Category Archives: elections

Election fraud in the United States

It’s already election season in the Philippines! It is expected that all political parties will adopt the winning strategies of global superstar Barack Obama. Gasbag pundits (Michael Moore’s term) of Manila will probably cite the efficient and democratic election system of mighty United States to highlight the backward election culture in the Philippines. It is not wrong to study and copy the positive aspects of America’s electoral structure. But the intelligentsia and the bureaucrats should not forget to mention that the U.S. election system is far from perfect. It’s only fair that the public is informed that screwball politicians are also manipulating election results in democratic America.

There are many myths surrounding the recent U.S. presidential election. The most famous myth was that Obama relied on the grassroots to finance his campaign. It is only partly true. Obama’s party did receive many small checks worth $20, $30, or $50 from his loyal supporters. But big corporations (including Wall Street banks) contributed the most to Obama’s campaign kitty. He also benefited from "bundling" – the practice of a supporter packaging checks from other donors. In the end, Obama gathered more donations than his main rival.

There are Filipino commentators who insist that America’s voting machines prevented bad elements from changing the election results. Maybe. But in Nassau County of New York, 85 percent of the ballot-marking devices were found to be defective. In San Francisco, supervisors wanted to change the voting machines used in the local polls because they were substandard. Those who casted their votes early were shocked to discover that their votes for Obama went to John Mccain in West Virgina and Texas.

Disenfranchisement of voters seems to be the most popular form of election fraud in the U.S. A few weeks before election day, McCain accused an advocacy group of committing "one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country." Voters can be targeted for disenfranchisement by partisan groups. This practice is known as ‘voter caging.” In 2000 thousands of Florida voters were purged from voter rolls which guaranteed the victory of George Bush.

Minority groups have always been discriminated during elections. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, only propertied classes were given the right to vote. When all adult citizens were finally allowed to vote, politicians complained that there is widespread cheating in African-American villages. They exaggerated cases of fraud in these communities to prevent the counting of votes of the minorities. These forms of discrimination are still visible today. According to IssueLab, “an estimated 5 million people were ineligible to vote in the November election, including nearly 4 million who reside in the 35 states that still prohibit some combination of persons on probation, parole, and/or people who have completed their sentence from voting.” Malas mo na lang kung palagi kang kaaway ng batas.

The articles written by Mark Crispin Miller and Hans A. von Spakovsky for the Wall Street Journal (Will This Election Be Stolen?) provide many grand examples of electoral cheating.

For instance, George Washington won a contest for the Virginia House of Burgesses after buying gallons of liquor for voters. Lyndon Johnson cheated to win during his first election to the Senate in 1948. His victory margin of 87 votes was achieved through ballot fraud.

The notorious Richard Daley, former Chicago Mayor, was able to develop an effective voting machine which could tamper election results. In 1960 Illinois was won by John F. Kennedy because Daley rigged the election in Chicago. The turnout in the city was almost 90 percent. But the Republicans also rigged the results in nearby DuPage Country where voter turnout was an impressive 93 percent. Still, there has been no recent case which surpassed New York City’s 135 percent turnout in 1844.

Here are two cases which are eerily familiar to Filipinos: An FBI agent discovered that "names and addresses of ‘voters’ (in Gary, Indiana) turned out to be vacant lots where there had never been a house, or the house had been torn down years before the ‘person’ was registered." In 2004 the Milwaukee Police Department found out that 5,217 "students" were registered as voters in a college dormitory that only houses 2,600 students.

Our praise for the clean, swift, and impressive American electoral system must be tempered by acknowledging that we are not adequately informed about the flaws which infect the voting culture in America. We should not stop the search for appropriate election practices which suit the needs of the Philippines. We should reconsider our blind faith on the kind of electoral democracy which we inherited from our former colonial master. We should not always worship American politicians and their political practices. We should be critical, judgmental, harsh. In many ways, Filipino politicians are not the worst of their kind in this world.

Redefining the “Obama effect”

Links: A veteran Burmese journalist criticizes bloggers. Opposing the use of breastmilk in ice cream products in Singapore. Vegetarian festival in Thailand. Local software industry in Indonesia.

Southeast Asia celebrates Obama’s victory and Indonesia: Execution of Bali bombers – posts written for Global Voices.

New pictures in my webshots album: click here and here.

This is how many progressives view U.S. president-elect Barack Obama: Despite his African-American heritage, he belongs to the ruling elite of the United States.

Obama went to the finest U.S. schools, where future global leaders are educated. His membership in the Democratic Party means his values, lifestyle, and worldview are acceptable to the ruling class.

Obama can articulate a forceful platform for change without provoking antagonism from conservative and reactionary forces. Obama is not a threat to the establishment, so he was allowed to win. This is an objective assessment of Obama, the politician.

There is another way to analyze Obama’s victory, however. Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci said that when a state suffers from a crisis of hegemony, the situation becomes “delicate and dangerous” and opens the field for “charismatic men of destiny.”

He added: “When the crisis does not find an organic solution, but that of the charismatic leader, it means that a static equilibrium exists; it means that no group, neither the conservatives nor the progressives, has the strength for victory, and that even the conservative group needs a master.”

More importantly, Gramsci pointed out that the rise of a charismatic leader is a symptom of the “immaturity of progressive forces.”

