After living through three bad weeks, while on the way to a speaking engagement outside Manila it was my misfortune to be in the company of a local politician whose sentiments were firmly with the current national administration.

The normally one hour trip turned into two and a half hours because, over the protests of the vehicle driver, he insisted that we use a route other than that which most travelers to our destination know has cut travel time by half. That gave him a captive audience of three (there was one other passenger, in addition to the driver), and he made free with his opinions on the 2010 elections, the candidacy of Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, Philippine politics in general, the inadequacies of the Philippine electorate, and the current state of the media.

He claimed to be a broadcaster, since he once did radio commentary as part of his campaign for a local office. Apparently he thought that that was qualification enough for media criticism, and he launched into a long tirade against the media in general and broadcasting giant ABS-CBN in particular.

No one believes the media anymore, he said, because they are so obviously biased against the Arroyo administration. What’s more, media people are to a man and woman as corrupt as the media organizations they work for. The latter, he alleged, are owned by business interests that use the media to attack the government whenever they fail to land government contracts. The business groups of which media organizations are a part, he said, should be barred from bidding for government contracts via a law to that effect.

It was too late in the evening to go into the legal impediments to this suggestion, which include such a law’s being discriminatory. But that thought led him to making another suggestion, which was that prospective voters should be made to take what amounts to a political literacy test before they’re registered, because, he said, most voters, particularly the poor, have no inkling what the issues are and are too quick to accept the criticisms of the so-called opposition.

He said “so-called” because “there is no real opposition in this country” in the sense that what’s regarded as the opposition merely consists of a group of people who “criticize everything.” “You don’t have to be intelligent to be in the opposition,” he declared, implying that intelligence is an administration monopoly.

While past and recent administration statements, policies and actions would tend to suggest otherwise — that being in the administration may not be proof of a high IQ — it’s nevertheless true that it’s becoming more and more difficult to tell who and what constitutes the real opposition in this country. Senators Manuel Villar and Salvador Escudero, for example, once seemed to be part of the opposition, but have since lapsed into suspicious silence and evasive generalities about the Arroyo administration.

It is in this sense, not because “it’s easy to criticize,” that there is no real opposition in the country. As a result of the confusion caused by the ambiguity of the identities of Villar and company, such authentic oppositionists as Noynoy Aquino have been thrown into the same company as ersatz oppositionists who give real opposition a bad name through their glib refusal to really address such issues as the corruption and putrid governance that have characterized the Arroyo regime.

But there’s no getting through the trapo mind. Gilbert Teodoro, said our tin horn pol, will win in 2010 despite his low ratings in the most recent Social Weather Stations (SWS) public opinion survey. Teodoro’s numbers do not reflect his actual support, he continued. The opinion polls are rackets, the results of which are made to order by whoever can pay for them. Noynoy Aquino’s getting 60 percent approval as a presidential candidate for 2010 is “impossible” unless it was paid for — a claim to which I’m certain SWS and Pulse Asia would take ferocious exception, primarily because both have generally been accurate.

The only instance I can recall in which SWS made a mistake was in the results of its 2004 exit polls which said that Gloria Macapagal Arroyo would win over Fernando Poe Jr. in metro Manila. SWS has been accurate in probably more than 95 percent of the time, and accuracy is indispensable to its staying in business as well as its national and international reputation. If it’s true that it’s in business to make money — and it is, among other aims — no one would trust it again if it manipulated the results of its surveys.

But manipulation is the name of the game as far as the trapos are concerned, and our trapo-companion, apparently without realizing it, argued that it’s what wins elections, which is why he insisted that Teodoro will win whatever his numbers. He summed up what will assure that victory in two words: machinery and money, of which, he said with a laugh, Noynoy Aquino has none or little.

That this contradicted his claim that the Aquino coalition (he referred to it as Franklin Drilon’s group) had paid for the results of SWS’ September poll was apparently of no moment to him. Neither was the idea that if opinion polling is just another form of racketeering like police protection of gambling, drugs and prostitution, it is the administration that’s in the best position to get the highest numbers because it has the money to pay for results way beyond the 4 percent that Teodoro got in the September SWS survey.

The “machinery” our trapo was referring to was the administration coalition’s organization, which extends to the barangay level throughout the country, but to run which requires money –the “gold” in the “guns, goons and gold” formula that for decades has clinched elections for the moneyed and whatever group has access to fund sources, including public money. The implication: it’s not the people’s will, but the extent to which the politicians are able to put together a machinery to shepherd voters through the process, and to raise the money for that and other purposes, that decides who the country’s leaders will be. The result: a leadership that in addition to being corrupt is also unimaginative as well as inefficient, abusive as well as arrogant.

It’s a distressing thought — that it’s not democracy that we see at work every election period but sheer manipulation and wheeling and dealing. Unfortunately, the truth of it has been confirmed by decades of Philippine experience.

In the crucial crossroads that the 2010 elections are developing into, the contest will apparently be not only between the cynicism of the trapo mind on the one hand, and on the other, the hope that the will of the people will overcome the forces of money and entrenched power, but also between a way of doing things that has condemned this country to poverty and despair, and the possibility of beginning the long delayed process of moving towards the light from the darkness to which the trapos have consigned us.



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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  1. enjoyed your column in the 11 December (friday) __Business World__

    as a semi-resident foreign businessman, i don’t comment on local politics.

    I noticed that in the said column, you used the idiom “milling around”. HOw i wish that someone could tell me the correct colloquial idiomatic tagalog translation of this phrase. Bisaya also, if possible, as i am davao-based. Davao is NOT the most liveable city in the RP, it is the ONLY liveable city in this country.

    i do feel free to comment on economic matters. “Milling around” seems to be the predominant malayan approach to doing business. In all of Davao, there appears to be 3-4 malayan clans who understand targeted, focused, linear thinking in the business sphere. The rest of the population seems to think that business comprises putting the mediocre goods on display, then entreating passersby at random to purchase.

    So how do we translate “milling around”?

    PS. in the same issue, Ms Aurillo lamented the USA’s tendency to back the powerful clans as a methodology of gaining advantage. Quite true. On the other side of the coin, it’s not as though the Filipinos ever lifted a finger to help the americans to build up their indigenous supply of nurses…

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