We’ve all heard it before, and we’re hearing it again. Philippine elections are popularity contests in which issues don’t matter. The political parties are no more than bands of opportunists who have come together out of pure self-interest. And they stand for nothing, whereas they should be united by programs based on common ideologies.

This is not entirely accurate. Philippine political parties may not have ideologies, but they do have an ideology. It’s the ideology of the wealthy and the powerful, of those who benefit the most from the way things are.

That despite the poverty, the injustice and the misery, Philippine society is still the best of all worlds is a given for this minority. They’re not poor, they’re not miserable, and suffer no injustice. They’re rich and happy, and as far as justice is concerned, why, they get more than their fair share of it. If accused of a crime they need only hire a good lawyer, and/or bribe a judge to get off. Even if convicted they can go on leaves from prison to visit relatives or celebrate holidays. All’s right with the world.

Not so with the majority, but who really cares? Not the political class, whose members have been ruining this country since the 1930s. Its more astute representatives do pay lip service to solving poverty and to providing social services, as well as to the need for progress, development, universal decency, goodwill, piety, reconciliation, etc.–all the motherhood statements known to man, woman, or beast. But that’s as far as it goes. After all, if the many have never had it so bad, the few have never had it so good.

There’s no talk of ideologies or programs among the mainstream parties and during Philippine elections because the ideology pro status quo is taken for granted. Those who don’t agree with that ideology can count on the police and the military to bash their heads in, file sedition charges against them, look the other way when they’re assassinated–or even encourage, abet, fund and carry out their elimination. All in the name of democracy, of course, a concept about which the political class and its minions haven’t the foggiest, but to which they constantly refer after the usual paeans to God and Country.

The question of ideology being a settled one, all that’s left is who can manipulate an electorate best kept ignorant. The traditional politician’s unstated argument for voter ignorance is that if the electorate knew better it wouldn’t elect the Nograleses, the Defensors and the Pichays, or the de Castros and the Arroyos to any post that involves any responsibility beyond cutting ribbons to dog shows. Thus the steadfast refusal of the politicos to say anything literate, and their determination to pander to the worst instincts of the citizenry by singing and dancing their way to Congress or Malacanang.

If at all they do take place, the May elections will be no better, and it is futile to expect them to be anything but the ghost of elections past. The commentators have duly noted the all too ominous signs.

There’s the party-switching, for example. There’s talk about a huge exodus from administration ranks to the opposition’s that could be the equivalent of Moses’ leading the Israelites out of Egypt–due, no doubt, to the surveys which uniformly predict the rout of regime candidates this May. There are also the usual actors and other media personalities banking on their popularity to make it to Congress.

To expect things to be different is to raise expectations to a level this country is unaccustomed. The so-called political parties, except for the party list groups, will welcome anyone and anything they think can win; the would-be candidates will join any group they think can help them do that; and the celebrities will use their media exposure while vending soap or endorsing floor tiles as their entry point to law-making.

But there is one small mercy for which Filipinos can be thankful. It is the elections’ shaping up, as early as now, into a referendum on the putrid rule of the Arroyo regime. Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay said the opposition’s lead (or only) issue is Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her administration. The sole condition for anyone’s contesting House of Representatives seats under the United Opposition (UNO) banner is that he or she be committed to the impeachment of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Binay continued.

Binay and company were criticized for statements like these, and not only by Malacanang either. After all, there’s the Visiting Forces Agreement among the issues that should be discussed; US-Philippines relations in general; the peace talks with such groups as the National Democratic Front and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front; the political and journalists’ killings that have put the Philippines on the radar screens of international media and human rights groups; the urgent needs of Philippine education not only for funding but for thoroughgoing reform; and, on a grander scale, what could be the Philippine strategy for development, what role foreign relations should play in it, etc., etc.

But the critics while right also have it wrong. At the center of all these issues is the Arroyo regime, whose one achievement is its policies’ being uniformly anti-democratic, anti-people, and anti-Filipino. In this sense the regime may have actually done the political system a favor by making the May elections not only a popularity contest and an orgy of party-switching, but also an occasion for a debate on everything that it has done wrong, and what remedies are available to the long-suffering Filipino people. Some good may yet come out of the bad. As used as Filipinos are to low expectations, they should thank God for small mercies.

(Business Mirror)

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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