Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Vote buying has reached pandemic proportions. Vote-selling the revenge of the poor vs. politicos, but unfortunately this only means pols would steal even more to recoup election over-spending. One favorable development: anti-dynasty issue comes of age, shattering many powerful dynasties. But more work lies ahead.

The most shocking issue in the recent elections was not how so many PCOS machines broke down or malfunctioned across the country or how  increasingly evident was the cheating that Comelec’s discarding of safeguards to the automated elections encouraged. We all knew that many of the second-hand PCOS machines Comelec bought from Smartmatic at fire-sale price of P1.8 billion would malfunction and there would be cheating because Comelec never restored the crucial safeguards missing since the 2010 elections. 

The most shocking issue was the degree to which our elections had degenerated with massive vote-buying across the land.

So what’s shocking about that, one might ask? Didn’t we all know that over the decades there has been vote-buying? We certainly did, but in these recent elections the malady reached pandemic proportions and the amounts politicos forked out spun out of control. The question is, how do we ever recover from this pandemic?


Massive vote-buying was the politicos’ tool to grip power, but the vote-selling may be viewed as the revenge of the masses; unfortunately, little do the poor sectors realize that peddling their votes would be a self-inflicted wound.

Politicians across the country bought votes: going rate for votes for a lowly konsehal's post in Central Luzon was P1, 000 per head, and the higher the post the higher the price pols were willing to pay. There’s talk about P5, 000 per head in various places.

My brother was so upset because his family’s helper had heard that the pols were buying votes in her native Samar at P2000 per head and so she decided to go home to partake of the booty--- never mind if she incurs more expense with transportation to and from Manila.  In other areas in the Visayas and in Bicol the vote-buying was said to include transportation to and from Manila.

A veteran observer in Metro Manila elections reported massive vote buying, and food boxes distributed by both LP and UNA as though voters were war refugees. Baha daw ang pera at pagkain.    


The problem is, how would politicos recover the many millions they spent to get elected if not from their pork barrel in Congress, or from the lagay from businesses they approve at LGU level. Thus, those who advocate the abolition of the pork barrel can whip themselves hoarse, but pork would never disappear. Funds that should go into poverty alleviation and social development would be grabbed by politicians to help recoup  the millions they spent buying votes. A most vicious cycle.

But the bigger and more serious problem is, with the utter moral degeneration of politicians and their corrupting influence on the population, majority of whom are so poor they’d sell their vote at the click of a finger, how can the nation recover its lost soul? For as long as people are mired in poverty, they'll be prey to rapacious politicians.

Independent candidate
Grace Poe

Political commentators are stampeding to analyze how independent candidate Grace Poe, adopted by the LP as one of its 12 senatorial candidates and shown in pre-election surveys to hover in 5th or 6th place, landed on top---besting consistent topnotchers like Loren Legarda, Chiz Escudero and Alan Peter Cayetano.  Winalis ni Grace silang lahat and in fact, so strong is her showing that right now talk gaining traction among analysts is that if Mar Roxas proves to be a weak candidate for the 2016 presidential race, Grace Poe would be drafted vs. the opposition’s Jejomar Binay.

But what happens to Kris Aquino’s political fate? Kris has been in the radar screen of analysts as a major figure for 2016, but with Grace Poe’s phenomenal showing and all the baggage in the presidential sister’s stormy life, it’s almost certain that a national candidacy for Kris won’t fly.


The “surprise” Grace sprang demonstrated the unpredictability of surveys, but there are many other reasons for this phenomenon. Loren Legarda was damaged by disclosure in the final two weeks of her plush condo in Park Avenue, New York City which she failed to disclose properly in her SALN. Moreover, Loren was regarded as a political butterfly drifting from party to party, and issue to issue, often namamangka sa dalawang ilog and taking a stand only when the other votes are in.

On the other hand, Chiz Escudero was hurt by the furious attacks on his persona by the parents of Heart Evangelista.

By contrast, Grace Poe is a fresh face in politics, unblemished by scandals or issues.


But the biggest factor for the Grace phenomenon is that dropping her married name of Llamanzares, she launched a focused campaign that capitalized on the continuing reverence of the masa for her adoptive father, the late FPJ---her punch line being, “Ipagpapatuloy ko ang inumpisahan ng aking ama.” Though I’m one of those who wondered aloud just what FPJ “started,” as his campaign in 2004 was most incoherent, the one-line campaign proved most effective for his daughter. In addition, she was endorsed by the all-time queen of Philippine movies, her adoptive mother Susan Roces---Grace’s ads showed the still gorgeous Susan and her in a cozy relationship.


