Our favorite Catholic bishop and kailiyan Bishop Francisco Claver has an interesting article on vote buying and selling which every Filipino voter should read before they go to the polls on May 14. Our good bishop gets a little bit snarky in this article which is why we are “stealing” it from the Inquirer. Way to go bishop.
Buy and sell
By Bishop Francisco F. Claver, S.J.
When our village philosopher, a wizened Bontoc Igorot of uncertain age, heard a few weeks ago that the government was going to shell out P40 per day to hungry people (according to a report in one of the papers), he remarked: “Is that the new way of buying votes?”
A younger version of our philosopher immediately piped in: “New? It’s the same old way of disbursing funds for public projects just before elections to ‘alleviate’ the poverty of bought voters.”
Hearing their exchange, I had an image from the last election in 2004 come to mind: hordes of old and not-so-old women put to work for a pittance piling rocks on the Bontoc-Banaue road at Mount Polis for a “beautification project” of the local government — those rocks, painstakingly gathered, would be pushed out of the way the next time a scraper went by to fix the road. An odd way of poverty alleviation, that beautification project. So, too, is the present billion-peso appropriation to meet the growing hunger problem of the nation. And all for no other end but to buy votes for munificent government people running for office?
The exchange set me thinking: Elections, Philippine style, are probably best described as a time of wondrous buying and selling. And it is not only about the usual practice of candidates buying votes, voters selling theirs. The whole process is in itself a straight buying-and-selling transaction, some of it good, most of it bad. And both buying and selling are often done with superior imagination, the likes of which, if applied to our national stagnation, could work more miracles than the Chinese and the Indians seem to be doing in their unprecedented burst of economic gains.
The good kind: When candidates “sell” themselves to voters on the strength of their integrity and platforms of governance as future public servants; and the voters “buy” their candidates on what they perceive as their merits and the non-“trapo” [traditional politico] image they project. A rather rare kind of selling and buying, but practiced now and again by the more principled candidates. And voters.
The bad kind: When candidates sell a spurious bale of goods by resorting only to the usual election gimmicks (singing, dancing, mugging, by themselves or vicariously through movie stars and the like, and all the other strange things they usually do); and when voters buy the tawdry things being sold them without much serious thought given to how their candidates rate on the scale of competence and integrity. Unfortunately, this is the more common kind of election buying and selling.
Among the spurious bale of goods referred to above, I would include “dynastic” candidates whose only reason for their running for office is easy (family) “name recall.” Some time back the sentiment was voiced by a relative of a prospective family dynast: “There is nothing in the Ten Commandments forbidding ‘family dynasties’.”
Actually there is. The whole thrust of the Ten Commandments is directed against the idolatry of self. In plain language, selfishness. And if there is anything we Filipinos are only too cognizant about, it is that family dynasties, in the light of the way we play politics, are nothing but a hoarding in one family of political power (and the wealth that comes from the corrupt use of power). And that is wrong, because with the family good coming first before the public good in our Filipino hierarchy of values, the selfishness we speak of is only too real.
If our election process is a market place, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ refusal to name those selling good or bad merchandise is tantamount to simply repeating the old warning of “Caveat emptor!” (Buyer, beware!) That warning, we have often heard it said, is nothing but a copout on the part of the bishops. I rather think it is the other way around: Those who want their minds made up for them by the bishops are the ones guilty of copping out.
What the bishops are doing, when we come down to it, is simply attempting to affirm our collective intelligence as a people (most of us anyway!) and to respect our freedom in the exercise of our political will. Getting somebody to make one’s mind up without much effort on one’s part is the lazy way out. But lazy or not, we have to concede, it is an easy temptation to succumb to in our horribly confused politics.