If history is a movement and not something static and finished, we can immediately say at start that Philippine political history is a story of the struggle of the native and assimilated immigrant inhabitants of our archipelago toward national unity, freedom, justice and progress.
- We were not always the nation that we are now and we may be far from being the nation that we really want to be. So, what is this story of ours? We have to know it and where it is leading us. At one time or another you may have asked yourself the question, or it may have been posed to you by someone else – in school, in ordinary conversation, abroad or here at home. The question? Where did today’s Filipino come from? Who parented us into the people and nation we are now?
- It cannot be denied that down the years and the centuries, various races inhabited our shores, who parented us into who we are now, even leaving behind undeniable language indicators of our multi-racial composition. For instance, the Tagalog language, scholars say, has 30,000 root words and 700 affixes. Of these, 3200 are Malay-Indonesian, 300 are Sanskrit, 5000 are Spanish, 1200 English, 200 Arabic, quite a lot Chinese, a few Japanese but a good 1500 are Hebrew – believe it or not.
- In time, we saw a decidedly Islamized part of the inhabitants of these islands and the first attempt to make one people of our many tribes. We might call this the first major political act in our history. In much of the southern part of the archipelago, Muslim sultanates were established that had more sophisticated and more powerful technology, political structure and explanation of the universe than those existing in the clan-based or kinship communities found in the other parts of the Philippine archipelago. But contrary to the egalitarian orientation of Islam, these sultanates also showed class divisions and patriarchy and certain other elements of exploitation by those who controlled the means of production and exchange.
- Then, not long after, we saw the Hispanic Christianization of the majority Indios. The Spanish colonialist regime, which started in the latter part of the sixteenth century and lasted more than three centuries, succeeded in establishing political unity over most of the northern and central parts of the Philippine archipelago, as well as important portions of the southern parts. It introduced a form of Catholic Christianity, which though it had many humanistic and liberating values, nevertheless also contained negative elements such as religious intolerance, patriarchy and the acceptance and reinforcement of class divisions.
For the record, in fact, it must never be forgotten that it was under Spain that a wrenching cultural revolution exploded in the islands. It was so powerful that it created the most stubborn characteristic of this archipelago’s society to this very day, namely, the rule of the few, by the few and for a few.
As early as 1570 Spain had already established the encomienda, which became a tool of exploitation. Many of our forebears were dispossessed of the land upon which they staked their very lives. So many of them were reduced to absolute penury and degradation.
And all throughout one could not miss an incessantly strong Chinese element due to their role in the internal commerce of our land. Can we deny that our national hero, Jose Rizal, is partly of this racial stock, as were President Corazon Cojuangco Aquino and Jaime Cardinal Sin – the latter two even finding time to visit the original villages of their ancestors in south China?
- So, during these past five centuries we did learn a lot of things, the worst being that exclusivist and absolutist Roman law concept of ownership which gave us the oligarchy. But, in addition, there was an auxiliary implementing tool which was just as bad though entertaining and that is this game called elections. To be clear about it, though, it is NOT a means for the capture of state power. The Spaniards, the Americans and the Japanese captured state power here not through elections of any sort but by means of successful armed invasions. As a result, said one writer: “We were almost 400 years in the convent, 40 years in Hollywood and 4 years in a concentration camp.”
- However, all these monopolists or dictatorial powers introduced elections among locals as a GAME to make us feel like we were participating in power and thus hopefully forget about rebelling against tyranny. In addition, with elections, not the invaders but we – could now be blamed for any maladministration at the level where it mattered to people most, the local level. So, as early as by 1785, the Spanish dictatorship was ready to give us ‘democracy,’ if we want to call it that. The office of the cabeza de barangay became elective! Wow! However, the electors were limited to male property owners. And, over-all, Spain remained dictator.
- The successful suppression by the Americans of the Filipino armed struggle to recover our hard-won independence and freedom did not drive all militants underground.
Some became pragmatists who bowed to American victory after the latter’s genocide of almost a million Filipinos. They continued the nationalist struggle in non-violent ways, meaning in the compromise of the electoral struggle – and were not without success, howsoever limited and deceitful.
Americans called this policy “benevolent assimilation”- reflecting a hypocritical amalgam of Republic and Empire. So, in 1907 elections to the First Philippine Assembly were held, but not before the leader of the New Katipunan, Macario Sakay, was hanged on charges of sedition and banditry: strong enough warning as to the name of the game.
