Elections — the ultimate con game
Whoever figuratively likened Philippine elections to a circus decades ago could not have imagined how literally true the metaphor has become these days. Aside from the carnival atmosphere and blaring jingles, there are the candidates trying all sorts of tricks to dazzle and convince us of their worth, and the assortment of clowns and bizarre side shows.
The kind of fakery expected from candidates includes motherhood statements about concern for the poor and underprivileged and the willingness to serve no matter the personal sacrifice. For incumbent officials or politicians poised for a comeback, there are the exaggerated claims of achievement such as thousands of scholars and grateful charity patients plus a train of downtrodden folk who supposedly benefited from the candidate’s kindheartedness and generosity.
Then there are the perennial promises: to wipe out corruption and criminality; to uplift the poor; to provide jobs and basic social services; to grow the economy; to make government transactions transparent and officials accountable; to lead by example; etc. ad nauseam.
Personal narratives intended to make the candidate appear to be a man or woman of the masses are part of the stratagem. The five presidentiables exemplify this old ploy.
Jejomar Binay grew up poor and struggling, at some point allegedly having to feed slop to pigs. The dark color of his skin and modest height are used to underscore his humble beginnings. Several terms as Makati City’s mayor supposedly seals his credentials as a more-than-able and pro-poor public official. Nothing is said about how he became incredibly rich just by being a public servant.
Rodrigo Duterte is the macho, foul-mouthed, no-nonsense man-of-action. His claim to fame is Davao City’s touted crime-free, peaceful and disciplined social environment. He may not be virtuous, nor does he display the requisite good manners and right conduct for the presidency, but he is supposedly the decisive leader the country needs to create order from the chaotic mess we are in. We are asked to disregard disturbing reports about extrajudicial killings sanctioned by Mayor Duterte and suspicions that his quick-fix solution to criminality is via authoritarian rule.
Grace Poe’s narrative as a foundling, despite her being adopted by a well-to-do showbiz celebrity couple, and her almost being disqualified from running on this score, has given her a patina of being an underdog. She also capitalizes on her late father’s film persona as hero of the oppressed. Poe complements this mystique by her simple and straightforward demeanor that makes her appear accessible to ordinary folk. Still, questions about her qualifications and patriotism continue to dog her candidacy.
Miriam Defensor-Santiago capitalizes on her middle class background and her achievements as a seasoned lawyer, judge and legislator. Her witticisms, sharp tongue and legendary temper directed effectively against her political pet peeves goes hand-in-hand with her cultivated image as the nemesis of corrupt and incompetent officials.
Too bad for Mar Roxas, there can be no denying that his background reeks of wealth and privilege as scion of Negros sugar barons and the Roxas political dynasty. His academic credentials as graduate of an exclusive American university; his work as an investment banker; his record as a bureaucrat then a legislator under several administrations; his campaign based on the tiresome “daang matuwid” catchphrase of the incumbent regime while taking advantage of government resources to fuel his campaign — all these reinforce the perception that Roxas knows little about the travails of the common tao, much less does he empathize with their plight. So much for his narrative.
As to be expected, whatever platforms these candidates stand for are reduced to platitudes, pie-in-the-sky promises, or bombastic demagoguery that have nothing to do with finding genuine solutions to the fundamental problems of Philippine society.
As the elections day draws near, the mudslinging becomes even more frenzied. Every candidate’s gaffe or deepest, darkest secret is pounced upon by his or her opponents to try to pull that candidate down or gain an advantage before the next round of election surveys. The side shows keep the public preoccupied, distracted, entertained or disgusted as the case may be.
In the midst of all this, the technical operators of the grand electoral carnival do their thing, their presence and service accepted as a necessity, their competence and efficiency assumed and taken for granted. As in a real carnival, the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) in this case is responsible for seeing to it that all the rides, all the tricks and special effects, are safe and secure with all necessary safeguards in place. A single flaw, a single missing bolt or defective electrical circuitry could result in fatal disaster.
The COMELEC has always had a spotty if not downright suspect record, but controversies and charges of anomalies are invariably brushed aside as mere "sour graping" by losers. Two elections have been held using the automated election system (AES) with COMELEC allowing a US-based multinational corporation, SMARTMATIC, to do the electronic count and canvass without the safeguards provided for by law, akin to allowing the ferris wheel and roller coaster rides to operate without checking the integrity of the mechanical and electrical components.
The hacking of COMELEC’s vast database dubbed “COMELEAK” has compromised security of voters' data and makes voters vulnerable to all sorts of heists via identity theft. This only shows what kind of work ethic the COMELEC works under -- gross negligence instead of due diligence in performing its crucial task of safeguarding the sanctity of the ballot; irresponsibility rather than responsibility.
COMELEC continues to promote the myth that speed in counting the ballots and transmitting results using the AES can substitute for accuracy and dependability in reflecting the will of the electorate. Moreover, in the era of pre-election and post-election exit surveys, the credibility of the polls seems to hinge on whether the outcomes hew closely to the foregoing survey results no matter an abundance of election anomalies.
The illusion of elections as a democratic exercise is maintained by the noise and the hoopla of the electoral circus. To place our hope for real change in such periodic spectacle is to allow ourselves to be conned as well as screwed again and again. #
Published in Business World
25 April 2016