Persistent Joke

by Juan L. Mercado

“There’s a persistent rumor that we’ll have elections in 2010.” This wisecrack ricochets from newsrooms to kapihans. Without fail, the joke triggers cynical laughter.  It stems from proposals for self-serving charter change (cha-cha) to dark predictions of martial law.

Jokes often reflect our deepest fears. We learned that in World War II. We used laughter, as a weapon, against the Marcos Dictatorship.  And 43 editors focused on these concerns at the Philippine Press Institute’s annual assembly.

“Will there be presidential elections?” they asked the keynote speaker: former elections commission chair Christian Monsod.  “If so, will they be free and fair?”

The questions reflect concern over stressed democratic institutions. The annual survey of Freedom House, for example, tracked liberty’s retreat from Russia  and much of Sub-Saharan Africa.  In Asia, the Philippines have slid back. “It is no longer considered an electoral democracy,” the report says. Our ranking  is “only partly free”.

Both history and studies conclude people won’t stand “any attempt by this administration to abort the elections or change to a parliamentary  system,” Monsod said with signature bluntness. Majority would “vote against it in the unlikely event of a plebiscite.”

Protests would be more intense if martial law were declared. “It’d be outrageous to manufacture a foreign invasion or a nationwide rebellion.”  These two are the only remaining basis, in the constitution, for clamping  on rule by bayonets.

A failed election  and  a carryover of  present leaders would be “pyrrhic and short lived”, he said.  That scenario cannot circumvent an election to decide on a successor.

“Every president, in the recent past, who thought about staying longer realized, in the end, that it was not worth the political turbulence or the risk to his person.”

Ferdinand Marcos did not send  troops to Edsa.  Fidel Ramos abandoned attempts to remove term limits. Joseph Estrada left Malacanang. And  “President Arroyo can choose to step down on June 30, 2010, graciously”.       

People in power and those who want their turn at 11 may miss important signals being sent by the people. Studies like Philippine Democracy Assessment documents these “signals”.

There is a significant alienation and distrust in the electoral process and its administrators” (Like Benjamin Abalos or Virgilio Garciallano?). Nonetheless, people still prefer elections as the best way to choose their leaders.

They spurn options like military takeover, revolutionary government, people power uprising or self-serving constitutional change…They are wary and weary of political experimentation.

People voted out entrenched family dynasties in Pampanga, Abra, Masbate, Nueva Ecija, Cavite and Isabel.  The vote in the senate didn’t show any correlations between media expense and winning, as Prospero Pichay  learned. Two movie stars lost.

The political landscape is changing, albeit slowly.  Ties to land ownership and  traditional cacique connection are blurring… More family based politicians belong to the professional class.

People today spurn calls for People Power. They prefer to wait for the 2010 elections.  This growing maturity recognizes that the “ultimate step, in constitutional accountability, is free,. fair and regular elections…  “That is why elections must happen,” Monsod stressed. People want it. They expect it.

Problems ahead include “palpable partisanship of segments in the military and national police.  Another is the “command vote” in  the Automonous Region of Muslim Mindanao. “What the warlord commands will be the result. This has never been resolved. Every opposition has chosen to exploit it for themselves when it was their turn in power.”

The most subtle threats lurk in approved measures for long-overdue automation. “In previous manual elections, wholesale cheating occurred  during  balloting.  In 2010, any intent to manipulate would be done well ahead by a few software specialists.”

The time to watch is now, as technology for 2010 elections is selected.  “By the time of elections, it will be too late.”  Comelec favors the P11.3 billion Precinct Count Optical Scan system. Here, even precinct election returns will be machine-generated. There is no paper trail.

The Advisory Council notes that Comelec’s “information technology structure is inadequate to meet complexities of automation. “Comelec may be overextending itself by going from totally manual to totally automated.” Monsod added.  Other countries did that in stages.

Comelec hasn’t fully answered issues about what is historically the biggest expenditure for information technology project.  Already, Comelec has postponed bids.

“I  wish Comelec will be proven right by the actual conduct and results,” Monsod said  “There’s no value to my being  proven correct  if elections will be questionable.”

In 1984 and 1986, people were willing to play by the rules of a dictator, as long as elections were held.  Even  Burma’s sham elections, give a “sliver of light” of better things to come. What more in our case, where the environment is more benign. And we are, at least, partly free.”

(E-mail: juanlmercado@gmail.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it )

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