This is the first commentary that I wrote for the youth section of the Philippine Online Chronicles.
Is it informational or merely an eyesore? All over the country today we see TV ads, radio broadcasts, and posters of electoral aspirants invading everyday life. Bearing the names and faces of candidates for national and local government positions, this clutter marks the unmistakeable proof of the onset of the election season.
In Iloilo, the streets are drowning in campaign materials by local candidates (even before the start of the official campaign period for the local government positions) alongside those by the national senatorial hopefuls and the party-list groups.
Obviously, we are now in the middle of the election frenzy. But more than this commonplace observation, it is important to see the prevailing socio-political landscape underlying this flood of promotional paraphernalia. It doesn’t take a genius to see that only those with access to resources can afford to pay for media ads and create such an awful mess of plastic and tarpaulin in the streets.
“To decide once every few years which member of the ruling class is to repress and oppress the people,” this is how a political philosopher once described elections. Instead of the promised democratic exercise of the right to choose leaders from among the ordinary people, elections in the country has become a contest dominated by political dynasties belonging to the same class of hacienderos, big businessmen, and traditional politicians.
When Lolong, the country’s largest crocodile died, partisans of President Noynoy Aquino’s ruling Liberal Party threatened critics who might use Lolong to make fun of the ruling party as an orgiastic gathering of unscrupulous crocodiles. Rather than accusing the Liberal Party as the Lolong Party, it would be more useful to conceptualize the entire political system as one pervaded by Lolong politics. After all, political parties are formed around dynasties and personality-based alignments and not on principles, programs, and issues.
Take the case of Iloilo Province. Previously a stalwart of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s Lakas-CMD party, incumbent governor Arthur Defensor, Sr. is running for re-election as the official candidate of the Liberal Party. He is now on the same ship as his clan’s former bitter rivals, the Tupas family.
In the First District, the Flores clan jumped to the United Nationalist Alliance after they were side-lined by the entry of the Garins in the Liberal Party. The Garins were previously stalwarts of Lakas-CMD. They also “represent” marginalized farmers in Congress with a seat under the Aambis-Owwa Party-list.
Controversial Congressman Augusto “Boboy” Syjuco, Sr. of the Iloilo Second District is by the way the father of Miguel Syjuco, the Filipino novelist who wrote the award-winning novel Ilustrado, a veiled criticism of the Philippine political class.
The monopoly of political power by the moneyed elites is even worse at the national level as a cursory glance of the present composition of the Senate would reveal. If the surveys are to be believed, then we can expect a perpetuation of dynastic politics in the Senate this polls.
Consider senatorial candidates Bam Aquino (nephew of President Noynoy Aquino), Sonny Angara (son of Senator Edgardo Angara), Jack Enrile (son of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile), Nancy Binay (daughter of Vice President Jejomar Binay), JV Ejercito (son of deposed President Joseph Estrada), among others.
Think about the way some of these candidates shamelessly bank on their ancestry as credentials for their electoral bids. Bam Aquino: “Si Tito Noy, Tita Cory, at Kuya Noy… Ngayon tayo naman…” Evidently, they seem to regard office as if it were an heirloom to be inherited from their dynastic ancestors, which makes our Republic a step below the feudal monarchies of the dark ages.
This sorry state of affairs is not an accident but a symptom of the character of the Philippine social system which political activists describe in precise terms as semi-colonial and semi-feudal. Semi-colonial because the ruling classes are tied to imperialist interests and semi-feudal because of the persistence of domestic feudalism and its becoming captive to foreign monopoly capital.
The Aquino regime glosses over the worsening crisis weighing down on the Filipino people by persisting in an economic program dependent on foreign loans and foreign direct investments that plunder our natural resources, exploit our cheap labor force, and destroy the environment.
Publicity gimmicks and empty rhetoric of good governance and “change” are bandied about endlessly while at the same time privatizing social services like health and education as well as imposing more taxes while ensuring low wages for workers amidst soaring prices resulting from the government’s deregulation policy.
The Liberal Party senatorial ticket “Team P-Noy” promises to pursue more of the same. While the nominal opposition party United Nationalist Alliance offers no real alternative to this vision.
The truth is there is no “matuwid na daan” while the system that perpetuates the enrichment and domination of the top 1 percent at the expense of the greater majority continues to persist.
Because policies are geared towards serving the interests of foreign monopolies and the ruling classes, it comes as no surprise that the combined net worth of the country’s richest 25 individual Filipinos (US$21.4 billion) in 2009 is equivalent to the combined income of the poorest 55.4 million Filipinos.
Official government statistics show that 27 percent of the population suffer from poverty. But this is based on a poverty line of little more than P46 a day. The stark reality shows that the poorest 70 percent survives on little more than P104 a day or less.
It is the persistence of this social order that forms the basis of a Lolong politics dominated by dynasties that pursue the profit interests of foreign powers, banks, and multinational corporations at the expense of the toiling majority of peasants and workers who become more and more impoverished.
Ultimately, there can be no question of genuine change or genuine democracy until this system is changed. As the song Tatsulok goes, “hangga’t mas marami ang lugmok sa kahirapan at ang hustisya ay para lang sa mayaman, hangga’t may tatsulok at sila ang nasa tuktuk, hindi matatapos itong gulo.”