“Guns, goons, gold, glitter, guile, greed”
If politics is defined as the art of expanding the limits of the possible, Filipino politicians may have outdone themselves in this particular enterprise, if recent elections in our country are any indication.
Postwar politics in the country, especially from the Fifties and the Sixties to the present, has been characterized as being dominated by the three Gs: guns, goons and gold.
Guns involve the intimidation and outright physical elimination of particularly pesky or intensely political rivals and/or their rabid supporters.
Take the recent shooting incident in a town in Nueva Ecija province where five people were wounded and 24 others arrested following a gunbattle between the security forces of rival mayoral candidates. How the men were able to get around with high-powered firearms considering the election gun ban in place in the entire country remains a puzzle.
In another incident, three security guards were killed on Election Day when gunmen opened fire at a polling station in a restive region of the southern Philippines, where various armed groups operate.
As of May 8, there have been 16 validated election-related incidents since the start of the year, including 4 shootings, according to the Philippine National Police, as compared with 133 incidents during the 2016 presidential elections.
Goons refer to the private armies or armed groups employed by politicians whether for their own security or to intimidate or kill political opponents.
Gold is the money used to buy votes, employ online trolls, and pay campaign staff.
More recently, however, three other elements have entered the political landscape. These additional elements have emerged as a result of changing social norms, as well as technological advances, among other factors.
There’s glitter, or getting celebrities to endorse candidates for various positions. These can be popular movie stars, professional singers and dancers, among others.
There’s also guile, which usually consists of black propaganda against political adversaries; the setting up of a dirty tricks department to engage in rumormongering, character assassination, and similar underhanded tactics. This could also involve setting up troll farms working incognito to spread outright lies against political rivals or to prettify the candidates’ public image.
There’s more: saying one thing and doing another; or lying through one’s teeth during the election campaign by promising heaven and earth, as well as the moon and the stars, to the electorate, especially to the uneducated and the gullible, only to secure votes when the candidates themselves know they cannot accomplish what they promise. Remember the promise to jetski to the South China Sea to plant the Philippine flag in an island we claim as part of our territory? Tomfoolery such as this does not deserve to be part of our elections.
And finally, we have a sixth “G”, and that’s greed. How else can we describe those who seek to keep themselves and members of their families in power for an indeterminate period, in part because they want to protect economic or business interests? The party-list system was institutionalized in the 1987 Constitution to allow underrepresented and marginalized sectors, such as workers, farmers, OFWs, women and youth to take part in policy-making. But the party-list system has been hijacked even by the rich, the powerful and the influential to give them backdoor access to a lucrative political career and the pelf and privilege that come with being a member of Congress.
What all this shows is that, for both the correct and the wrong reasons, Filipinos take elections seriously—too seriously in fact— that some are all too willing to resort to murder and mayhem, as well as deceit and debauchery, during an election campaign.
The 1987 Constitution provides that suffrage or the right to vote may be exercised by all citizens of the Philippines not otherwise disqualified by law, who are at least eighteen years of age, and shall have resided in the Philippines for at least one year and in the place wherein they propose to vote for at least six months immediately preceding the election. No literacy, property or other substantive requirement is imposed on the exercise of suffrage. The fundamental law also mandated Congress to design a procedure for the disabled and illiterate to vote without the assistance of other persons.
That’s all well and good, and we saw television footage of ordinary citizens, even those considered persons with severe disabilities, queuing up even under the hot tropical sun or to climb multi-story public school buildings to exercise their right to vote last May 9.
But elections in this country, though deemed generally peaceful and orderly, may not truly reflect the will of the people and lead to beneficial reforms and genuine change, or strengthen our democratic system. If our elections do nothing but keep the same families and traditional politicians in power, merely perpetuate the same cycle of poverty and corruption over and over again, and further erode our democratic system, it’s time to elect people who can truly lead the country toward political stability, economic development and social concord, not bring us on the road to perdition.