That, dear karikna, is not the number of yellow shirts I have purchased. I surmise not even Noynoy Aquino has that many in his wardrobe. Two hundred pesos is the current rate in the vote-buying operations for the first congressional seat in this province. I have firsthand information that two of the strongest contenders for the post have started special operations as early as the first week of April.
With a strong grip of barangays in Laoag City, one candidate operates through barangay officials who hold a list of registered voters for each household. Upon payment, a recipient is asked to sign beside his/her name.
Another candidate, who promises a fresh brand of politics, seems to find difficulty veering away from the dark shadows of his old man. His camp, however, has a more legal way of doing things. They give allowances of two hundred pesos to every volunteer. This seems acceptable because candidates really have to take care of their volunteers. The problem is that just anyone and everyone can be a part of their payroll. All that you have to do is go to their headquarters and fill out a form. The result: some barangays would have hundred, if not thousands, of barangay coordinators. If this is not circumvention of the law, what is? Same pig, different collar.
While it does not shock me anymore that this happens in every nook and corner of the archipelago, it disturbs me that it’s not only the poor who accept dirty money from politicians. Almost everyone now does, and this includes my friends who are professionals, and even those who live comfortable lives. God, I even have friends who are involved with the election watchdog Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting who admit to ‘selling’ their votes.
“Accept the money, but vote for your real choice,” seems to be the popular motto these days. Most people justify the act with many other excuses, including, “accept the money because the coordinator will pocket it anyway if you don’t.”
Yet some justify vote buying as the democratization of money politics. They feel that this is now the masses’ chance to get their share of the gold politicians steal (or will steal) while in office. No matter how much government trumpets the gains in the economy, people don’t feel the goods trickle down to the grassroots level. This, they say, is now their chance.
Vote sellers, mind you, are not thick-faced. They have principles, too. Most of them accept money because politicians refer to it as “tulong,” not “bayad.” Invited as a resource speaker in voter education seminars held in various cities and municipalities, I have had the chance to talk to people about this issue. “Haanmi awaten a no bayad ti awagna,” (We would not accept it if they say it’s payment) shared a middle-aged mother in a barangay in Batac. “Igatang laeng ti boggoong,” (Just money to buy fish paste) said yet another mother who admits having accepted money from rival candidates in their city.
Note that the amounts being distributed today, ranging from P200-P500 per person could well be just down payment. More cash is expected to flow as the traditional pakaradap (gapang) happens a night or two before the elections. Barangay captains are believed to receive six-digit figures.
There is one more dimension in vote-buying that is little explored. It is not just an economic activity, it is also a social exercise. You refuse to accept money from a coordinator, you risk being called “maarte,” “paimportante,” or “nagmamalinis”. It’s difficult to turn down an offer especially if the coordinator is a good neighbor, a close friend, or a relative. Culturally, Filipinos are not good at saying no to people. So, if everyone else in the neighborhood accepted money, and you didn’t, you’d be an outcast. This is one instance when the illegal has become the norm, and righteousness is deemed unhealthy to social relationships. A senior faculty member from our university shares that a barangay kagawad raised eyebrows on their family for years after they refused to sell their votes, their honor.
The Philippines is now ranked as one of most corrupt nations in Southeast Asia, and no thanks to corrupt election practices. Where and how else will politicians recoup their excessive campaign expenses except by pocketing public funds and by engaging in shady deals? You sell your vote to politicians, you lose your right to complain of corruption, you lose your right to good governance.
The big question remains, however. How do we solve a problem like vote buying which is inextricably tied up with poverty? People are poor because of corruption. People sell their votes, thereby engaging in petty corruption themselves, because they are poor. We need good people who will save us from poverty, but how can people get elected if they don’t pay up? It has become a vicious cycle which is extremely difficult to break.
Yes, many Filipinos sell their votes, yet I render judgment on no one. I am just thankful that I neither need tulong nor love boggoong, and that I can afford to buy, from my hard-earned cash, a lot of yellow shirts.