COLUMN: THE EVILS OF THE ELECTORAL PROCESS

MANILA,  March 1, 2004 (STAR) By Atty. Romeo G. Roxas - The evils of the electoral process: The proper way to conduct a campaign:

President Manuel L. Quezon summarizes the statesmanlike posture of a candidate who has just won an election in his now famous words: "My loyalty to my party ends where my loyalty to my country begins."

How we wish that all the winning candidates in this coming May elections would heed this highest call to statesmanship so that our country will have a better chance of achieving peace, harmony and prosperity for its people. Judging, however, from the actuations of our elected leaders since the time of Quezon, it is no exaggeration to say that they have put their personal and party interest over and above that of the country. Will the winners of this yearís democratic exercise do any better? Under our present system of campaigning and with the way we conduct the electoral process, we doubt very much if the country will produce leaders that will truly serve the interest and welfare of the people.

For while democracy, as exercised through the ballot, is an ideal way of choosing a nationís leaders, the process itself, as it is conducted Philippine style, is fraught with loopholes, problems and evils.

To begin with, Philippine political groupings breed undue loyalty to the party already at the expense and detriment of and to the prejudice of the country. Candidates win largely through the well-oiled and organized party machinery that spend exorbitantly huge sums of money and resources for its partymates to win. To a very large extent, then, the winning candidates owe their electoral success to the party that backed them. The natural and ill-consequence of this is the perpetration of political patronage and protection in favor of the winning party members and supporters.

It should be obvious by now that the original culprit in this misapplication of the democratic exercise is the penchant for electoral over-spending. Our politicians have this exaggerated mindset to fuel their campaign through the sheer force and persuasion of money. The more money they have in their campaign chest, the better their chances to win, or so they believe.

Indeed election, Philippine style, is a most expensive proposition. A councilor aspirant will spend anywhere from one hundred to five hundred thousand pesos; a congressional candidate will expend from ten to twenty million pesos; a senatorial wannabe from fifty to one hundred million; and finally, one misty-eyed for the presidency will need from one to five billion pesos to mount a national campaign. Money, money and more of it is the sine qua non of the Philippine electoral frenzy. Where Does All This Money Go?

For one, the candidates will flood the country with all sorts of screaming posters and streamers pasted and hung in every available space, totally disregarding Comelec rules and regulations, and in the process, defacing, dirtying and mangling the environment into an ugly national trash bin. Candidates will use their money to bribe local and wardleaders into supporting their candidacies. Also, unscrupulous candidates will buy the voterís votes, or attempt to do so. The worse of the lot, will go to the extreme of using guns, goons and gold to frighten and intimidate their foes and their adversariesí supporters. In a Philippine election, not a few get killed.

The money used by over-spending candidates do not come from them. Very few amounts come from their own pockets. The bulk of the campaign funds, aside from those coming from the political parties, are sourced from big-time donors and contributors. These are people who have vested interests to protect what they feel will be insured by the electoral victory of their chosen candidates or "manoks". These big donors are both the legitimate businessmen and business-interests and, in a scarier aspect, the illegal organizations Ė the crime syndicates of smuggling, drugs, gambling and prostitution. Needless to state, these "contributions" are not without a "condition" attached, however left unwritten or unspoken.

As sure as the break of dawn, the winning candidates will now recover their massive campaign expenses, or at least attempt their best to do so. And how will the now public officials "repay" their campaign contributors? Of course by awarding them with government contracts and businesses, not harassing but even favoring their current businesses, and leaving the vice-lords untouched in their illegal and nefarious activities. The seed of graft and corruption planted during the expensive campaign season has grown into a fully matured and evil tree.

To avert this dreaded vicious cycle of campaign over-spending and graft and corruption, we strongly propose and call on the people to stop and arrest this foul tradition. But how?

The people and voters themselves must not be idle watchers of the electoral process with only the act of casting their ballots as their direct participation thereon. Instead, the electorate themselves must be active participants by keeping their candidates from spending during the campaign. This can be done by the supporters themselves modestly donating to the campaign coffers of their chosen candidates. The ideal is for every supporter to give a voluntary amount of from a minimum of one hundred pesos to a maximum of one thousand pesos, which individual small amount cannot instill a sense of indebtedness from the candidate that he must repay upon winning. Yet, the sum total of the individual modest contributions of the supporters will be substantial enough to fund the legitimate expenses of a candidate for posters, leaflets, gasoline and snacks and food for his campaigners.

This active participation of each and every voter will obviate the need for big donors to contribute so that the candidate, when he wins, will not be beholden to any vested interest, legitimate or illegitimate, and thus be able to devote the full powers and resources of his public office as well as his talents and capabilities to the genuine service of his entire constituency. This way, the loyalty of our elected leaders will not be to their party or to their big donors, but to the country and to each and every Filipino, though financially small he may be.

Another pernicious evil of elections in the Philippines, aside from this proclivity for over-spending, is the manner the candidates themselves conduct their campaign.

By historical experience and record, the politicians themselves, the candidates, do not maintain a high level of campaign. The focus is not on issues and platforms but on personalities. Candidate A will attack the personality of candidate B, mudsling him and ridicule, belittle and spite his opponent in the hustings even as candidate B will do exactly the same towards candidate A. This utterly divisive way of conducting the campaign breeds bitterness, resentment and ill-will among the contenders and their supporters. Quite expectedly, this hatred, if you will, for each other is carried over and remains even after the elections.

In the aftermath of such a bitterly fought election, it becomes next to impossible for the winning candidates to unite their constituencies, supporters and non-supporters alike, to achieve the programs of government that the election was designed to promote in the first place. The rancor between and among the candidates and their supporters remains a fresh and festering wound that deprives the election wounds from healing. Because of this, a divided country and people suffer.

It is high time that our candidates pursue their candidacies on a high and statesmanlike level. Candidates must avoid saying or doing things that will create bitterness amongst themselves and their followers. They must not resort to personal attacks but instead present their own credentials and platforms for governance before the electorate. They must stick to issues and positive campaigning ever mindful that the success of their election is not in their winning per se but in the achievement of unity amongst the people after the political exercise so that, as one, the entire nation can rally behind the leaders in the pursuit of the essential programs and projects of government.

For in the end, we must all remember that we are one country and one people, and it is only through all of us, working in unison, that we can achieve the dream of a prosperous Philippines, harmonious and peaceful, and with a people proud and dignified before the community of nations.

You may write your comments/suggestions at 15/F Equitable Bank Tower, Paseo de Roxas, Makati City or through e-mail at rgroxas@lawyers.com)

(Editorís note: Atty. Roxas is writing a limited series of articles dealing with financial matters and other important business topics. He is available for speaking engagements on the subject matters of his articles.)


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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