Of political seasons and dilemmas

BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon - The Freeman

It’s the start of the summer season, and the April heat coincides with the beginning of the political season. In Cebu City, as early as last month, politicians have already unveiled their potential line-ups for next year’s midterm elections.

This timing isn't premature. In fact, preparations for next year’s elections should start now if politicians want to avoid being caught off guard and having to react defensively to their opponents' moves. I am no political expert, but I can say with confidence that now is the time to start full preparations for the midterm elections. There are many bases to cover; among these are securing one’s line-up of candidates and ensuring funding sources are in place.

The campaign budget is one of the most important components of a political campaign. Even if, thankfully, a politician does not engage in vote-buying, substantial funds are still necessary to cover various campaign expenses, including food for campaign staff and volunteers, campaign materials, and mobilization efforts. In the Philippines where community gatherings often revolve around food, failing to provide meals for your staff, guests, and even audience is considered insensitive.

Some devout and sincere individuals I know still hold onto the mistaken belief that ideals and progressive campaign platforms alone can mainly secure a candidate's victory. While such platforms do contribute to winning campaigns, overstating their importance can hurt a campaign. History has shown us that voters are largely pragmatic. Campaigns built on charisma and promises of tangible improvements in people's lives tend to succeed, whereas those relying mainly on principles and ideals are unlikely to gain traction.

The problem with our country's electoral landscape is that politicians are usually left to rely on their so-called own resources to fund a campaign. This presents a serious moral dilemma: we have come to expect that our politicians may engage in corruption, but they should not be excessively greedy --aiming merely to recoup election expenses or fund the next campaign. Still, this political reality is one main reason why our country remains geopolitically weak. So how do we find a way out of this quagmire?

I have no definitive answer to such a question, but I propose a step out of this moral dilemma: strengthening our political parties. While I am not totally against independent candidates, either at the local or national levels, those without the backing of political parties may unintentionally be hypocritical. They often position themselves as ideal candidates, yet lack the support of grassroots organizations and community stakeholders at all levels.

In a sense, this is hypocritical because these independent or “third force” candidates will likely end up engaging in the same practices they criticize due to the pressures of political reality or because of their lack of a credible political network. A candidate's value is equal to the sum of his network. He may possess the best intentions and a brilliant mind, but if he is surrounded by incompetent or unreliable friends or family members, he might as well be counted among them. Such a candidate lacks a deep pool of talent necessary for honest and effective governance.

That is why I advocate for strong party building and discipline. It is also the reason why I hesitate to enter electoral politics, despite some previous invitations. I cannot stand the pressures associated with a compromised or underdeveloped network. However, I can say that even as political supporters, we must put our money where our mouth is --either by strengthening our existing political parties through our contributions, or by building new ones rooted in long-term grassroots organizing.

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