A post-election dread

At this writing, 22:16 hours, May 9, I am seized by dread as election results from various sources appear online. From regions 1 and 2, the solid North, the BBM-Duterte tandem has emerged the winner, as expected. But, there are 15 more regions in the Republic of the Philippines. Brace yourselves for a frenetic tumblel of events.

A candidate’s popularity has to be transformed into votes which, in turn, have to be cast and counted with the utmost adherence to the rule of law in general, and to electoral laws, in particular. Lest we forget, the electoral system is the core of our democratic government, in theory, so should it be in practice.

There are two things that I dread the most when elections are over: The victorious candidates show their true colors after a logorrhea of promises and begin to promote their personal agenda which hardly ever coincide with national interests. Tabula rasa is the mantra. None of the programs of a previous administration will be continued;not even the good ones. So, after each election, the Philippines is shoved back to square one, that is why we seem to be going around in circles. If we had a real political party system, could things be different?

There was a time when we had only two, the Nacionalista and Liberal parties; at the outset they were distinguishing political platforms which soon enough deteriorated into a “ Coca Cola, Pepsi Cola difference”. Like butterflies, politicians began to change parties whenever they lost in the conventions ( like primaries in the USA). In fact, that was what Ferdinand Marcos Sr. did in the 1960’s. He left the Liberal Party when he lost its convention and became the standard bearer of the Nacionalista Party. We used to call that “turncoatism”, a change in party affiliation within a year before an election, or after.

The Liberals and Nacionalistas are still out there somewhere, but you may have noticed that political parties proliferate, like mushrooms after a storm, during the election campaign period and evaporate just as fast when everything is over. Bereft of even “Coca Cola, Pepsi Cola ” platforms, political parties today are mere electoral machines that strike alliances of convenience and garner votes. They disappear and resuscitate according to the electoral calendar.

However, I do not think that our political party system is beyond repair, there are positive elements that are worth reviving, that should be strengthened. Last October 2021, I wrote in this very space that VP Leni Robredo was raising the standards of political discourse; it is now evident that she did more than that. She inspired millions of Filipinos from all income brackets to rise up and become politically active, to work together, to help one another. Call it volunteerism, describe it as activism, this spontaneous force should be transformed not into a political party but into a civic movement, a civil society.

This is how the World Economic Forum defines a civil society: “It is no longer a mere sector dominated by NGOs, it includes a vibrant range of organized and unorganized groups involved in holding institutions to account, prompting transparency, raising awareness of issues, delivering services to meet education, health, food and security needs, disaster management and preparedness. It brings expert knowledge and experience to shape policy and strategy giving priority to the marginalized and encouraging citizen engagement.”

That is exactly what VP Robredo has been doing ever since she became a lawyer and congress woman. She is against corruption, incompetence in government, and its lack of concern for the marginalized sectors. She has instituted programs for educational reforms and supports the National Learning Assessment program that will diagnose “missed learning” caused by the Covid pandemic. She has inspired investments in remediat programs in education at the communities and provincial levels. Her Angat Kabuhayan program boosts rural development that is uplifting the lives of farmers and fisherfolk. She makes it possible for smallholder agriculture to connect with large domestic institutional buyers and foreign markets. She vowed to map the points where corruption enters the government and plug these holes. She walks on the difficult untrodden path of putting the interest of Filipinos before anything else.

VP Leni’s rallies were reminiscent of People Power. The tremendous civilian, volunteer force she inspired should not be allowed to dissipate. That is my post electoral dread. At this point, we need to harness that ineluctable force of citizen volunteers into a civil society so we can continue to play critical and diverse roles in the development of our country.