Beware May 9

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

comelec-ballotI have never seen and heard the divisiveness of Filipinos expressed so graphically, so loudly. Half of Filipinos have Facebook accounts and their opinions, commentaries, likes and dislikes have become public. There is, of course, the other half—voiceless, silenced by poverty.

Unfortunately, the noise is not really about pro-candidate as it is about being anti-someone else. It is not enough anymore that partisans extol virtues of character and leadership because the greater motivation is to demonize and demolish others. The noise is important because it gives us all a preview of things to come, on May 9, 2016, and more importantly, beyond May 9.

Life is not about May 9 but every day thereafter. Yet, since May 9 and the key personalities that define it will trigger a powerful wave, May 9, indeed, will dictate how people and nation will move in the short term. This short term facing Filipinos will be crucial. This is not a prediction; this is fact.

Observing the noise in social media that has overshadowed even the usual dominance of traditional print, radio and television, what jumps out so powerfully is the intensity of partisanship. Thankfully, there have been serious gains over those times when warlords had a great say over what happens during campaigns and elections. Without those gains, just from truly crass and demeaning insults that proliferate social media today, thousands would have been shooting at each other.

We are at a crossroad. The old and the new intersect—old and new perspectives, old and new methods, old and new dreams. In population, the young are definitely greater in number. But in attitude, it remains the old that control. It is still divisiveness that colors societal relationships, it is still poverty that mutes the poor, it is still the rich that controls the country, and it is still the super powers that can make the Philippines move according to their global dynamics.

I speak too far ahead, though. The essentials of societal life like business and employment, health and education, poverty and hunger, diplomacy and global cooperation, all these will temporarily make way to where national attention is riveted, where emotions are wrapped or warped around. And that is May 9 and its immediate aftermath.

May 9 will not come quietly and peacefully. It will be a mad scramble for victory and survival by all candidates and all their partisans. There will be little patience, little understanding, and the little there is will be quickly swept aside by the more aggressive and passionate, the more rabid and fanatical. Usually, the submissive majority will make way for those superior in strength, wealth, position or noise. The problem is that the superior ones will fight one another, and their followers will do the same.

Why am I so sure that they will fight? Well, they are already fighting, not just competing for votes. Their voices are already confrontational, which show how confrontational their thoughts and feeling are. It is a thin line between harsh words and harsh actions. It needs only disrespect and anger to overpower tolerance and moderation. Guess what? Disrespect and anger are already taking over the national mood.

The mechanics of vote-buying, too, have been transitioning to more sophisticated ways. There will still be vote-buying, and no one can stop this if poverty is not substantially reduced, but vote-buying is already at work, some as early as several months ago. Those who have money to buy votes have already incorporated as many voters as they can afford into their political machinery. Through those they have been paying and giving allowances to, their families, neighbors and friends are supposed to be part of the arrangement.

Candidates who rely mostly on volunteers or their charisma must measure the passion of their unpaid partisans, as well as their numbers and expertise just before, during and immediately after Election Day (throughout the whole counting process, that is). In 2004, a most popular presidential candidate lost the counting despite the rabid following he had. Throughout the canvassing from precinct to Congress, his passionate followers protested and protested. He was not proclaimed, and no revolution erupted.

Things did change after that, they say. The 2010 presidential elections happened quickly, peacefully and the results quietly accepted. Yes, there were the usual electoral protests but they did not elicit popular attention and sympathy. The national candidates who were declared winners occupied their positions within the time frame set out by law.

But things are changing again—if we listen to the words and emotions expressed by the partisans on all sides. Their tone and tenor do not promise resignation and acceptance of results. What they do promise is more of the same—anger and disrespect.

The military and the police must prepare, as individuals and as institutions. After all, when push comes to shove, only the armed and uniformed services of society can keep violence to a minimum, or take over a fractious and turbulent environment. Even today, elements within the military and the police have become quite partisan themselves. Instead of securing the peace, they may trigger the war.

It is a catharsis, no less. The personalities involved have not placed anger and disrespect in our hearts—they have only stoked these hot emotions to come out. It is similar to some political dynamics in America where racism and bigotry have been provoked to rear their ugly heads. Worse, it is similar to the terrorism and genocide that plagues several nations and peoples. Yes, there is much progress in technology, but not much in giving respect and preventing violence.

I carry mixed feelings, guided by contrasting wisdom. One says that the scourge of the world is man’s propensity to exploit his fellow man. The other says that our lives must be driven, not by our fears but by our hopes. For my people, especially for those enslaved by poverty, for a nation yet to be, for a future we must build by the day, I must hold on to hope.

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