This analysis is applicable to the political situation in the United States. Obama emerged victorious because he was the leader who somehow offered a solution to the crisis of hegemony that is threatening the dominant social relations in the United States. Also, the political mass movement has yet to gain considerable strength in the United States, which allowed popular bourgeois leaders like Obama to become successful.

Obama is not a leftist leader. He may be called socialist by his adversaries but he is not that kind of political animal. He is not “that one.” If Obama does not belong to the radical bloc, should the radical bloc reject him and his brand of politics? Instead of giving a categorical answer of yes or no, let me discuss the impact of Obama and his candidacy on global politics.

Since his resounding election victory, Obama has become a global symbol of hope. When was the last time the world looked upon a single person as an ambassador of hope and change? Pope John Paul II and Nelson Mandela seem to be the closest examples of great global leaders who inspired many to be forces of good in the modern era.

Obama is already a believable and effective agent of good. Different political forces will try to lead Obama to their sides. The grassroots must act fast. They should try to influence the new leader by highlighting the values practiced by Obama, the community organizer; not Obama, the friend of big business. To paraphrase a philosopher, Obama’s potential radical legacy is much too precious to be left to the fundamentalist freaks.

Obama can be made to be an icon of the minorities battling an oppressive status quo. He has already created ripples in the global political pond. His victory was not only welcomed around the world, it also led many people to reflect about the political conditions in their countries.

For example, an Indonesian blogger wonders whether Indonesians will vote an Obama-like candidate:

"If there is an ‘Obama’ in our country, will we be able to spot him? Or better yet, will we vote for him? In Indonesia, that would make our ‘Obama’ half native Indonesian and half Chinese. Let’s just say, our ‘Obama’ has a Javanese mother from Solo, Central Java, and an Indonesian-Chinese father with ancestors from Fujian province, China.”

A Malaysian politician also makes a similar comment:

"Obama’s historic breakthrough leads many Malaysians to ask whether it is possible for a Chinese, Indian, Kadazan to become the prime minister of Malaysia, although the Constitution is very clear that any Malaysian citizen, regardless of race or religion can become prime minister.

"There will be strong voices who would rise up to say no. Why is Malaysian race relations and nation-building going backwards in the past 50 years as compared to the historic breakthrough in race relations in the United States with Obama’s historic victory in the U.S. presidential elections?"

Obama’s victory is “dangerous” to the status quo because many people are now entertaining subversive ideas. Minorities are now more inspired to challenge the leadership in many countries. The campaign slogan of “change” may be overused in America but in other countries, the mere mention of the word invites state repression.

Obama has energized young people to believe in their idealism and their readiness to shake the foundations of political institutions. Obama has this effect on global politics. This should be welcomed.

In the end, it will be Obama himself who will define his authentic political legacy. He has the chance to bring America closer to the rest of the world. He can deliver great political and economic reforms demanded by workers and the global poor. But if in the future he decides to abandon the crusade for change, then it will become clear that his role in history was to appease the restless masses during these troubled times and distract the working people from mounting bolder political actions which could have brought down the ruling order. History then will not be kind on him.

Related entries:

US meddler
youth vote
gameplan

ARMM and poll automation

Links: Modern architecture in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Save Malacca Straits Project. Singapore freeze. Private and public schools in Brunei.

Yehey photos, and look for me.

President Gloria Arroyo supports the proposal to postpone the elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. This is a cue for administration lawmakers to immediately pass a law that would postpone the polls once Congress reopens on Monday. This is possible. Last year the first act of Congress was to postpone the barangay and SK elections.

If the ARMM polls are to be postponed, the poll automation program of the Commission on Elections will not be pilot tested on a bigger geographical/regional setting. The Comelec and election reform advocates are hoping that the lessons culled from using the new voting and counting machines in the ARMM polls will be used to prepare for the very important 2010 national elections. I fear that the delay in the ARMM polls will be cited by traditional politicians and political dynasties to call for the cancellation of the poll automation in 2010.

If there is a common thread in the brief (or long) history of poll automation in the country, it is the unbelievable, almost silly, series of flip-flops in implementing the election modernization law. Politicians were able to concoct numerous arguments in order to derail poll automation which justified the continued use of the fraud-prone manual system of voting.

History of (non) automation

Below is a timeline of the campaign to automate Philippine elections:

1995 – Republic Act 8046 authorizes pilot testing of a Computerized Election System in the ARMM.

1996 – Pilot test succeeds. Many have already forgotten this successful pilot testing of a computerized system of elections in the country.

1997 – Republic Act 8436 authorizes use of an Automated Election System beginning with the 1998 elections. However, the law was passed on December 1997. The Comelec claimed it was too late to prepare for the May 1998 polls.

1998 – Due to lack of time, only the elections in Lanao Del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi were automated. The results were successful in all provinces except Sulu. There was a slight problem with the voting ballots (not voting machines) in Sulu. The Sulu fiasco convinced many people about the many flaws of an automated system of elections.

2001 – Automation project stalled due to repeated failed biddings. And of course, the convenient excuse: lack of time to prepare for the 2001 midterm polls. Should we blame the Edsa Dos?

2004 – Automation project stalled due to the Supreme Court decision (January 2004) which annulled the contract with suppliers. More than 1,000 voting machines were shelved. Remember the late night news report which showed the gloomy face of then Comelec chairman Benjamin Abalos after he met with the president in Malacanang Palace? According to news reports, he was ready to resign as Comelec head due to the failed automation project but he was persuaded to remain in the poll body.

