Loonies distract campaign for 15 minutes of fame
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - May 10, 2019 - 12:00am

The first voting under Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law was democratic. Invited to barangay halls, adults were asked who wanted rice. The raised hands were counted. So was overwhelmingly ratified the 1973 Constitution. A proviso made Marcos president and one-man legislature for life.

Still a presidential election was held years later. Marcos’ buddy and party mate ran against him. It was a free election. People were free to vote anywhere they happened to be on Election Day. Voter IDs and precinct assignments were unrequired. It was secret balloting; voters were forbidden to see their ballot. Soldiers with M-16s cast it for them. Marcos further secured his dictatorship.

Then was also an election for Batasang Pambansa (parliament). Marcos gave opponents a fighting chance. Ninoy Aquino and fellow-candidates were allowed to campaign – from political prison. Rallies were lively. Prohibited to talk, opposition supporters honked car horns, banged pots and pans, or lined up the streets in “noise barrage” at the appointed hour. The opposition’s “L” finger sign for Laban competed with Marcos’ “V” for Victory. Unaligned voters flashed the “O” sign with three other fingers up, signifying Openness for cash.

Late in 1985 Marcos was dared on live American talk-TV to prove his popularity. “Sure,” he snapped back self-confidently. So was set in Jan. 1986 a snap presidential election. Ninoy’s widow Cory Aquino ran against Marcos. In the latter’s cronies’ bailiwicks pre-filled-up ballots were used. Elsewhere ballot boxes were snatched from poll supervisors on the way to consolidation centers. The tallying was painfully slow. Forced to cheat, tabulators walked out of the national canvassing. The People Power Revolt that followed overtook the count.

Three succeeding presidential, seven congressional, and seven local elections in 1987-2007 were as chaotic. Guns, goons, and gold marked the campaigns. Local fights were particularly dirty and violent. “Flying voters” were bused from one polling center to another to cast multiple ballots. Asked why there were more than 50 registered voters in one little hut alone in Lanao, a politico bragged that “Here even the birds and the bees vote.” Terrorism prevailed. A gubernatorial candidate vowed in broken English, “If you vote me I will die you a carabao and eat you all, but if you don’t I will come back and burn all your houses.”

Election laws constantly were revised. Still, every balloting, politicos managed to spot loopholes. Cheating was eradicated at precinct tallying, by breaking them up into only 200 kinsmen and neighbors at most. Large-scale fraud shifted to the canvassing starting 1995. For highest whisper-bidders, canvassers employed “dagdag-bawas” (vote padding-shaving). Candidates took to saving a third of their campaign kitties for that post-balloting expense.

Campaigns became costlier. Candidates began spending P200 million to win positions that paid only less than a tenth of the salary during their term. Multibillion-peso pork barrels were concocted for income augmentation at national and local offices. Political dynasties were strengthened to protect family investments.

Automated elections began in 2010. In the supply bidding the least qualified, whose voting machine overheated during the demo, won. The cost of elections ballooned 12-fold to lease-purchase, accessorize, deploy, retrieve, and warehouse the tens of thousands of machines. It didn’t matter that the supplier was blacklisted in America and Europe.

Candidates no longer knew who won. Elections became popularity contests – of memorable campaign ads, jingles, and gimmicks. All sorts of doles were handed out to voters: Philhealth memberships, medicines, college scholarships even to dolts. Vote-buying was perfected. Even rivals’ supporters were bought to stay home on Election Day. For good measure in 2016, a peso demonetization year, vote buyers ensured the outcome by paying literally only half the cash, with the other cut handed along with transparent tape only at the end of balloting.

Campaigns have become circuses. On candidacy filing day would parade to the Comelec incarnations of gods and superheroes. The media accord each their 15 minutes of fame, whereupon they slink back to oblivion.

Clowns also emerge in campaign closing. Years back a Comelec chief took one jester too seriously as witness to cheating. The court disbelieved, however, the alleged misdeed by two senatorial candidates and an ex-poll commissioner. It turned out that the informant was a con man who had been fired from a previous job for stealing, was facing two fraud cases, and had duped two reporters.

A clown at the closing of Campaign 2019 popped up this week at the Integrated Bar office with a coterie of nuns. In a hurried press meet he declared to be the “alias Bikoy” in online video allegations on President Rody Duterte and kins’ drug links. A quick check by Senate President Tito Sotto showed the fellow to be a convicted fraudster who, for a fee in 2016, also wanted to tie President Noynoy Aquino and Cabinet to narcotics. The clown offered no evidence during his brief appearance, matched by no proof as well from Malacañang on his alleged “oust-Duterte co-plotters in the opposition and media.” The presidential spokesman noted, though, that the clown has a Bicolano accent while the Bikoy in the video sounded Ilocano. That probably means the circus ain’t over yet.

* * *

Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

Gotcha archives on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jarius-Bondoc/1376602159218459, or The STAR website https://www.philstar.com/columns/134276/gotcha

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