By Susan Palmes-Dennis
ROCKINGHAM, North Carolina—By the time this column sees print, we may already received news of the proclamation of winners in the 2023 Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections in the country.
Being a former resident of Cagayan de Oro City, I’ve monitored the runup to the elections through my social media feed particularly through Facebook and what I saw only confirmed my jaded view of what Philippine politics is now and in the near future.
Let me just say that while very little shocks me anymore insofar as corruption in Philippine elections is concerned, the sheer brazenness and matter-of-fact pervasiveness of vote-buying in the barangay and SK elections remains as appalling and disgusting as ever—and I use those two adjectives in the same sentence for emphasis.
We’re not even taking about the whole Cagayan de Oro City, just one barangay. Sa Pilipino pa, atong itago ang pangalan sa barangay na magsugod sa letrang C at nagtapos sa letrang N. Just to check, there’s at least two barangays I know with C and N as their first and last letters in their names.
So we’ll let the readers Google it and guess which is which. In the meantime, my social media feed is littered with posts showing photos of the candidates stapled with cash, along with claims that the payout—for want of a better term—is but the first in a series of ‘waves’ of money to be given to the voters.
Mind you the vote-buying is committed by both sides namely the incumbent and the challenger, the latter of whom hinges his candidacy on a campaign promise to ‘bring change’ and ‘transformation’ to the barangay. Sure, but I ask why would he employ the same tactics as his opponent?
Based on what I read in my feed and my insider info, the first ‘wave’ amounted to P6,000 and the other side supposedly countered with their own wave amounting to P5,000 per voter. And so they say that the country’s economy is suffering?
Just learning about this both amuses and saddens me. Amusing in that the electoral contest is reduced to a bidding/cash payout war with both parties using their cash—stolen or out of their own pockets whichever be the case—to buy votes and the people making fun of this whole situation with memes that illustrate their utter contempt for these opportunistic candidates.
One such meme shows a small brown envelope containing a promissory note from a candidate stating ‘Inig daog lang promise (Once I win, promise).’ Another meme also shows the same small envelope and a note saying ‘F….you naa ka sa pikas (F…..you, you’re with the other side).
And it’s also sad and disheartening for that very same reason. That a lot of people are willing to sell their votes to the highest bidder in exchange for cash which more often than not aren’t used to buy their necessities but end up spent for late night drinking binges or a down payment for a new cell phone.
It’s the same thing that happened during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in Cagayan de Oro. Just as a lot of people demanded for cash aid payout from City Hall and/or the national government only to use them to buy liquor and drink outside in public or to buy new cell phones.
The voters all demand accountability, transparency and integrity from all their candidates and yet they exempt themselves from the very same accountability, integrity and responsibility that they are charged with in exercising their right to vote.
Voting is not just a right and privilege, it’s also a sacred responsibility and it’s not even negotiable to the highest bidder. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t see it that way specially those who don’t earn minimum wage and can hardly feed themselves thrice a day.
And so they sell their votes and deserve the leaders they elect, even those who manage to win on the strength of their promissory notes to give the voters their cash once they get elected to office. If such candidates do win, it would mark a new utterly pathetic and abysmal low in Philippine election politics—again, two adjectives in same sentence for added emphasis.
Given this situation, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) prohibition on vote-buying is both laughable and unrealistic in terms of actual enforcement. Sure, the losing candidates would protest, but good luck on winning them in court.
This is not to say that corruption in election politics is a Filipino monopoly. I’m sure it also happens in the US and in Europe though as to what extent based on my experience as a US voter, I have no idea.
There were allegations of ‘dagdag bawas’ or vote-padding raised by businessman Donald Trump in the last presidential elections particularly involving immigrants but it’s still locked up in the courts.
Anyway, the 2024 elections is coming up and the Americans will get to decide anew on their next leaders. But aside from that the American electorate wields their power over their candidates quite well as their elections are based not on personality and money but on issues and platforms of governance.
And the barangay and SK elections is but a reflection of the larger Philippine electoral landscape which remains riddled with craters exposing the haves and have nots of society, the latter of whom are ever vulnerable to the temptation of easy cash from their eager, predator candidates in exchange for their precious votes.