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How we elect our leaders is how we are led

As the campaign season opens there is an observed intensity by presidential aspirants to woo the electorates to their side. To do this hundreds of millions are expected to be spent on all sorts of inducements – from multi-media ads to public rallies, from dole-out gimmicks to institutional donations. Of course, to survive this contest only the most financially strong prevail, and possibly, eventually get the people’s mandate.

There are as usual attempts to demonize one another through a public disclosure of alleged bureaucratic lapses. Some of these may have actually happened, but some are possibly based on mere hearsay. But at the polling places these things are seldom remembered, except perhaps by the few conscientious electors. Insofar as the average Filipino is concerned it’s the fellow from whom much goodies flow who gets his nod.

Along with these, there’s the matter of affiliation arising from a sense of loyalty to one’s authority figure. Thus an employee tends to vote for the fellow whose “amo” bats for, perhaps for reason of past favors received or for just being a friend or a “paisano”. How strong is this determinant? It’s very strong, actually. The Filipino being highly personal in outlook places much premium on relationship, and this tends to influence his poll choices despite other forms of inducements. Even if money is offered his option oftentimes remains unchanged. Of course, he accepts the bounty, but he resorts to “copras”, meaning, accepting the dole-out but voting for somebody else.

Don’t get me wrong, money is still a big factor in Philippine elections. In fact, it is the factor. It could be money from the government, as when funds are shelled out for a bridge or roadway or for any form of social services (e.g. medical assistance from a congressman), or it could be money from the candidates’ own pocket given to their supporters.

This direct give-away, usually a sizeable amount, comes in two or more trances – one while the campaign is going on, another, a day or two before the election. This later release is computed according to the number of voters under the “coordinators” times a certain amount plus the man’s own share. How much is the total amount for, say, a barangay? It depends upon the number of “captive” voters, people who have been known to be loyal to the candidates’ group. This amount multiplied by sixty or seventy percent of the number of barangays is the approximate “damage” per municipality.

A candidate for a position in a big municipality therefore needs more “dough” than a candidate for a similar position in a small municipality. In the same way, a national position costs much more, perhaps a hundred times more, than a local one. That’s why in the current presidential race one candidate is said to have spent a billion pesos at this point in time to promote his cause. How much more will he flood the field with cold cash on election day?

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Money, money, people are crazy about money every time they choose their leaders. Every mandate has it cost, and that cost of course stays in the leaders’ mind once they get the mandate. Talk of clean governance, in the current context of warped electoral culture it is an impossible dream. As long as the peoples’ choice is tied to a bonanza of goodies, Filipino leadership will always suffer from lack of commitment for the common good.

Ironically, the cry for good governance resounds loud and clear against whoever sits in the power corridor. And when reports of malfeasances become incessant the clamor for regime change becomes incessant too, culminating sometimes in a people power. This has happened twice in this country, events which were celebrated as triumphs of democracy but which at the same weakened its very foundation.

And yet the truth is that a corrupt leader is spawned from corrupt followers. He is one of them. He may be an elite in status, but his thinking reflects their thinking, his attitude attuned to their attitude. Leader and followers interact like happy club members, scratching each other’s back for comfort and delight – while the country sinks and sinks. What hope is there for this nation?

That hope lies in the home, the church, and the school – all values transmitting agents. Acting together and reinforcing each other’s transformational thrusts, these entities can forge a culture of godliness characterized by justice, honesty and self-sacrifice from out of which will emerge the new Filipino. But what can jump-start these institutions to do their job? That’s the big question.

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