Watching closely both the presidential campaigns here in the United States and the Philippines, I cannot help but notice glaring differences between the political systems of these two democratic nations.
Recently, I watched U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan being interviewed by CNN’s Jake Tapper. Ryan said that he could not yet endorse the nomination of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and that Trump has to work hard to unify the Grand Old Party (GOP).
Upon hearing Ryan’s statement, I suspected that the Speaker might have been waiting for “lagay” (bribes) that could help him make up his mind. But I realized that I’m here in America, where bribery and vote buying are practically unheard-of political malpractices. People in high government positions like Speaker Ryan abhor such malpractices because they value highly their reputation.
In the Philippines, comments similar to that of Paul Ryan’s statement are interpreted as overtures for “lagay.” Money talks in Philippine politics, and that’s the reason candidates with tons of money always win in elections. Without an iota of doubt, these politicians will certainly recover their “investments” and also make profit when they are in power. They would overprice government projects or directly steal money from the government’s coffers through phony projects. (Remember the case of Janet Napoles?) This is the reason corruption is rampant on almost all levels of the government.
In our homeland, there’s no loyalty in politics. There are many political parties, and politicians switch party as often as they change clothes. Parties with a lot of money attract the “political butterflies” whose loyalty is only to themselves.
They badly need the money because to ensure they are going to win in the elections, they have to buy votes. This is particularly true in poor rural towns and depressed areas in big cities. It’s no secret that in some remote places, families organize themselves into big voting blocs and offer their votes to the candidates at a price.
At one time, I confronted a politician (who is my friend) on the claim of his rivals that he bought votes in the squatter areas. He admitted he had bought votes but hastened to add that his opponents also bought votes. “Padre, the reason the people voted for me is that I bought their votes at a price higher than the amount dangled by them (his rivals),” he said. Yes, votes are sold to the highest bidder.
If it’s any consolation, vote buying is happening not only in the Philippines. At one time I was in Jakarta (Indonesia) and I asked Indonesian journalists about this election malpractice, and they said buying of votes is rampant in many areas in that Southeast Asian country.
My brother, who is at one time chairman of our barangay in the Ilocos, told me about his disappointment over some of his constituents whom he had helped with their problems. When politicians offered money for their votes, he said, they immediately forgot the good things he had done for them. He said they sold their votes because it was their rare chance to put on the table a meat dish, which they could enjoy eating only once in a blue moon.
In this current campaign season, one voter was asked if he is going to vote for the “Daan Matuwid” team or the “Bagong Daan” ticket. He answered, “I’m still waiting for ‘Limang Daan’ (500 pesos).” People who are voting Binay for president are called “Binayaran.”
The late Ali Dimaporo, a grizzled politician who lorded it over Lanao del Norte for a long time, is remembered for his unique way of delivering his speech during “miting de avance” (main campaign rally).
After his name was called as the next speaker, he would strut on the stage and deliver a very short speech consisting of only three words. In a shrill voice, he would say, “Tonight is the night!” As he would go back to where he was sitting, the crowd would respond in wild abandon, jumping, stomping and shouting in glee. They fully understood what Ali meant: At the end of the meeting, his men will be paying for their votes.
But how do politicians like Ali know if they people whose votes he had bought would actually vote for him on Election Day? Well, they have private armies, composed of thugs and hired killers whose job is to ensure that the vote seller would do his end of the bargain. They would visit him every night to remind of his commitment.
If the politician loses in the precinct where the voters are the ones whose votes he has bought, some voters would get hurt really bad or even killed. This had happened in the past, and the vote sellers are constantly reminded of such incidents.
The Donald Trump brand of politics with its incendiary rhetoric, bluster and insults cannot be done in the Philippines because it is extremely dangerous. A Philippine politician could not insult his rivals on a regular basis because bloodshed would certainly follow. The thugs hired by his opponents would take matters into their hands even without the knowledge of their boss. They are extremely loyal and would do anything to defend or please their employer.
With the violence and irregularities bedeviling Philippine politics, results of elections do not reflect the true will of the people. Democracy in the Philippines is more of a joke than anything else.