In 1909, after the passage in US Congress of the Payne-Aldrich Act allowing ‘free trade’ between the Philippines and America and thus effectively making of the Philippines a source of raw materials at cheap prices and a dumping ground for finished products at higher prices, general elections were held for delegates to the Second Philippine Assembly. And, mind you, by 1937 women were already given suffrage in a plebiscite.
- And so, we bought elections as the name of the game of democracy. Of course, even then some were asking: Is it right to equate democracy with voting? Or might it not be that the ballot box does not automatically ensure democracy, that it might even be used as a tool to defeat the will of the majority – in other words, to kill democracy?
In 1934, when the Tydings-McDuffie law was passed, it made clear in its prefatory note that the aim was “to keep the Philippines economically while letting them govern themselves politically.” And so, we were tutored to get used to very limited or elitist democracy without ever really knowing that there was a broader social democracy more closely conforming to social justice.
The model, after all, was the original Greek democracy that ran on slave labor, as did American democracy centuries later!
So, now we know: there is democracy and there is democracy. There is elitist oligarchic democracy and there is a more authentic social democracy.
- In our country, as in a few others over the past century, the pattern of regime change has often been “cyclical” or a mere alternation between so-called democracy and dictatorship or authoritarianism.
Weak democracy gives way to authoritarianism only to be replaced in turn by seemingly stronger democracy.
Political legitimacy, however, inevitably declines over time, and both authoritarian regimes and oligarchic democracies – the only political dispensations we’ve known in our country in our lifetime – have no mechanisms for self-renewal: hence, the cyclical patterns of regime change – with state power moving from a few holders to one main holder and back to a few thereafter but hardly to a real participative majority – not till now.
History has time and again demonstrated this iron law that without the empowerment of the majority populace – in other words, without social democracy or the rule of the many – that is, without people’s ownership of government and the means of production – oligarchy or the rule of the few always leads to monopoly rule.
It is time, then, to break the impasse and move out of this exasperatingly monotonous alternation that has only produced at best a poor Third World country – and one quite in progress now to becoming a de facto province of China.
- But before all that, there is a distinction to be made which is so obvious but little understood, namely the duality of Philippine politics. Government, politics, elections in the Philippines are of two kinds – national and local. These two must be distinguished clearly. There is the national government (the state), and there are local governments.
Long before there was a Philippine government (national) as an institution, the Catholic Church was already here institutionally organized. And before the Catholic Church, there was Islam and the institution of the Sultanates and their systems of Madrasha. And ante-dating all of them were a bunch of “local governments” that did all right getting their communities to produce wealth for themselves and enough surpluses to trade heavily with neighboring kingdoms and empires for ten centuries straight – yes, a thousand years.
The old adage seems true: “You can truly own only what you have made.” Note, then, that never have Filipinos completely made a national government, ever; so, they’ve never got to own one.
“Government,” meaning national government, was always imposed on us, and that is why our ownership of any national government has always been most dubious and at best confusing – though it can be argued that we have already made a lot of progress. After all, the hidden foreign powers cannot do without our local oligarchy, if that is any consolation; it certainly is a fact.
- But let me call your attention to three exceptions. The years 1896-98 were an exception. We successfully waged a revolution against Spain and made our own government, not primarily by elections but by the power that grew out of the barrel of the gun – out of the guns and with the bolos of a new people who had achieved a new awareness of being one whole, a people conscious of being a nation that could and must now run rough shod over the centuries-old invading colonial power.
Secondly, the elections after the 1946 American “grant of independence” met with an accident, as far as the hidden imperial powers were concerned. The Filipino people overwhelmingly voted for the candidates of the nationalist Democratic Alliance to Congress which would be enough to prevent a two-thirds vote for a so-called “parity amendment” to the Philippine constitution, so badly needed by the Americans for imperial business-as-usual.
But sadly, an immediate solution was found: disqualify and evict the nationalist representatives from the Congress – end of nationalist story (supposedly), onward the neo-colonial game.
1986 was the third. Following another national farcical election, the people of Metro Manila waged a successful people’s urban insurrection (people-powered). However, the hidden imperial and oligarchic powers went to work fast to ensure no genuine social revolution would ensue but, rather, a grand restoration of liberal (i.e., oligarchic) democracy. And so, it happened.
