May 10, 2007

At stake in the May 14 elections

It doesn’t take a political scientist to tell us that this mid-term elections for 12 senators, 275 congress persons and scores of local government officials epitomizes what is so rotten and undemocratic in our postcolonial electoral system. The signs and symptoms of a sick and dying traditional political order are everywhere; its inevitable moribund convulsions are threatening to wreak havoc before a new and truly democratic alternative can take its place.

Ever since independence from US colonial rule in 1946, periodic elections in this country have been touted as the single, most visible proof that representative democracy is alive and well: the people of the Philippines could choose their leaders when the time came -- wisely or foolishly, for good or ill. There was the presumed sanctity of the ballot that withstood generally accepted levels of cheating and violence that accompanied any and all electoral exercises; in this country, anyway.

In time it became clear that not much choice was ever given the electorate since the only ones who stood for office or could mount serious campaigns necessary to win were members of the same old socio-economic elite or their favored political parties and clans. After all, they were the only ones with the built-in advantages of money, private armies, social status and media visibility, more so if they also happen to be incumbent government officials or their anointed ones, particularly family members.

Let us also not forget the time-tested political wisdom enunciated by no less than then President Diosdado Macapagal that no politician worth his salt, who aspires for a major national political office such as the presidency, could do without getting the nod of the former colonizer, and still the single most influential power in the economic and political landscape, the US of A.

Notwithstanding a change in the faces of the traditional politicians taking power, Filipinos have become accustomed to the eventuality that no substantive change in terms of basic political and economic platforms would ensue after the elections. After all, didn’t they come from different factions of the same parasitic and reactionary elite, with veritably the same stakes in the status quo and ergo the same political mind sets? Even so-called non-traditional politicians or self-styled “men of the masses” who run for public office are themselves actually members or surrogates of the dominant classes in society.

Come now these elections taking place in the midst of a festering crisis of the old order, one that involves the shrinking of the sources of commercial profit, of bureaucratic corruption and social privilege. Thus, we are witness to the mad scramble for the advantages of public office in monopolizing the shrinking social pie. The heightened violence, the desperation and the utter disregard for any semblance of principle and moral rectitude attending this year’s electoral contest is a sorry testament to this.

Most significantly, the elections are also taking place in the wake of the unresolved political crisis of the increasingly isolated Macapagal-Arroyo administration. The latter has been rendered vulnerable to the challenge of a broad array of anti-GMA political forces from left to right working for an end to its rule.

The GMA regime is hounded by legitimacy questions due to alleged massive fraud in the 2004 presidential elections. It is being called to account for unstopped extrajudicial killings and other gross human rights violations, not just domestically but by the international human rights community and international public opinion. Its economic policies, while lauded by the IMF-World Bank and admittedly good for foreign credit agencies, banks, investors and their local partners, are not so for the majority of the people who consider themselves hungrier, poorer and more miserable under Mrs. Arroyo.

At stake is the survival of the regime in the immediate, the political future of GMA and her main allies after her term ends in 2010, as well as the Arroyo regime’s impunity for all its crimes against the people as well as crimes against humanity. It is no wonder that the Malacanang has pulled out all stops in the illegal use of government money and resources as well as commandeered the military and police forces and utilized government agencies such as the Commission on Elections, the Justice Department, the Department of Local Government, the Office of the Ombudsman and others in its single-minded drive to bulldoze all of its political enemies in these elections.

At stake for the US is the survival of what is so far its favored faction of the ruling elite, one that has proven itself most servile to US dictates though not necessarily as effective in quelling social restiveness and political dissent. But precisely because it is fighting for its survival, the Arroyo regime is most willing to do anything for its foreign patrons.

At stake for the entire ruling elite and foreign vested interests, is the preservation of the existing economic-political system, of which the elections is only a part, but the one most critical in providing the illusion of “democracy”. Thus the elections’ credibility as a democratic exercise must be upheld at all cost and a parallel effort undertaken by reactionary and conservative forces to make the elections appear fair and free.

These are the reasons why the May 14 elections promise to be one of the dirtiest, deadliest and most rotten in the course of this country’s painful march towards democracy while under the thin cover of a seemingly fair and honest electoral process.

How can the vast majority of Filipinos find their stake in this year’s farcical elections?

Despite the inherent limitations of elections in an elite and foreign-dominated political system, the fact that such a system is in a state of unabated and worsening crisis is ironically providing the openings for a truly democratic and people-based movement to take initiative, to strengthen and expand real “people power”.

Thus our people must be mobilized to vote for the candidates who have proven themselves true champions of the people’s basic interests and welfare. The people must be aroused, organized and be ready to act against the expected fraud and state-sponsored violence that the GMA regime will surely unleash on elections day and immediately thereafter.

Most importantly, the people must stand ready to resist the desperate and brutal resort of the GMA regime to increased political repression after the elections, as its hold on power becomes ever more tenuous and the movement to oust it regains surprising momentum.###

*Published in Business World

11-12 May 2007


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