pressures as vote- buying; voter intimidation and lack of information; the sheer absence of choices between candidates who say the same thing and who even look like each other; and complicated by the creative ways some politicians are developing or have already developed to subvert the people’s will despite automation, a Philippine election has become more of a problem than a solution.


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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