This is the first time that I am exposed to U.S. presidential campaigns. What I have observed disappoints me because I think that the U.S., being a bulwark of democracy, should serve as a model for other democratic nations, and, as such, American political exercises are expected to be done on a high level.
As I wrote this piece, the U.S. presidential campaign period was about to end. And I could not help but be disappointed by the way the Republicans and Democrats were pushing their campaigns which were described by a CNN reporter as the ugliest and most divisive ever in the history of American presidential elections.
I cringed in frustration as I watched Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump attacked his opponent, Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, repeatedly calling her “crooked”, “corrupt”, “criminal,” “nasty woman”, etc. without air-tight evidence. Clinton had not called Trump names, but she slammed him, nevertheless, by exposing his allegedly sexual aberrations, failure to make public his tax returns, failed business ventures, bigotry, volatile temperament, etc.
I disagree, though, with a CNN reporter’s comment that this kind of political campaigns is done only in Third World countries. Well, the Philippines is a Third World country, but the kind of nasty attacks unleashed by Clinton and Trump against each other is not done openly or regularly in our native land.
Philippine politicians, particularly those in so-called “election hot spots”, avoid it for one reason. They know pretty well that incendiary political rhetoric could explode into violence. Onion-skinned Philippine politicians take very seriously personal attacks bordering on insults such as those regularly dished out by Trump and Clinton, and act irrationally.
When the election period is about to end in the Philippines, the death toll related to politics rises in “hot spot” places like Abra, Ilocos Sur and Maguindanao.
For example, the motive behind the infamous Maguindanao massacre was politics. Maguindanao leader Mangundadato, who was critical of the provincial leadership, decided to challenge the political supremacy of the Ampatuans, and this led to the ambush of some 50 people, including 30 reporters.
One thing good about the U.S. brand of politics is that violent incidents are rare, if not nil. So far I have not heard of any shooting incident related to politics. In Trump rallies, there were reports about people being injured or punched, but no killing. I think the reason behind this is that people do not consider politics as a “do or die” or “make or break” thing.
The situation is different in the Philippines. Politicians see politics as a way to enrich themselves. While occupying positions of power, like those of mayor, governor or congressman, they engage in all kinds of corrupt activities such as overpricing contracts for building and road projects and receiving “tongs” from illegal gambling or illegal drugs.
With a lot of money in their war chest, they hire bodyguards or form private armies who harass or intimidate their political rivals and their supporters. These bodyguards are former farmers who could not make ends meet, and having tasted a comparatively abundant life, they would do everything to protect their employers.
Sometimes, bodyguards killed their employers’ political enemies without the knowledge of their bosses. These henchmen feel that their “gainful employment” is threatened whenever their employers are verbally attacked by their opponents. Their bosses are informed of the killings only after everything turns quiet and calm.
Another stark difference between the U.S. and Philippine politics is about the role of the surrogates. Here in the US, the surrogates play a big role in promoting the candidacy of their principals and defending them.
On TV, we see the surrogates of both sides engage in intense exchanges of criticisms. Sometimes, watching the back-and-forth is funny. Some surrogates try to defend the indefensible and are quick to turn the table on their opponents.
Again, this kind of political activities is avoided in the Philippines. If this is done, I could imagine that off camera, the bodyguards would also be engaged in a different kind of back-and-forth: They would be trading gunshots.