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Our nation’s will: Still much to be desired

BIZLINKS - Rey Gamboa - The Philippine Star

It’s been two rough-and-tough years for Filipinos and as the pandemic enters its third year, the stamina to survive is ever put to the test. While thousands of jobs have been lost, those pushed deeper into poverty are a bigger concern.

In light of the upcoming May elections, the scenario is perfect for the candidate with a fat wallet: nothing is more scintillating in times of great need than seeing a sheaf of hundred peso bills being distributed during political rallies or even dispensed house to house by candidates’ underlings.

This is today’s harsh and painful reality. It is easier to be grateful to a candidate who gives out crisp five hundred peso bills during a political gathering and who promises more in the coming months ahead of election day. It is easy to like such a candidate than to analyze his promises, however broken and absurd their contexts are compared to grounded logic, economics, and realities.

Some of my friends decry: How can there be more and more Filipinos who take elections so lightly, who don’t think about the country and the future of their children? Some political analysts say it is the sign of the times, peoples’ growing preference for autocracy as against democracy, an implicit support for strong one-man rules as something better for a nation.

That, I say, is an overthink if one supposes that every one of this country’s 60 million eligible voters puts value into such lofty words as equality, workers’ rights, freedom of choice and expression, human dignity, and liberty.

What elections mean

The grim reality is that Philippine elections has been degraded to an opportunity to earn a few quick bucks as more and more people care less. Because after almost a century of a democratic system introduced by American conquerors after the Spaniards were driven out of the country, real political power has resided and remained with only a few – not the “democratic” majority.

Don’t get me wrong: Filipinos will still want elections because it is a given expression of freedom to choose, however flawed it is. Take away elections, and you’ll likely end up with unruly protests and revolts. Just do not expect election results to always turn out to be for the better of the country.

Filipinos also deem concepts like justice, equality, and dignity as important, although the specific degrees and lengths of how such is defined and accepted will always be debatable. For example, most Filipinos will patiently wait years for the courts to decide on civil or criminal cases, whereas people in more advanced economies see this as a failure of justice.

They say the true value of democracy shines when there is a majority of enlightened citizens who are able to carry on with the glorified goals of nationhood through fair elections. Perhaps true, but seeing it sustained is not always guaranteed, especially when there are instances of countries whose democratic processes have been obliterated overnight by military takeovers.

They say democracy is a work in progress, and may take centuries to be ingrained. It certainly takes a long time. The history of the United States, starting with its birth in 1776, is an evolutionary testament; since then, civil wars had to be waged to obscure slavery, and huge protests mounted to push forward women’s rights.

Perhaps we are too impatient, having been freed from US rule formally only on July 4, 1946. Since then, the Philippines has held 20 presidential ballots, and more elections for positions of other national and local officials. Many Filipinos today may consider themselves poor or certainly not affluent, but definitely better off than their ancestors.

If our scientists are to be believed, this pandemic will soon pass, a scourge on humanity that happens only about every one hundred years. If there is an increase in the number of Filipinos who will vote for a candidate who is more amenable to giving away money, understand that it is the need of the times that is to blame – but perhaps more.

Decades of little change

I speak as a person who has witnessed a number of decades of dramatic changes in the country, but seemingly of little consequence if viewed today. One particular supposedly turning moment in our political landscape that comes to mind was in 1972 when Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law.

During Marcos’ tenure under martial rule, a new constitution was passed in 1973, which called for the first local elections in 1975. It was the first step towards building up a parliamentary form of government, one that critics warned was a means for Marcos to extend his grip on political power.

During the extended stay of Marcos, the country went through a period of economic decay where swarms of slums mushroomed in the nation’s capital while capital flight during later years was exacerbated by excessive stories of corruption.

Then in 1986, Marcos was ousted from power, not through elections, but by what is now recorded as a people’s revolt. Through the decades after, the country saw a succession of new leaders in a rebirth of democratic institutions under a new constitution passed in 1987.

Many barely remember all these milestones in history, much more will these be factored in their choice of who to vote on May 9. Still, we are grateful that the electoral process in the Philippines is one that is looked forward to by many – even if it is revered less than some want it to be.

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We are actively using two social networking websites to reach out more often and even interact with and engage our readers, friends and colleagues in the various areas of interest that I tackle in my column. Please like us on www.facebook.com/ReyGamboa and follow us on www.twitter.com/ReyGamboa.

Should you wish to share any insights, write me at Link Edge, 25th Floor, 139 Corporate Center, Valero Street, Salcedo Village, 1227 Makati City. Or e-mail me at [email protected]. For a compilation of previous articles, visit www.BizlinksPhilippines.net.

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