‘Guns, Goons and Gold’

‘Guns, Goons and Gold’

File photo of President Rodrigo Duterte greeting the PDP-Laban senatorial candidates at a campaign rally at the Batangas City Sports Coliseum in Batangas in 2019. (Presidential photo/Richard Madelo)

BEFORE anything else, let me share a belated greeting to our good friend, Metropolitan Manila Development Authority chairman Benjamin ‘Benhur’ Abalos Jr., on his 59th birthday yesterday, July 19.

More power and keep up the good work!

THE opposition would surely be undone if President Rodrigo Duterte makes good his promise to campaign for candidates of the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) because along with this promise, the chief executive is expected to bring ‘sack loads’ of campaign funds for the administration bets to use during the campaign period for next year’s national elections.

If this happens, well, it reminds us of the phrase “guns, goons, and gold”—sometimes referred to as the “Three Gs of Philippine Politics.”

The catchphrase was coined by the media to describe the violence and vote-buying that characterize the political campaign period in the country, beginning with the presidential reelection campaign of 1969. This trend declined only with the advent of electronic voting machines during the elections of 2010.

Nine years later, on May 13, more than 60 million Filipinos cast their votes for the midterm elections. In this particular electoral exercise, voters elected half of the nationally-elected Senate as well as district and party-list legislative representatives and local government officials. President Duterte himself was not subjected to this electoral contest as he has a single six-year term without re-election until 2022. It has been however a widely- shared belief that a midterm election serves as an informal referendum on the president and this becomes even more salient given Duterte’s sustained popularity ratings despite his deeply polarizing policies and his administration firm control over the republic’s political institutions.

It has been more than five years since the former Davao City mayor became our president with the promise to embark on the widespread and systemic change that would eradicate corruption and criminality. Though there have been some changes put in place since he assumed office, there is also a growing perception that most things have remained the same—if not turned worse. Still, judging by the conduct of the 2019 electoral campaign and its outcome, most would surmise that our country’s politics was in “business-as-usual” mode as defined by patronage, ‘clientelism’ and traditional politics. And even now, this prevails as we near the next election in 2022.

But going back to the previous midterm elections, among the 18,000 positions that were to be filled then, the electorate’s interest was drawn toward the competition for the 12 seats in the Senate. Most senatorial candidates were compelled to formulate comprehensive electoral platforms given the nationwide electoral campaign which forged political coalitions and prompted would-be senators to take a stand either for or against the Duterte administration.

The truth is, until now and despite being Asia’s first constitutional democracy, there remains much to be desired with the quality and integrity of our electoral system. The absence of a credible and strong party system continues to influence politicians to rely on traditional political machines that contain ‘guns, goons, and gold’—more emphasis on gold, for that matter. Rather than a battle of policy-based ideas, an election campaign remains in a popularity contest where name recall, celebrity status, and political pedigree determine likely success.

The 2019 midterm elections further validated the centuries-old state of electoral play—exclusionary, elite-oriented, and costly. Despite the questionable integrity of its elections, Filipinos often troop the polls in huge numbers with an estimated 75 to 78 percent voter turnout.

Electoral politics left in the hands of the “one percent” is the default setting in our country. This can be witnessed in the resilience of political dynasties in this election cycle. Duterte did not stem their growth and persistence leading to the 2019 elections. On the contrary, his own family’s hold on local politics in Davao city. His eldest son also won a district representative seat in the country’s lower legislative chamber, the House of Representatives. Similar to many Filipino political families, not even the Dutertes can avoid the lure of dynastic expansion once they have acquired national power.

While it is entirely possible for any administration to cause significant changes in the span of a few years, it is not totally unfair to expect that from the Duterte presidency. One may remember that his electoral triumph in 2016 was based on a deep and popular resentment over the political establishment composed of the Manila-based liberal, populist, and ‘oligarchical’ elite.

We recall when we met then Commission on Elections chairman Juan Andres ‘Andy’ Donato Bautista at the Kapihan sa Manila Bay media forum at Luneta Hotel, during which time we distinctly criticized some policies of Comelec in accepting candidates, which we said was primarily based on the capacity or ability of each politician running for a post to fund his electoral campaign.

We specifically pointed out to Mr. Bautista that this particular policy is the very reason why we do not have the candidates we want to run in our elections because even if one is truly wanting to serve the country then the lack of campaign cash would still be the reason why he would be deemed as a ‘nuisance’ candidate.

If my readers can get our logic, then they would realize that this policy has forced us to choose from a list of possible politicians who are all moneyed but would definitely want to recoup the expenses they incurred once they are elected—hence there is corruption in government from the lowly barangay to the august halls of Malacañang.

But going back to present times, we have to say that people’s expectations of Duterte’s ability to improve their plight are still reflected in the chief executive’s highly positive trust ratings. While it baffles many, the firebrand president’s popularity has withstood the negative and critical treatment of the foreign and local press, one may analyze this sustained loyalty of Filipinos to Duterte as a ‘sunk investment’ since many of them have pinned their hopes to improve their conditions on the president with no viable leadership alternative in sight. (ai/mtvn)

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