2005 – The SC denied the request of Comelec to operate the unused voting machines in the 2005 ARMM elections.

2006 – No budget for automation project because of a re-enacted national budget.

2007 – Still no budget for automation. RA 9369 amends RA 8436 and allows the use of several voting technologies. But Comelec’s Advisory Council advised against implementation of the RA 9369 in the May 2007 polls, citing lack of time. The new law was not implemented in the barangay elections since no consolidation of election results was required. Comelec also said hand counting is faster due to small size of voters in the barangay polls.

ARMM elections

The 2008 ARMM elections is the best time to test the Comelec’s new voting and counting machines. Comelec will gain valuable experience or expertise in operating the machines. A successful automated ARMM election will prove to everyone the necessity of automating the 2010 presidential elections.

Two voting technologies will be used in next month’s ARMM elections – Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) in Maguindanao, and Optical Mark Reader (OMR) in Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi. More than 3,000 DRE machines and 156 OMR counting machines will be delivered to ARMM.

According to Comelec, “DRE uses electronic ballot, records votes by means of a ballot display provided with mechanical or electro optical components that can be activated by the voter, processes data by means of a computer program, records voting data and ballot images, and transmits voting results electronically.”

I think the DRE system is more reliable than OMR which still uses paper ballots. But DRE is more expensive which explains why it will be deployed only in Maguindanao. On the other hand, the OMR process has lower requirements in hardware.

The Comelec expects to proclaim a new set of ARMM officers in 36 hours after the closing of voting centers.

Comelec admits that poll automation will not end electoral cheating in the country. The OMR system will prevent vote padding but vote shaving is possible (Walang dagdag, pero mayroong bawas). Filipino politicians are creative; they will find evil but clever ways to tamper the results of the automated elections. But this is not an argument to abandon the poll automation program. It is a challenge to everyone to be more vigilant in safeguarding the sanctity of the voting process.

Congress should think twice before postponing the ARMM polls. If the postponement of elections is really crucial for the peace talks, then Comelec must be ready to pilot test the voting machines this year. A special election, a plebiscite, a snap election should be held in lieu of the ARMM polls. A presidential snap election?

Related entries:

ARMM situationer
2007 election events
All power to the barangays

Survey says

Opinion polls are indispensable in the consumer industry. Poll firms conduct several studies on consumer behavior which guide companies in adopting appropriate strategies to increase sales. Market studies are used by advertising firms to inform clients how to get the public to buy their products.

Opinion polls are also important in Philippine politics. During elections, reputable survey firms are ranked with major TV networks as among the most influential actors in the political arena. Some politicians even want to ban election surveys which they think are indirectly influencing public opinion. This is not altogether an imprecise assertion. Many Filipinos prefer to vote the winning candidates. If they think their preferred leader will lose, they sometimes end up voting the inferior but more popular candidate.

It is not only during election time that survey firms become controversial. Last year, the government questioned survey results which showed the peoples’ dissatisfaction with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Surveys also revealed that the president was perceived by many people to be the most corrupt leader of the country. Self-rated poverty and hunger surveys were also not agreeable to the administration. As expected, the unpleasant survey results were used by the opposition to malign the president.

Surveys are helpful to understand consumer behavior and public opinion. But they can also be misleading and they can be easily used for contemptible purposes. Survey data can be wrongfully interpreted to suit the selfish interests of scrupulous individuals or groups.

Survey results should not be accepted as gospel truth. There are proposed rules for reading surveys. These rules can guide the public to make reasonable interpretation of survey data. Four years ago, political analyst Billy Esposo emailed an article (“The 7 Rules for Reading Surveys”) which I believe is still relevant today.

1. “Check who’s conducting the survey.” The Social Weather Station, Ibon Foundation and Pulse Asia are the major polling firms. Remember the name of the poll agency which predicted the landslide victory of presidential candidate Jose De Venecia in 1998?

2. “Check who’s sponsoring the survey.” Political surveys are usually commissioned by third parties. Last year, it was revealed that an opposition leader financed a survey whose results proved damaging to the credibility of President Arroyo. In every survey, we must determine the sponsors whether they are allies of Malacañang, the opposition, or media companies. Sometimes, this can clarify the extent of partisanship of a particular study.

3. “Surveys are snapshots of opinion.” People always change their opinions. The same question may yield different results at different times. Raul Roco was the survey frontrunner in 2003; then Fernando Poe Jr. topped the surveys in early 2004; but exit polls showed President Arroyo as the winner in the race. Before the campaign period, surveys showed that Mar Roxas was outside the winning circle in the senate race. On election day, he was already the top candidate.

4. “Sampling matters.” This is a technical matter. Let me quote a portion of the article:

“The only reliable surveys use a sampling method known as stratified, random sampling. Respondents to the survey are typically drawn randomly from all socioeconomic classes and all regions. For an (election) survey to make any sense, all respondents should be aged 18 and above and be registered voters. All respondents are given face-to-face interviews. Some, if not all, may have been interviewed over the phone. It should be noted that random samples allow for inferential statistics; that is, a pollster may make a projection from the data to cover the entire population. Non-scientific samples allow for only descriptive statistics; that is, they only describe the opinion or behavior of the survey group.”

5. “Margins of error.” Survey results have a margin of error. It is usually plus/minus 3 percent. A candidate with a 2 percent lead over his/her closest rival is still not safe if the margin of error is considered. Partylist survey results are the most unreliable since the margin of error is higher than the required 2 percent vote to clinch a representation in Congress.

