The Elections and the Poor

The Elections and the Poor

Bad officials are the ones elected by good citizens who do not vote.
— American drama critic George Jean Nathan

I NEVER supported the likes of former President Joseph ‘Erap’ Estrada because I believe his advocacy to care for the less fortunate was a mere ploy that he used to promote himself as a politician and which he borrowed from any of the movies he had starred in which depicted him as a ‘hero’ of the poor.

Sabi nga, “Erap para sa mahirap.”

And our old folks often told us the adage that “the fruit does not fall far from the tree, or the closest adaptation in the vernacular—“kung ano ang puno, siya ang bunga.”

This applies to an incident in San Juan when I visited a Journal colleague who was shot and hospitalized and fortunately—and unfortunately—Erap’s son, Jinggoy, was also there to check on the victim. After the visit, he apparently did not notice that I was also inside the elevator car when he and I left the hospital and I heard the then senator comment: “Masakit na ang panga ko sa kakangiti sa mga tao.”

Talk about being a hypocrite, eh!?

Anyway, for my friends and others who are Erap’s fans and supporters, my piece today will not delve on my biased opinion of their idol. Rather it deals on giving praise to the former president and convicted plunderer, who unknowingly to me had somehow have proven his worth as a hero of the poor when he tried to initiate the appropriation of a property in Santa Ana for which he reportedly put up P12 million in a bank.

Remember, I don’t like Erap at all but I must say he had done this good deed because I believe he felt he needed to help those poor rascals who were living in the property and about to be thrown out after their houses are demolished on the orders of Erap’s predecessor.

On top of this, when Erap lost to actor-turned-politician Francisco ‘Isko Moreno’ Domagoso, again these poor folks were under threat as the appropriation of the property was again set aside despite a proclamation against demolition by none other than President Rodrigo Duterte.

And now this dimwit kid from Tondo is professing he will do well for the country when or if he becomes president—is that true?

A FOREIGN friend asked my why it appears that vote selling and the use of ‘guns, goons and gold’ appears to be prevalent whenever there is an election here in the Philippines.
I replied to him that both vote selling and vote buying is not a phenomenon exclusively found here because even in other countries, this too happens.

But in parting ways with my friend, I still asked myself: Why do ordinary voters really sell their votes to the highest bidder?

Perhaps what some would answer to this question is not something new. Taking the money but voting according to one’s conscience actually echoes the advice of our clergy as they seem nothing wrong with accepting the money as long as you stand by the choice of your conscience and not because of some willful desire to get material rewards.

Still, based on a study that looked at vote-selling in the Philippines, such advice from our priest and prelates may be actually counterproductive.

According to the late human rights lawyer Atty. Eugene Tan, it has been argued that political rights—such as the right to vote, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly—are easily lost whenever people are deprived of their economic rights, particularly in cases when they are suffering from extreme poverty.

Tan said that because ordinary voters do not enjoy their fundamental economic rights to food, sanitary water, shelter and just wages, they are understandably forced to sell their votes to the highest bidder.

Thus, it would be safe to say that their voting behavior is more the result of their economic deprivation than their moral character or disposition. Their economic situation makes them vulnerable to politicians who profess their love for the poor and promise them the moon and the stars during election season.

Take the case of Erap (and now the young gun Isko), over his being convicted for the abhorrent crime of plunder, the known ‘ex-convict’ over the ‘ex-cop’ Alfredo Lim because of the simple reason that the latter disdained buying people’s votes for him to be elected.

Sabi nga noong mga supporter ni Erap, kuripot daw si Mayor Lim.

As a result of this unsavory trend, those who get to enjoy their economic rights quickly obtain political power. But what is unfortunate and disgraceful is that those who have gained political power cannot be expected to affect meaningful change to empower the poor economically. That is because doing so would be tantamount to political suicide and it would also mean that they may no longer buy votes and the ordinary voters may no longer sell their votes to them.

And the apparent solution does not lie in enacting more laws to deter vote-buying or vote-selling. It lies on ordinary voters who are able to organize themselves to gain political power and thus, as a matter of rights and justice, vote as a unified electorate for the election of the sadly very few good men and women who would meaningfully protect and promote their economic and political rights.

And these few men and women we mention, I dare say, in the past list of presidential candidates I have seen in this forthcoming national and local elections on May 9 next year nor in the previous ones that I remember since I came of voting age way back in 1964. (ai/mtvn)

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