Buying or selling votes? Think
By Fr. EUTIQUIO 'EULY' B. BELIZAR, JR.
Parish of the Nativity of our Lady, Borongan,
It was just a simple chat. We
started with an innocuous topic, namely, possible local candidates for local
positions. Then my friend who, by the way, is as church-going as anyone in my
parish, said, "If there are a hundred ways to skin a cat, there are a thousand
more ways to cheat so as to win an election, Philippine style. And there's
nothing you can do about it." He was referring, of course, to the Church's
efforts through PPCRV to stem what I feel has become a 'cultural tide' of
election cheating and other election-related irregularities in the
land of Rizal, Mabini et al.
So are PPCRV and other
well-meaning Filipinos only whistling in the dark and, worse, merely charging
against the windmills?
I refuse to agree. And so do
many others. But neither do I take the situation lightly. I live and minister to
God's People in very rural
Eastern Samar. Very rural doesn't mean very naive though. Right
now, ordinary Eastern Samar Pinoys don't give much attention to the already loud
election brouhaha bruited about largely by the sensational-starved media, at
least not yet. But I'm sometimes disarmed by the honesty with which some local
voters admit to having received money from local politicos or their agents for
their votes in past elections. And when I begin raising the issue of the evils
of such a practice, bad governance being the most obvious aftermath in the
Eastern Samar context, at best I get a shrug of the shoulder. It's as if
to say, "You are a priest, Father. You are expected to tell me those things,
or you have no business being a priest. But you can't stop vote-buying or
vote-selling any more than you can stop the rain from falling down." I was
stunned by a local barangay captain, a very close friend to many priests, who
within my hearing gave what he thought a sage advice to some would-be voters,
"Take the money, and vote for your choice candidates anyway. Period."
Again I refuse to bite this
common mindset. But I understand that fighting against vote-buying, vote-selling
and election-rigging in general don't only rest on how they flout basic morality
(of which most practitioneers don't much give a thought anyway). They also rest
on how the practice blinds us to common-sense, practical wisdom the lack of
which has brought Pinoys and their country to the weeping point.
I have gathered five arguments
that are really plain common sense wisdom.
First off, the (Filipino value
of) 'shame' argument. All indicators tell us that the value of 'hiya' hasn't
left our shores with many decent Pinoys who have migrated elsewhere. The
question is, are we ashamed enough to see that buying and selling votes and
election-rigging are still with us in this day and age? Are we ashamed enough to
stop pointing to the poverty of the masses as the fundamental culprit behind the
practice simply because it means we just don't want to go against an evil deeply
imbedded in our culture? As an ordinary citizen recently put it in an interview
on television originally referring to COMELEC's refusal to implement the
automation law: "Pag gusto, laging may paraan. Pag di gusto, laging may dahilan
(If one wants it, he always finds a way. If he doesn't want it, he'll always
find an excuse)." Isn't the poverty of our people the convenient excuse
we invoke because we just don't want to lift a finger and make their lot better?
Besides, the poverty of our masses is not the sole explanation to our rampant
election irregularities. If it were, then why do even moneyed politicians sell
their candidacies, say by withdrawing from an electoral contest in favor of an
opponent to the tune of millions of pesos (go ask Mang Panday, it's amazing how
much he and his likes know the truth)?
Two, the self-strike or 'paniki'
(night bat) argument, otherwise known as the sanctity of the ballot argument.
Legend has it that when a night bat or 'paniki' takes a pee, it urinates on
itself. In much the same way, a citizen who buys or sells votes slaps himsel/herself
because that action desecrates the sanctity of his right to choose his/her
leaders that fit their office. To say that power resides in the people is only
half true. Power is ultimately of God; to treat it as a plaything or an object
of commerce is to offend its ultimate Source. In effect, buying and selling
votes and election-rigging in general desecrate the persons who engage in them.
Three, the consequence
argument. This is most obvious in the Philippine over-all situation seen from a
larger perspective and in my province, Eastern Samar, from a local perspective.
Surveys, both local and international, have made us eat humble pie and there
seems very little indication that we are responding positively. We rank among
the last in development and poverty-alleviation but among the first in
corruption. Clearly cheating in our elections has produced leaders who largely
fall short of the basic standards of good governance or have so misgoverned that
the systems and structures of the country no longer work for the people's
welfare. They have become the milking cow of those who are in power and, by
extension, by those who are within their spheres of favor.
Four, the exclusion argument.
When we sell our votes, we do so to the highest bidder. It struck me once when,
on a past election day, I saw people not voting till the last hour. I asked a
lay leader why this was so. He answered, "Father, they are waiting for the
really big money, the highest bids from the politicos' agents." I said to
myself, "Yes, Virginia.
The problem is not in our stars but in ourselves. The problem with our
Philippines is Filipinos." When only those who can buy our votes get elected, we
do not get the best because if we did, we won't be where we are now. The best do
not buy our votes because they not only tend to be poorer than the crooks but
also refuse to insult us by buying our sacred trust. No, the best are excluded
because we have sold them out.
Five, the altruistic argument.
Altruism is rooted in the Latin word 'alter' which means 'other'. Don't sell or
buy votes for the sake of your 'significant others', namely, your spouse, your
children, your relatives, your neighbors, children and the young who look up to
you not only as older but also as wiser. If you truly value your fellow
Filipinos or your countrymen, do it for them. Do what is right so that, as Mark
Twain once put it, you may please some and surprise the rest of us. Yes, the
rest of us who have lost faith in the Filipino's capacity to be who he truly is.
A story has it that the
philosopher Diogenes was sent by God back to earth. He is still going around the
world with his lamp. After going to several countries in Europe, North America,
Latin America, Africa and Australia, he recently visited the Philippines.
Everywhere he went he was always asked why he was carrying a lamp and his answer
was: "I'm looking for an honest man." In the Philippines he was last seen at the
Luneta and several cops found him at Rizal's monument without his lamp. The cops
said, "We know who you are. And we suppose that you are in the Philippines
looking for an honest man." Diogenes said, "I was." Then he looked into their
eyes and said, "But now I'm only looking for my lamp." Someone stole it.
Stealing---Yes, that's what buying and selling votes and election-rigging are
really all about.