6. “Make sure the survey is real.” Desperate candidates can fabricate survey results. Political operators can feed false survey data to naïve media reporters.

7. “What was the question again?” Survey results are important; but it is crucial to know the survey question. The client can suggest a survey question which may confuse respondents or generate ambiguous results. For example, if asked whether I believe Arroyo must resign, I will answer in the affirmative. But if asked whether Arroyo will resign, my answer will be different. If most people answered the second question similarly, spin doctors in the media can interpret it as proof of support for Arroyo. Knowing the survey question can partly explain why the survey produced such a result.

Not all survey results are accurate. Exit polls showed Arroyo as the winner in Luzon in the 2004 elections. But actual election results showed Fernando Poe Jr. as the winner in nearly all provinces and cities of Luzon.

Politicians agree with surveys whose results are beneficial to them. If the results are damaging to their reputation, they will find something wrong with the survey outfit. Last year, Malacañang dismissed hunger and poverty surveys. Recently, when the same survey topics showed a decrease in hunger and poverty incidences in the country, Malacañang quickly used the results to prove that its economic programs are working.

Opinion polls, like media organizations, are messengers of different versions of truth. They are not neutral entities in the political world. Politicians, businessmen and interest groups can finance surveys on topics which are important to them. The public should continue engaging the poll firms to focus on social issues which are overlooked by dominant political players in society.

“A science without a scientist”

Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu tackles opinion polls in his book, “In Other Words: Essays Towards a Reflexive Sociology”.

In his sociological analysis of opinion polls, he describes it as “a science without a scientist.”
It is a “made-to-measure science, a science without those hypotheses that are easily seen as presuppositions or even prejudices.”

Bourdieu thinks that market surveys, on certain conditions, “provide us with information of the highest value, often superior to that given us by more pretentious questionings of semi-scientists.”

But the philosopher asserts that surveys “will measure at least one thing, but not what people think they are measuring; in other cases, it will measure nothing but the effect exercised by the measuring instrument: this is the case every time the pollster imposes on those polled a problematic which isn’t theirs.”

Related to the issue of pollsters imposing questions not posed by them, Bourdieu observes “it is easier to get clients to finance questions which are in their opinion of direct interest to them than questions meant to provide information indispensable for the explanation of the answers.”

Clients who commission surveys may not be interested with probing the roots of a social problem. They want just quick-fix answers to questions which they think are relevant to them.

Bourdieu describes people who propose explanations for survey results “which go far beyond the limits incorporated in the system of explanatory factors” as “Doxosophists.” In the Philippines, there are too many “Doxosophists.”

Bourdieu believes the most important information in opinion polls resides in the number of “don’t knows” or abstention. They are the “floating voters” or the “flaw of democracy”. Poll firms try to minimize or even conceal the number of abstentions.

Bourdieu notes that women and the culturally, economically deprived comprise the biggest bloc of abstaining voters. Bourdieu proposes that “science must analyze the social and economic conditions which determine political competence and the effects it produces, in a political life based on the ignorance of this inequality.”

Bourdieu reminds the public that “simple truths cannot do justice to complex problems.” This is a good piece of advice, especially for those who remain content with survey data rather than strive to seek deeper answers to real problems of society.

Related entries:

Estimating crowds
Numbers and politics
Don’t shoot the messenger

Politicians already eyeing 2010 polls

There are three seasons in the Philippines: the wet season, the dry season and election season. Election campaigning starts after politicians are sworn into office. While good leaders think of the next generation, Philippine politicians think of the next election.

The short-sightedness of Philippine politicians is reflected in the quality of policies, laws, and programs of the government. Projects are designed to last only until the next election. The main criterion in crafting policies is to improve the winning chances of politicians. Sustainable development is alien to the vocabulary of politicians. When leaders think long-term, they refer to the years it would take them to become president of the republic.

In the past six months, politicians who are eligible to run in the 2010 presidential elections have been very visible and noisy in mainstream media. Potential candidates have been named already and are in fact not hiding their intention to run in 2010.

It is doubtful that the TV ads placed by administration politicians can really be considered public service broadcasts. They are more like publicity gimmicks to win over the electorate. Surveys commissioned by the opposition, showing the negative public perceptions of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, can also be described as part of the pre-2010 election mudslinging activities.

Public interest takes a backseat as the behavior of politicians is now influenced by the motive to win in the 2010 polls. Well-financed lobby groups are already courting candidates with big chances of succeeding in 2010.

Most analysts agree that the opposition has more popular candidates which it could field in 2010. The opposition stands to benefit from the public dissatisfaction with Arroyo and her government. Besides, there seems to be no strong contender from the administration coalition.

But being a famous candidate is not enough to win in the polls. The 2004 elections proved that even the most popular candidate can still lose if he or she does not enjoy the backing of a solid political machinery. More than a political platform, a candidate needs resources and professional election operators to win in Philippine elections.

Indeed, the opposition has very popular candidates in its roster. But it remains highly factionalized. Its grassroots machinery is weak. Local politics is still dominated by the administration. And if division persists until 2010, it is unlikely that the opposition can field a single candidate.

After scoring a symbolic victory in the midterm polls last year, the opposition should have endeavored to strengthen its machinery. Political and personal differences within the opposition ranks should have been resolved by now if they really want to dominate the 2010 polls. Personal ambitions should be sacrificed in order to come up with a single strong candidate who can challenge the administration bet.

