MANILA, January 17, 2004 (MANILA TIMES) GROUND LEVEL By Godofredo M. Roperos - ALTHOUGH at this point in the campaign season, it is still too early to make any assessment of the candidates’ standing regarding their chances of making it to the finish line ahead of their opponents, my political observer friends have arrived at certain conclusions. Their collective observations, according to one of them who teaches political science in a local university, say this is going to be a most expensive exercise.

The basis of the observation, I believe, is the absence of definite top-to-bottom party organization of any political group behind a presidential candidate. The political parties named as having nominated their candidates for the positions at stake in the May election are visible only in Manila, the provincial capitals and the cities. Nowhere can any group, recognized as a political party, have clear grassroots chapters.

True, two or three of the more dominant and affluent groups have members standing as municipal mayors in many provinces, but in most instances, their political affiliation now is not an assurance of loyalty to the party. Since most of contemporary political parties are organized around a political personality, and supported financially by the same, the rank-and-file members are loyal to the person, and not to an idea, a cause, or ideology.

“Come now,” said a town coun-cilor, “there is no such thing as grassroots machinery of any political group. The machinery are those of local politicians who do not hold any permanent political affiliation. Their loyalty is to anyone who can extend them financial support, for their campaign. Now in his late ’70s, he decries the present state of politics in the country, unlike in the days of the two-party system.

“Today,” he claimed, “it is every candidate for himself or herself. Unless a national candidate is able to organize a personal machinery down to the barangays, he can never be sure of winning.” His view is that local structures headed by mayoral candidates are not dependable to deliver the votes for national candidates, particularly the senatorial candidates. With funds, one may be able to ride with the local candidates.

But that is not even an assurance unless the national candidate has someone in the town or city who could set up a group of “overseers.” They would see to it that the national candidate’s name is carried in the sample ballots of local candidates, say, of the mayor or the provincial governor, or the candidates for board members and councilors. Or to take care that the national candidate’s sample ballot itself is distributed to the barangays.

This, to me, is the prevailing reality in the current campaign. It is unlike in this nation’s deep past when the then Nacionalista and Liberal parties had organizations down to the villages, no matter how small the number of voters was in a community. And one could be sure that if a local candidate was affiliated with either of the two parties, he remained so until after the votes were counted. Then he may change party loyalty for the next poll.

This political condition is never more tacitly demonstrated as it is in Cebu. Right now, no presidential candidate could claim as having an organization down to the grassroots. The party affiliation of the province’s 47 municipalities and 6 component cities are basically unknown, kept only in the hearts of the mayors themselves. The existence of local parties adds more confusion to the picture, since no one could be sure who gets their support.

At the moment, each of the local groups is on a sit-and-wait attitude, waiting for whoever of the national candidates would give the best condition in exchange for their support. And I suppose, this situation holds true to the rest of the other provinces in the country. It is a wise national candidate who could set up his or her own political machinery to oversee and undertake the distribution of sample ballots on or the day before e-day.

But doing so, would prove quite expensive. There is no telling how many millions of campaign funds a national candidate, determined to excel and win on May 10, would have to spend. But is there a better substitute for election victory in this republic?

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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