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How to win voters and keep them

My cleaning lady’s neighbor has been distributing forms in the community. The neighbor claims that it is for a feeding program but the form requires prospective beneficiaries to indicate their precinct number beside their names.

The neighbor is persistent, pestering Manang to fill up the form even if the latter’s children are all grown-up. Grandchildren are included, the neighbor reasoned out. Manang has refused, arguing that her grandchildren do not live with her and that she does not want to pay sixty pesos to have her picture taken. A picture is also required for the form.

What Manang does not want to tell her neighbor, perhaps in an effort to keep their relationship cordial, is that she is tired of all the gimmicks that politicians resort to during election season. Just last week, bio-data forms were distributed with the name of a candidate for vice president listed as reference at the bottom. It was announced that those who filled up the forms and submitted them to the organizers would get assistance in their search for jobs. Again, they were required to submit their pictures and precinct numbers.

Manang lost all her possessions during Typhoon Ondoy. Four months after, she and her neighbors continue to wait to be relocated by the local government. They live in makeshift tents that have started to fray. Once in a while, someone from City Hall would go and make a list of the persons in the tent city. A few families who lived beside the river were relocated to Bulacan before Christmas. Everyone thought it was a matter of time before they would be moved, too. They were all wrong.

It is difficult for Manang to stop ranting about the promises that local politicians made before the elections in 2007 and broke during their term. One of them visited the community after Ondoy but did not even bother to get down from his car. Manang and her neighbors now suspect that they will not be relocated because it would mean less votes for the local politicians in May.

“Is there a way for us to promise these politicians that we will vote in the same city even if we are relocated before the elections? We will even sign this promise,” Manang consults me. I don’t know what to say to her and just shrug.

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“Why don’t you and your neighbors go and talk to the presidential candidates promising to build houses for everyone?” I tell her. I’m half-joking and a little desperate for answers.

“Politicians never fulfill their promises,” she says.

In the book “The Power of Half: One Family's Decision to Stop Taking and Start Giving Back” by Kevin and Hannah Salwen, an American family tells the story of how they sold their luxurious home and donated half the proceeds to charity. The other half was used to buy a more modest home. This happened after the teenage daughter saw a Mercedes Benz car and a homeless man begging for food while she and her father were in the car. She thought that if the man in the Mercedes Benz drove a cheaper car, then the homeless man would have something to eat.

The idea seems childish but I imagine the millions, if not billions, of pesos spent by local and national candidates for radio and television advertisements and campaign posters that will soon litter our streets and try to compute the equivalent number of houses that the amount could have built for urban poor families like Manang and conclude that it makes sense. If these candidates are so excited to serve the Filipinos, they should put their money where their mouths are and help those who need help now.  

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