The Clients

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

Elections have three basic markets: those driven by fears, those driven by needs, and those driven by dreams. The poorer the voters, the bigger the first two markets, as is the case in the Philippines.

Candidates have to address these three sectors. The fearful will be shown macho leadership, the type that will get things done even if it means taking shortcuts. It means going against criminals, the illegal drug syndicates, abusive policemen and soldiers, rebels, terrorists, and pushing the justice system to produce results as quickly as possible.

The needy appear to be the largest market. For one, the needy are also fearful. Aside from the fear of criminals or violence, their very poverty keeps them enslaved in fear constantly. It is the combination of being driven by both poverty and fear that comprises a market share of over 50 percent.

And those looking for candidates who will take them and the country closer to their dreams, those with the highest aspirations, they are the minority. By numbers, they could be insignificant. But what they lack in quantity, they try to make up by influence—from noise or inspiration. More than fears or needs, this sector is most likely full of frustrations.

The universal strategy that addresses all three market segments is to promise. Campaign periods are full of promises. Platforms are not important in the Philippines, basically because the voters have never been exposed to them. Some older folks say that the pre-martial law era had politicians with platforms. I can’t remember those years. In fact, I doubt they ever existed. The fearful and the impoverished want sympathy and assistance, not platforms they can hardly understand. Promises, therefore, have greater value to a people who have nothing else to hold on to.

The poor, however, would respond faster to promises that have some evidence. The months leading to the campaign are opportunities for the poor to actually receive cash or goods, whether they get it outright from politicians or get temporary employment from projects or government handouts. During the campaign period itself, the de facto one and not what the rules say it is, the poor will be courted by all politicians, not only those sitting in office. It is the poor’s best moments, every three years, in between their continuous suffering.

More and more, it is not as easy to buy votes, not the way it was done in the past anyway. What with cellphones and cameras, vote-buying can be a risky business. The protagonists themselves, the candidates and their followers, are all trying to buy votes in innovative ways because the old way is not too vulgar and easier to document. The contending parties now use their election structures as laundry machines, so to speak. They hire as many voters as part of their campaign teams, hoping that each will represent families or clans. People are bought not only on Election Day but throughout the campaign period.

Some have been bought even earlier, by being beneficiaries of political programs that dole out money and food. When the ranks of the poorest estimated at twenty to thirty million remain steady despite the hundreds of billions spent by the CCT or 4Ps programs, one can ask who have chosen the beneficiaries and why. All the more when hunger and poverty levels are not directly lessened by these same dole-out programs on the excuse that they were never the targets but those parents whose children had to be kept in school.

It does not mean, of course, that none of the poor or hungry were benefited, just that the selection process becomes suspect, politically, that is. 200 billion in five years could have substantially lowered poverty and hunger. The hungry and the most impoverished could have been the intended beneficiaries. The expansion of the PhilHealth coverage, on the other hand, seems to be more universally objective and fair – politically, that is.

It is the serious advantage of every administration to have the resources to help a great number of citizens who are also voters or their families. But that is par for the course in Philippine politics. That is why everyone wants to be in office, wants to control resources, and wants to use these resources to increase their chances of winning in the future elections. To do so, however, taints the intentions and perverts governance, all in the name of politics.

It makes those in office the corrupt, or corruptible, and only them. That is simply because corruption has to be in the context of those in power using that power in an immoral or perverse way for personal gain. Personal gain is not only about money but also about influence and favors, the kind that gives the beneficiary control over politics and business—or religious organizations.

Only a people mainly driven by aspirations can demand that politics be played that way—by vision, by platform of governance, by character of leadership. But the majority of Filipino voters are fearful and needy. They are the ones who cater to messiahs, hoping that the same messiahs will wave their magic wands and save them from their fears and neediness. They are not the citizens that democracies seek, the kind who will producer the most, sacrifice a lot, and contribute even more to the collective welfare.

Fear and poverty, though, are primal concerns that have to be addressed effectively before dreams and visions can come into active play. Those who would like for voters to vote wisely are then challenged to ease the fears, the hunger and needs of the majority. Government will be in no hurry, especially those who hold high positions.. Why would they? What would they surrender their political advantage?

Unless they love the Filipino people more than their vested interests and their power.

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