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Buying or selling votes? Think again

Pastor, Cathedral Parish of the Nativity of our Lady, Borongan,
Eastern Samar
February 26, 2007

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.

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