But it seems fated that the opposition should remain disorganized. All of the opposition senators want to become president of the country. This was the same reason why the opposition failed to capture the leadership of the Senate even if they are the majority in the upper chamber of Congress.

Looking back, the failure of the opposition to unite in 2004 made it easy for the administration to justify the dubious victory of Arroyo over her popular rival. Will history repeat itself in 2010?

Perhaps sensing the need to have a unity ticket in the next election, former President Joseph Estrada offered himself as the possible candidate of the opposition. This remains the explosive news of the New Year which has energized debates in various political circles.

Assuming that Estrada is eligible to run again as president, this does not necessarily mean an easy victory for the opposition. It is likely that an Estrada candidacy will further divide the opposition and middle-class forces. It is true that Arroyo is not popular among the poor; but Estrada remains a despised political figure among many civil society groups and educated segments of the population.

The fact that the opposition is contemplating to field Estrada as the standard bearer in the 2010 polls is indicative of the failure of opposition politicians to frame the 2010 elections as a broader campaign of the people to render judgement against the Arroyo presidency.

Yes, the administration’s chances of dominating the 2010 polls are dim. Yes, the administration does not have popular candidates on its bench. But it has money, logistical resources, party machinery and the loyalty of local officials. The administration has the expertise to magically influence election results. In short, it is more organized than the opposition.

In analyzing the political fortune of the administration, it is important to consider the role of Arroyo. She is both the greatest source of strength and weakness of the administration party. Far from being a lame duck president, Arroyo will continue to be a major political player until the 2010 elections.

It is Arroyo who will appoint the new officers of the Commission on Elections. This is very crucial in determining the poll results in 2010. Arroyo commands the loyalty of military generals and most of the political dynasties in the country. As long as there is money to give, Arroyo will continue to enjoy the allegiance of local politicians.

If all else fails, Arroyo and her cronies can tinker with the Constitution. This was unsuccessfully attempted in 2006, but they can still renew this proposal this year. They can extend the terms of elected officials, cancel the 2010 elections, and institute a federal parliamentary form of government.

If Arroyo’s strong leadership is the administration’s key to success, it may also spell an electoral defeat in 2010. Arroyo is perceived by the people to be the most corrupt Philippine president. She is accused of abetting human rights violations in the country. Her economic policies are praised by economists and big business while more people have become poorer and prone to hunger.

The 2010 elections will either end a decade of Arroyo’s power or lead to the ascendancy of one of Arroyo’s cronies. This makes it imperative for the opposition to organize its ranks and present a formidable line-up of candidates.

Meanwhile, as politicians from both the opposition and administration parties are keenly eyeing the presidency in 2010, this is also the time to search for alternative candidates with the potential to win and change Philippine politics for the better.

Related entries:

Incompetent opposition
Who is your daddy politician?
Election season

Politics is local

I was not just a candidate for three months. I was also a blogger who became more fascinated in the particular ways of campaigning at the local level….

At 4am, a candidate for mayor of Manapla, Negros Occidental starts her campaign trail by visiting voters in the sugarcane fields. The candidate explains her platform while her team distributes hot pandesal and coffee to grateful and curious farmers. The candidate doesn’t want to campaign late in the afternoon since people will already prefer alcoholic drinks and pulutan over pandesal, coffee and a boring speech on politics.

In San Juan, Ilocos Sur, a candidate for mayor starts his campaign at 2pm. The town only has 8,000 voters so he needs at least 4,500 votes to win. Naturally, his campaign tactic is to meet, talk and mingle with all voters. He visits residents in every barangay and takes time to listen to their demands. On a single day, he can campaign in only one or two barangays.

In Tolosa, Leyte, a businessman running for councilor campaigns in the afternoon after the farmers have finished their work in the ricefields. He gathers the voters by setting up drinking tables and chairs near the barangay hall. The farmers appreciate the tuba and pretend to listen to the candidate who vows to bring change to their lives.

In Pagbilao, Quezon, a candidate for mayor has a portable sound system while he addresses a small crowd in a barangay on a hillside. He wears a cowboy hat probably to shield his face from the deadly ultra violet rays of the sun; and perhaps it was also a campaign accessory to make an impression among voters.

Speaking of impressing the voters, Muntinlupa candidates seem to have the loudest audio devices in their campaign vehicles. Truck ads with very loud election jingles are visible almost everywhere. A candidate for mayor hired dancing mascots dressed as chickens (because the candidate’s surname is San Pedro, as in manok ni San Pedro?) while the popular ditty Itaktak Mo is being played in every street corner.

There should be a survey on the most popular jingle in the recent elections. Was it Boom Tarat Tarat or Itaktak mo? I believe the latter was used by most politicians throughout the country.

In the food category, adobong baboy/manok is the runaway winner in the favorite food donation given by politicians. This makes us an adobo republic during election season. The other top choices are boiled eggs and fried galunggong. The kitchen is definitely the most active part of a candidate’s house as food is readily distributed to organized constituents, volunteers and visitors.

Laguna probably has the most star-studded roster of candidates. Are you familiar with these names: Emilio Garcia, Angelica Jones, Marco Sison and Dan Fernandez?

There were many unopposed bets in many provinces. This should not be encouraged because the people must be given the chance to choose between two or more candidates offering alternative programs. Another intriguing phenomenon is the swtiching of positions or the willingness of a three-termer politician to run for a lower position in order to remain in business, oops, in power.

