"With the dominance of family dynasties, the consolidation by the Duterte family of the political elite, and the scale of vote buying, now I am not so sure if I would still choose it."
This is the third column I have written on an Election Day in the Philippines that I use the phrase “our messy democracy” in the title. The first time was in 2010 when we had our first fully automated elections which Noynoy Aquino won. That was entitled “Our messy democracy.” The second was in 2016 when Digong Duterte prevailed and I wrote a column entitled “Our still messy democracy.”
And now this.
In this column, I recall some of the things I wrote in the 2010 and 2016 columns. But this time I will be less celebratory. I have a feeling that we are reaching the limits of a very messy democracy.
I do not exaggerate. Political dynasties have consolidated power everywhere and even at the national level the Duterte family seemed ascendant. Vote buying is at its worst, so rampant and ubiquitous if reports from the police and others are to be believed.
And then there are the never-ending problems with the Vote-Counting Machines (VCM), the new name of the notorious Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines. The morning news was dominated by the experience of former Vice-President Jejomar Binay whose ballot was rejected by the VCM. He was very upset and went all the way to the Comelec election center to complain. That incident ended well in that he was eventually given a new ballot, with VP Binay attributing his persistence to his being a human rights lawyer.
I hope every one in the same situation as VP Binay was given the same courtesy of a new ballot. That would be the fair thing to do. It would not be right if he was given that courtesy only because of his rank in society.
In the same way, I condemn in the strongest terms the designation by the Comelec of the Nacionalista Party (NP) as the Minority Party in these elections. We know that the NP is part of the administration coalition. It does not matte that it has more candidates compared to the other parties and after the ruling party the PDP-Laban. The intent of the law is clear: the minority party must be from the opposition and not aligned with the administration. As we have seen, the same travesty happened in the House of Representatives with the minority given to a group of representatives that are in reality part of the administration coalition.
As I wrote in the previous columns, every Election Day in this country has always been chaotic. I reiterate some of my observations below.
The historical record, as dug up in 2010 by my son Eman, who is doing a masters in history in Ateneo de Manila, confirms a pattern of problematic elections. At the advent of Spanish rule, the colonizers had to take back direct voting for local officials because those election exercises were tainted with fraud and violence. In the Legal History course I used to teach at the UP College of Law, I explained to my students how Spain got sovereignty over the Philippines by faking a referendum where the inhabitants of our islands supposedly consented to pay tribute to the King of Spain. Centuries later, we repeated this experience in the 1972 citizens’ assemblies that were used to justify continued martial rule and the ratification of the 1973 Constitution.
In 1907, the United States introduced its form of democracy to the