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Opinion

Voting for change?

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

In certain parts of Metro Manila, nearly every lamppost along busy streets is festooned with the campaign materials of incumbent officials and their allies.

This unabashed use of public property for personal use, in blatant violation of rules set by the Commission on Elections (Comelec), is sure to extend to all aspects of public service in case such candidates are elected.

Unfortunately, nearly all candidates seem to be doing it. So only the most brazen won’t get my vote.

Why do the candidates do it? Because they can.

The Comelec has an Oplan Baklas, but it is overwhelmed by the enormity of the violations.

One problem is that there aren’t enough Comelec-designated common poster areas. I drive around a lot, but I haven’t seen a single common poster area in my neck of the woods.

How hard would it be for the Comelec to talk to private owners of large walls or spaces that can be used (for free) as common areas for displaying campaign materials?

If there are enough common spaces, it should be easier to enforce restrictions on the display of campaign materials. Candidates themselves should welcome this; if everyone adhered to the rules on display limits, it would cut their campaign expenses.

In many aspects of life in our land, unfortunately, the regulators are weak, inefficient or compromised. These problems have bedeviled the Comelec for a long time.

Even with the raging pandemic in this election period, it had to hastily backpedal on its warning that violations of COVID health safety protocols during campaign rallies would be considered election offenses, with corresponding penalties.

*      *      *

As in previous elections, the ongoing campaign is highlighting areas where regulations, reforms or fine-tuning of the rules are needed.

Apart from better regulation of the conduct of campaigns, there is the multiparty system, which has degenerated into a no-party setup. This is reinforcing voter choices based on personalities rather than issues. Is this what we really want? Turncoatism has become an alien concept. If there are no parties, how can there be turncoats?

Voters need to know their candidates. The Comelec has been inutile in enforcing many of its own rules and election laws. There must be more specific rules, for example, on participation in Comelec-sponsored debates.

Comelec spokesman James Jimenez has said the poll body has forwarded to Congress proposals for electoral reforms that can be done without the need to amend the Constitution.

Lawmakers, however, have always been resistant to electoral reforms, except when gerrymandering and creating more congressional and local government seats for their dynasties and fiefdoms.

Perhaps the incoming Congress will muster the political will to pass those Comelec-proposed reforms, but I’m not holding my breath.

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President Duterte called attention to one area in dire need of reforms if not outright abolition: the party-list.

Although his tirade was directed at progressive party-list groups that his government has tagged as communist fronts, I also believe the system has become a failed experiment in marginal representation and a drain on precious public funds.

The abuse of the party-list has worsened with each electoral exercise. Just consider the majority of the groups seeking party-list representation this year, and you will throw up. I know I’m not the only one boycotting in disgust, and not voting for any party-list group.

The Supreme Court, in a ruling based on provisions in Republic Act 7941 or the Party-List System Act of 1995, opened the floodgates to abuse of the system. Will the next Congress amend RA 7941? In your dreams.

Then there’s the provision on moral turpitude that is supposed to be a ground for disqualification from public office. It seems “moral turpitude” needs a clearer, detailed definition to make it much less open to personal interpretation by Comelec commissioners.

But if the commissioners themselves have moral turpitude issues, will it matter if the rules and laws are amended?

If Filipino voters themselves haven’t the faintest idea what constitutes moral turpitude (and even if they did, they don’t give a whit, since they believe there are no angels in this country), why should the Comelec worry about such trivialities?

*      *      *

Filipinos love elections; turnout is always unusually high in our electoral exercises.

People like the economic opportunities during elections: production of t-shirts, posters and streamers, giveaway pens and other items; provision of food at rallies. Election spending can speed up recovery from the COVID pandemic (unless there is a renewed surge next month due to campaign activities).

Some consider the rampant vote buying (hard to control, according to Duterte) an opportunity to compel crooked candidates to share some of their ill-gotten wealth with the source of the thievery, we the people.

But for many, there is also the abiding hope that elections will bring meaningful change.

Unfortunately, many of the structural changes needed to make our republic strong have not moved at the same pace as our periodic leadership changes.

Often, elections simply pave the way for a transfer of power and entitlements from one bunch of thieves to another, or from one generation to another belonging to the same clan.

How much change can there be if in every election, members of one clan simply swap seats in their turf for congressman, governor, vice governor, mayor, vice mayor, councilors (yes, plural) and even barangay captain and youth council?

Such clans have a standard comment on this: they can always be voted out of office.

The issue is not as simple as they paint it to be: entrenched clans enjoy undue advantage in dispensing patronage, and in treating public coffers as their personal piggybank.

If they plaster their campaign posters on every lamppost, tree and blank wall in their turfs, no one will stop them.

Often, they are correct: they get elected and reelected. A number of them run unopposed.

You begin entertaining the treasonous thought that perhaps those disparaging our nation might have a point, that we suffer from stupidity similar to insanity: we do the same thing over and over again, and expect different results.

COMELEC

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