The Administration claims its local machinery will deliver the votes for Team Unity. Indeed, I saw campaign materials of the Administration’s senatorial bets scattered throughout the archipelago, even in the remotest towns. I saw how leaflets, pamphlets and posters were distributed in barangays. But local politicians could not campaign for these senatoriables all the time. They could hardly find adequate time to campaign for themselves and their local slates, why would they take extra effort to campaign for national candidates? It’s not the genuine support of local candidates the Administration was boasting. It’s the cheating machinery at the local level that they were referring. This is already evident today.

One weapon used to harass incumbent political rivals is the filing of graft cases at the Office of Ombudsman. We witnessed how this legal maneuver was deployed against the Opposition in Makati and Iloilo. But many politicians have learned to value the potency of using this ploy to defeat incumbent officials whether the latter are affiliated or not with the Opposition. What amazed me was that many people, including ordinary folks, were more incensed over the timing of the suspension order rather than to the alleged crime committed. If you ask local residents, some of them may probably agree that there was merit in the cases filed against the incumbent officials.

Have we become a nation accustomed to stealing, lying, corrupt and law-breaking politicians? Have we lost the ability to be outraged over recurring commission of crimes by greedy and evil politicians? From Luzon to Mindanao, I heard many stories about how politicians stole money from selling public markets, received protection money from jueteng lords, deceived the public by approving worthless and inferior infrastructure projects, required business groups to pay extra taxes and ordered the execution or harassment of known dissidents. But most of the time, I did not detect a voice of indignation from the people sharing these stories of misdeeds. They seemed more amazed that politicians were able to accomplish these horrible things; that warlords could flaunt their illegal wealth and mistresses in public; that these trapos are untouchable, undefeatable and glamorous. I wanted to feel their fury yet I could only sense their hopelessness; that as ordinary people they feel they could not change the ‘natural order of things.’ It’s frightening.

To counteract the sinister influence of dark lords, the importance of local media should not be underestimated. ABS-CBN and GMA-7 may be political kingmakers at the national level, but local politicians are more sensitive and afraid of local newspapers and radio stations. It’s no longer surprising why many journalists in the provinces have been targeted for assassination and harassment. Their work and vigilance are real threats to the empire of local politicians. 

The local and national elections may be both dominated by guns, goons, gold and garci but they have various differences. I learned a thing or two about the perplexing intricacies and wonderful simplicity of local politics for the past three months. The future of this country of ours lies in the local. We should turn our attention to the countryside.

Related entries:

Election notes.
Vanity politics.
Election season.
Who’s your daddy?

Burger, fries, coke and politicians

Hang on. The last days of canvassing are near. Vote padding for government-supported partylists will increase the minimum number of votes needed to secure one partylist seat. Let me thank all Kabataan Partylist pollwatchers who manned the precints and canvassing centers in order to guard our votes.

More than 140 dead in “peaceful” Philippine elections, my blog entry for Global Voices Online. There are new pictures in my photoblog: click here and here.

A few years ago, an American TV comedian wondered why it takes a long time for many people to decide what to order in their favorite fastfood outlet when they only have to choose any combination of burger, fries and coke. These days, fastfood outlets offer combo meals; but these are intended to convince customers that they are given good menu choices when they are just, in essence, burger, fries and coke. Customers are led to believe they made wise decisions in ordering their food but the unhealthy truth is, they still bought burger, fries and coke.

I think this is how our politics operate. Majority of politicans are burger, fries and coke. To use a more accurate term, majority of politicians are trapos (rags). Most likely, they are scions of local warlords, oppressive landlords and rapacious businessmen.

To win in the elections, politicians need to convince voters they are more than just burger, fries and coke. They are burgers with low cholesterol, onion fries and diet coke. They are Harvard-educated warlords, environmentalist landlords and god-fearing businessmen.

Most of the time we delude ourselves into thinking that we are not ordering burger, fries and coke. Instead, we choose to take notice of the special dressing, the new gravy or the promo dessert. In politics, we hail the entry of new politicians who fought and defeated the old trapos. We take pride in the “maturity of the electorate”, the advent of new politics, the victory of alternative agenda and the looming irrelevance of trapo tactics.

We delight the crowd with the triumph of the crippled broadcaster, the priest who defeated two “lords”, the lady who knocked out a boxing champion, the moral crusade of a new political party and the rebel soldier who is poised to become a member of the senate. We highlight these stories perhaps to ignore and forget the fact that many of our people still preferred or have chosen to stick with burger, fries and coke.

Out of one brilliant and noble successful candidate we praise, hundreds of trapos were already proclaimed throughout the country. There may be a miracle in Pampanga but for the rest of the country, its black magic that reigns. We may be enjoying our garden salad for lunch but majority of our people are still feasting on burger, fries and coke.

It’s not easy to reject burger, fries and coke especially if our tastebuds are already familiar with these items. But many of our countrymen have already proven that it is possible to crave and buy new types of nutritious food. There is still hope. But we must not maintain the illusion that trapos are a dying breed. In fact, they are still reproducing in great numbers. They have put new brands, images and labels to be more palatable in the eyes and tastes of a more demanding public. Have we not realized by now that they have mastered the art of deception?

We need to change the rules of the game. We need new fastfood outlets. We need some spark, a revolution.

Related entries:

Books for coke.
Ang batang Pinoy.
Sons and politicians.
Gameplan.