Our democracy, then, is more an instrument for masking oligarchy or plutocracy than anything else. And the chief instrument of deception or the mask mutually embraced by both the ruled and the ruling class is our peculiar electoral system that never fails to excite the nation more than any national sport ever could.
- Despite this fact that people buy and sell, kill and die for electoral victory, they would never, for all that, in their heart of hearts and in their sober moments, deny that the whole electoral exercise is “anything but…” a true manifestation of the people’s will.
No doubt about it then – social democracy can be the game changer.
More and more people are saying, “We do not want more of the same; we want authentic change.” We don’t want to drive out Monopoly and merely replace it again with Oligopoly that always leads back to a new Monopoly.
It is a vicious cycle which has become so monotonous – from Marcos to Cojuangco-Aquino, from Cojuangco-Aquino to Duterte, from Duterte-v-Marcos vs. a perceived new Cojuangco-Aquino-like formation
But the forces of the Many, most ironically, are so weak, and seemingly so few and far between…except that, on a scale of one to ten, they are not zero, and may just be able to rise quite fast, given the contradictions between the “One” and the “Few,” and given new methods of regime change, as when people take direct action on a massive scale – which has been called people power, and which can and may happen again.
The Many are rejecting not just the Rule of One – of a Tyrant or Dictator – but also the Rule of a Few for the benefit of merely a few – whether these few are those financially rich or educationally privileged or sociobiologically pedigreed — whatever.
This rejection, however, is not an easy thing to do. Because of what we have already seen as the colonial origins of elections in our country, we have tended down the decades and the years to change the very character of our politics from the serious pursuit of effective and fair governance to the conduct of ephemeral personality contests – seeking who is more beautiful, who is better at sports, who has more money, who had better grades at school or who, in any other form is holier-than-thou. Today, many institutional churches have just about canonized a favorite candidate to sainthood while demonizing another candidate to perdition.
And always behind the personality contestants are the clans – NOT genuine political parties based on people’s interest groups whether of the farmers, the workers, and other basic sectors.
No wonder then that the two Houses of the Philippine Congress have practically been main business and “home” the last century for 160 families in a population of millions.
Having had two or more members “serve” in Congress, these clans account for more than one-fifth of the men and women who have been elected to the national legislature from 1907 to the present.
Business? How else will one call it when each “elected” representative can pocket a conservative hundred million pesos a year in pork barrel funds while each senator receives double that amount for a total minimum figure of some 30 billion pesos a year. Lest the “Many” wake up to these realities and take matters into their hands, the “Few” must make sure that the election game is rigged.
- OK, so howsoever humungous in character a country’s socio-economic problem may be, the real solution is still political in nature – the assertion of power by the majority populace, or the practice of truly democratic politics.
But can there be democratic politics in an electoral system where people do not know – cannot know – what happens to their votes, whether freely given or freely bought?
We have heard ad nauseam and seen that just about everything’s wrong with what used to be called “the Precinct Count Optical Scanner (PCOS)” – yet the government sticks to it, under various names, for billons of reasons. For many elections now, voters could not know just what happened to their votes. Voters did not see how their votes were counted.
Not even the BEIs (Board of Election Inspectors) could verify what they signed for.
It should have been fine, as Gil Ramos, Gus Lagman, Chris Monsod, Nelson Celis, Glenn Chong and other experts have constantly insisted on – to automate only the canvassing and transmission at municipal/city, provincial and national levels. But at the precinct level we should have counted, or, from here on, we should be counting manually for full transparency and possibility of review! Beyond the precinct level, in any case, canvassing and transmission would still be quick with automation. Such a COMELEC decision would then be in accord with the spirit of the election reform law.
- Just consider again the following:
A. In the election automation law, the Source Code was supposed to be provided to political parties six months before the electoral exercise. This was hardly done and, even now, there is very little effort to do it right. Lately, they wanted to console us by saying they had deposited it with the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, in accordance with law.
B. The machines (the Optical Scanners) should be tested by the COMELEC in the presence of the BEI’s. This was hardly done and there is very little effort to do it right.
C. Each PCOS machine should have an electronic signature, naturally, so it can be identified as the one assigned to a particular precinct. Otherwise, an outside machine could overtake the legitimate one in the transmission of their desired results, which often happened in past elections.