Rason Edad Medya

Friends, thank you for supporting Kabataan Partylist. Please help us secure the votes for Kabataan. Our partylist did well in many areas and our campaign coordinators are confident that we can secure one seat. However, the counting and canvassing are very slow and we fear there will be manipulation of results. We expect to know the final tally of votes next week.

I’m recommending this article: Candidates get high on media. Below is an article I wrote for Tinig in 2004 immediately after the presidential elections. I believe this is still relevant….

Nakakapagtaka’t nakakatawa pero may isang panahon sa kasasayan ng daigdig na hindi kinakain ng mga tao ang kamatis dahil ito raw ay may lason . Minsan pinaniwalaang patag ang mundo at matagal bago tinanggap ng mga pantas na ang araw ang nasa gitna ng sangkalawakan.

Sapagkat bata pa ang syensya noon, mapapatawad pa ang balikong pag-iisip ng tao. Hindi ba’t walang katapusang proseso ng pag-unlad ang paglinang ng kaalaman?

Eto ang ating paglingon sa nakaraan, paano kaya tayo huhusgahan ng hinaharap? Isa o dalawang daang taon mula ngayon, anong banal na katotohanan ng ating panahon ang pagtatawanan o ikakagulat ng mga susunod na henerasyon?

Huwag sana nilang maalala ang taong 2004 at baka tuluyan tayong mawalan ng dignidad sa nag-aakusang mata ng kasaysayan.

Halimbawa, paano natin ipapaliwanag ang pahayag ng maraming sibikong organisasyon at ng militar na mapayapa at malinis ang nakaraang halalan sa kabila ng mahigit isang daang patay at malawakang ebidensiya ng pandaraya? Tila ang sukatan natin kung ano ang mapayapa’t malinis ay hindi umaakma kahit sa ipinagmamalaking naabot ng ating sibilisasyon.

Para sa akin, ang mahigit isang daang kataong pinaslang ay signos ng malalang karahasan na kinatangian ng katatapos na halalan. Nakakainsulto ang pamantayan ng pamahalaan kung ano ba ang isang magulong eleksiyon. Dapat bang limang daan o isang libo ang mamatay para aminin natin sa ating mga sarili na ang sopistikadong paraan ng ating pagpapalit ng mga lider upang makumbinsi ang buong mundo na may demokrasya sa ating bansa ay hindi pwedeng matapos nang walang dinudukot, tinatakot, sinusunog at pinapaslang?

At kahit lima lamang ang nasawi sa panahon ng halalan, hindi nito puwedeng ipagbunyi ang pagiging “mapayapa” ng eleksiyon dahil ang pagpaslang ng tao ay kabaliktaran ng diwa ng isang proseso na may layong maglingkod sa kapwa.

Hinihiling kong mag-summer bridge program ang COMELEC, NAMFREL at Kongreso sa math at science dahil sa kanilang tuso’t kabagalan sa pagbibilang ng boto at sa pag-awit ng sintunadong awitin na walang nangyaring malawakang pandaraya sa halalan. Mayroon lamang daw mga hiwalay na kaso ng dayaan sa iilang mga munisipyo pero di naman daw ito nakita sa pambansang antas. Subalit ang kredibilidad mismo ng resulta sa pambansang halalan ay magiging kahina-hinala kung nanggaling ito sa isang dinayang proseso sa ibaba.

Walang maipapangalan sa pagkawala ng pangalan ng maraming botante sa mga presinto kundi pandaraya. Ang pagbili ng boto, paggamit ng pera ng bayan para sa pansariling interes ng mga kandidato, pagmamaniobra sa media, pakikialam at pandarahas ng militar, dinuktor na mga election return at ang pinabagal na mabagal na pagbilang ng boto ay iba’t ibang tipo ng pandaraya.

Ano ang isasagot natin sa ating mga apo kung tatanungin nila kung bakit may mga nag-isip sa atin na dayain ang resulta ng halalan huwag lamang manalo ang isang artistang walang pinag-aralan? Marahil, isusumbat din nila ang sagad-sagaring pagkahumaling natin sa mga survey at sinasalang na impormasyon ng media. Baka tawagin nilang karnabal ng mga payaso ang ating demokrasya dahil sa kalidad ng ating mga kandidato’t opisyal ng pamahalaan.

Isang siglo na tayong may eleksiyon. Tatlong EDSA na ang lumipas. Pero ang halalan natin ay pang-Ripley’s pa rin. Nakakatakot ang iisipin sa atin ng mga tao sa hinaharap.

Candidate survey

Thank you to all bloggers who supported Kabataan Partylist’s cyber fever campaign. Sa lahat ng bumoto sa Kabataan, maraming salamat po.

In the next few weeks, I will blog about my adventures and misadventures as a candidate in the 2007 midterm elections. Let me start by answering the following survey:

1. First public speech as a candidate: February 13, Liwasang Bonifacio

2. Last public speech as a candidate: May 12, Barangay Immaculate Concepcion, Quezon City

3. Best speech delivered: April 30, Masbate City (I was encouraged by a very supportive crowd)

4. Most forgettable speech delivered: March 10, QC Polytechnic University along Quirino highway (I thought I would deliver two speeches. I gave a very lousy talk).

5. Most hilarious speech mistakes: ‘Palayain si Ken Ramos’ (It should have been Ken Ambay), ‘Bumoto sa darating na Hulyo’ – Araneta Avenue, Tatalon.