D. And of course, the BEI’s should have their own password or signature for validation. This was hardly done and there is very little effort to do it right.
- Thus, can you believe that there will be true elections in 2022? I am not saying that there is no more time to do anything about it, especially if enough people wake up to this truth and immediately act in a collective way. The automated election law requires an accuracy rate of 99.995%, or only one tolerable error per 20,000 marks. The best showing by the PCOS, in their own dry runs, was 557 errors per 20,000 marks. How can we not expect that this kind of automation is, indeed, vulnerable to internal manipulation and yielding fraudulent results?
Hence, consider this again: one senatorial race showed a 60-30-10 trend for administration-opposition-independents— results shown to be uniform in all provinces, districts, cities, towns, AND precincts, contrary to traditional voting preferences due to regionalism, religion, and economic class. How was that possible? Because of COMELEC’s choosing to forego one or all of the legally required safeguards, the electronic process could easily be hijacked and programmed for such results by the powers-that-be, as in fact happened in past elections and will inevitably happen from here on unless, perhaps, scrapped by revolutionary will forthwith.
Thus, we should remember, too, the following: had the Comelec completed the canvass in the 2016 election, which they conveniently stopped without justification, there would have been “more ballots cast than total number of voters.” To hide or prevent this, the Comelec had to stop and did stop the precinct count at 56% and the canvassing at 42%. No wonder it also had to lower the number of ballots cast from 38,998,998 to 31,568,679.
Today talk of election failure has surfaced again, and quite intensely, too, in the wake of COMELEC ‘s inability or unwillingness to follow the law on safety nets, which we have just discussed, and, more importantly, to cleanse their registry, which experts have seen as padded with 12.8 to 14.7 million ghost voters, shown by their analysis of the pattern where the rate of increase of registered voters is so much larger than the rate of increase in the Philippine population.
- Are we not all familiar with these facts – how FVR pulled a fast one over Miriam Santiago when elections were still conducted manually, only to get worse since 2010, after automated elections; how the manual dagdag-bawas victimized Sen. Nene Pimentel in 1995 and how it has now evolved into an exquisite art form within the opaque processes of our automated elections; how Ateneo Math Professor Felix Muga exposed the impossible 60-30-10 Senate vote pattern in all precincts following the early implementation of automated elections; how Atty. Glenn Chong detailed the COMELEC-SMARTMATIC magical tactics whereby cheating syndicates toyed with us the voters, treating us to interruptions in the vote counts during these automated elections to subvert the electoral sovereignty of the Filipino people.
What are we to do? What is to be done? Whom does the COMELEC serve? The One, the Few, or the Many? Did not our Constitution design it to serve all – in fairness and honesty at all times?
But isn’t appointing power Duterte in full, 100% control of COMELEC, that the Chairman and all the members will do whatever he wants? And yet, did not the Oligarchy make him feel that their money, too, had power when two of their guys beat his chosen Bong Go to Number One in the senate results?
In this second ongoing bout between Marcos and Robredo, the latter clearly being the Oligarchy’s favorite, who will the street-smart Duterte favor to further his interests? The former, the latter, or neither, and why? In Philippine politics, we know, the first thing to remember is that things are not always what they seem.
In a multiple sided contest, will money and the naked use of power mean everything, or will it not rather lead at first to quasi-anarchy, obliging the Guardians of the Constitution to intervene, as on two occasions before, and give a warm welcome to the “Many” for a chance to wage People Power 3 and eventually open the road to a true social democracy, or at least a necessary transition thereto?
The incessant prayerful stance of the Filipino people may again cause a majority preference for creative non-violence, and the Constitution-sensitive Armed Forces may this time help institute the likes of a Council of State inclusive of our moral leaders who will assume the urgent and necessary task of restoring our damaged political institutions to their original status and form.
The role of such Council will not be to succeed the incumbent president, but solely to prevent the total destruction of our political system – to rebuild and nourish our political institutions back to health so that all those interested could join the political competition later, without the dice being loaded in anyone’s favor.
Like a crew whose task is to put everything in order before a commercial carrier…is cleared again for take-off, the council’s duty will be only to repair the battered tripartite system [legislative-executive-judicial] and to make sure that the people are once again able to freely and intelligently elect their own leaders. (30)