6. Favorite soundbytes: ‘Ako na po ang pinakamatanda sa aming partylist’, ‘Ang katandaan ay pwede rin po para sa kabataan’.

7. Longest speech: February 24, Iloilo City (Panay regional convention)

8. Most enthusiastic crowd: Mendez St. in Barangay Baesa, QC

9. Most memorable campaign sortie: Eastern Visayas road trip (from Metro Tacloban to Catarman, Northern Samar)

10. Best accommodation: Vigan Plaza Hotel, Ilocos Sur and Calabria seminary house in Calbayog (very hospitable priests).

11. Best food: Tacloban, Leyte (oh the seafood, the seafood)

12. Longest campaign sortie: Southern Tagalog road trip (from San Pablo, Laguna to Antipolo, Rizal) and Ilocos sortie (from Naguilian, La Union to Laoag, Ilocos Norte)

13. Longest campaign day: April 26, Quezon province sortie. I woke up at 3:30am, arrived in Tiaong at 7am, motorcade to Pagbilao until 5pm, concert in Lucena until 9pm. I arrived home at 2am the following day.

14. Most amazing place visited: Manapla, Negros Occidental (I spent a quiet Monday morning in the seashore. I was alone in the beach enjoying the clear waters and fresh air)

15. Most abominable election proposal: Manila politician offering to distribute Kabataan Partylist ID cards with scholarship grants to a computer school. It was an offer we refused.

16. Memorable motorcades: San Juan, Ilocos Sur and District 1, Quezon City.

17. Memorable palengke tours: Laoag public market and Davao City’s Agdao and Bangkerohan markets.

18. Best concert attended: February 14, Legaspi City, Albay. (I also participated in a very memorable torch parade since we continued with our march even if it was raining hard).

19. Best school forum attended: March 15, Manila Doctors’ College along Diosdado Macapagal Boulevard and March 28, College of St. Benilde along Taft Ave.

20. Memorable youth assemblies: April 15, CEG national convention in Dumaguete City and April 29, NUS-Mindanao convention in Initiao, Misamis Oriental

21. Memorable barangay assembly: March16, Caloocan City, Ms. Gaywatch contest

22. Most enjoyable election media gimmick: April 8, egg hunting with Danton Remoto in District 3, Quezon City

23. Favorite pasalubong: Pingping’s tinapa in Samar and Pastel from Cagayan de Oro

24. Confession: I watched 300 at Robinson’s Mall while campaigning in San Fernando, Pampanga (March 14)

Related entry: Tibak sarbey

Senate race: A virtual campaign

Thank you MLQ3 for proposing Kabataan Partylist to your readers. There are new pictures in my photoblog: click here and here. Dear friends, don’t forget to campaign and vote for Kabataan Partylist.

Senator Franklin Drilon remarked a few months ago that campaign rallies are already irrelevant in Philippine elections. According to him, a press conference is more efficient and effective than conducting campaign rallies every evening. Such statement would have described as obnoxious, unwise and foolish ten years ago. But today, nobody dared to disagree with the former Senate President. In the era of unchallenged TV supremacy, Senator Drilon issued not just a sensible viewpoint, but also perhaps a very shrewd political statement.

Most of the candidates this year seem to share the same belief in the power of mass media. More than half of the campaign expenses of candidates and political parties were spent on TV and radio ads. There are candidates who are not even worried of having no coordinators in many provinces as long as they have regular TV exposure.

Gone are the days when a senatoriable has to campaign for many days in a province or region just to reach out the most number of voters. Now, we heard senatoriables boasting of having visited 3-5 provinces from different regions on a single day. How did they accomplish this? First, they must have a chopper or private plane. Second, a motorcade would be held from the airport to the residence of the governor or mayor. The candidates will then meet with barangay leaders and other local officials. And most importantly, a media forum will be conducted. The following day, pictures of candidates mingling with local residents will be published in local and national newspapers. Local news TV channels and radio stations will report the brief campaign activities of candidates.

It’s already possible for a candidate to ‘meet’ all forty-five million registered voters in the country. Candidates can reach out to all voters through television, radio, internet and mobile phones. Remove human interaction and replace it with tools for instant messaging and long distance communication. It’s virtual, postmodern and unreal. Ten years ago, this kind of campaigning would have been described as insincere.

But a wise politician will learn to accept this ‘new world order’ taking place even in remote (read: semi-feudal, semi-colonial) Philippines. If Ramon Magsaysay was alive today, the veritable man of the masses would have been the most active campaigner in social networking sites and text brigades.

We have a new generation of voters exposed to digital relationships and the OFW phenomenon. If friendship is possible between two people who haven’t met (in the traditional sense, they haven’t met. But in the modern sense, they have already met through viewing of their friendster profiles, live chatting, texting and emailing), a politician can risk campaigning through virtual means. If parenting is done remotely by OFW parents, young voters will not find it odd if politicians will campaign through television alone. The new generation of voters expect politicians to be less intrusive to their lives. Voters want the freedom to turn off the TV or radio if they dislike the candidate or politician; in the same way they can switch channels if they find TV programs too boring. They won’t have the same freedom if politicians or candidates are knocking on their doors.

In short, a politician must be both visible and invinsible to get more votes. How odd, yet so true. Welcome to the 21st century!

Related entries:

Cybercampaign.
Txtpower.
PC games, school and Gloria.