Grace Poe clearly was a one-issue campaign: she’s FPJ’s successor. But what came as a real surprise---unexploited in the campaign because there was no need for it---was the plus that she has a head on her shoulders. She attended Assumption Convent, the UP and Boston University and many folks who heard her in radio and TV interviews thought she made a lot of sense. 

So folks shouldn’t be surprised if they see her name glittering in the marquee in 2016. But it should go without saying that there’ll be many attempts to dig up political armada against her too.  A lot would depend on how Grace Poe would use her immense political capital. To weather the political skirmishes in the Senate she’ll need a competent staff.


One issue that certainly impacted in the elections was the citizens’ campaign vs. political dynasties. To be sure, dynasties have not disappeared completely, and this is evident in Quezon City where the Belmontes have tightened their grip, in Ilocos Norte with three Marcoses in power, in Makati where pater familias VP Jejomar, reelected Rep. Abigail and Mayor JunJun are now joined by new Senator-elect Nancy (did I miss out on a fifth?), while the Joseph Estrada clan has solidified power in Manila, San Juan and Laguna. The post of mayor of Taguig is under protest, but as these go, this is a long shot in this city under the tight grip of the Cayetano dynasty.

But the incredible thing about the anti-dynasty campaign is that in many places, dynastic families have been SHATTERED and are now limping. This could be the beginning of a consoling development in our politics.


Dato Arroyo

In Camarines Sur three Villafuertes were defeated and only one 29-year old, Migz Villafuerte, won, unfortunately against his grandfather, Rep. Louie Villafuerte, for governor. But the most incredible feat was that former presidential son Dato Arroyo, himself part of a dynasty (with his mother GMA retaining her congressional seat in Pampanga), beat outgoing Gov. LRay Villafuerte for Congress.  In neighboring Iriga, the old dynasty of the Alfelors lost several posts.

In Cebu the ruling Garcias are in a mix of victory and defeat: Reps. Pabling and Pablo John, staunch anti-RH advocates in the House, are trailing in the second district and the governorship, respectively, while outgoing Gov. Gwen Garcia managed to win in the 3rd district with juat a few thousand votes. A brother, Marlon, lost the mayorship fight in Barili while another brother, Nelson, is slightly ahead in Dumanjug.

Rep. Sonny Angara won an astounding 6th place in the senatorial race (after hovering all the while in 11th-15th place in surveys) despite the terrible Apeco issue hounding his family in Aurora, while his aunt, outgoing Gov. Bellaflor Angara won a seat in the House. But her and outgoing Senator Edgardo Angara’s younger brother, Arthur Angara, who was mayor of Baler when the  protest aired by the Dumagats hit the headlines, lost his bid for governor.  

The Jalosjos clan in Zamboanga del Norte lost all but one seat, while in Salvador Benedicto in Negros Occidental, the De la Cruzes lost wholesale.  In Tarlac the divided Cojuangco clan won two seats (those of vice-governor and district representative of the Henry Cojuangcos) but Rep. Henry’s niece, Dr. Isabel C. Suntay, lost her governorship bid. But of course, a member of another Cojuangco branch, Bam Aquino, won as senator.

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  1. Assuming that there was no cheating in the elections--and by "cheating" I mean that Mr. Brillantes was super-clean with the PCOS--the results reveal the choices of the poor. Assuming that the PCOS were rigged--the silence of the poor supported that rigging. (What is "source code" and what is "hash code" and what is "binary code" for the many many poor? How can they participate in the questioning of the PCOS?). In both ways, PCOS cheating or no PCOS cheating, the elections have been the voice of the poor and the marginaliized. They have been so set aside by society, this is their "revenge". Put misery on their shoulders they will return it with miserable political output. Very intelligent and secured people have many analyses about what happened and many say that the results of the elections are unfortunate--and by "unfortunate" they mean "bad choices of the people". Yes, but until the poor and marginalized become central to social life, the poor and the marginalized will find their make their tyranny dominate. we may be saddened by the elections, but I say it is the tyranny of the neglected. I may be wrong....but it is how I see it.

  2. You are absolutely correct, Mr. de Castro, as I said above, it's the revenge of the masses. They realize that the money the politicos are throwing around to buy votes is not theirs but the taxpayers' money. So the poor say, why not accept it? The sad thing, though, is that this will go on and on as a vicious cycle: because the pols want to recoup their election expenses they will not let go of pork barrel or what they earn in the LGUs, hence there's no funding for true and meaningful poverty alleviation and social development. What do we do?

  3. Of course there would be an increase in vote buying. This is expected in an automated election. When they cannot cheat at the counting and canvassing, they are going to cheat more at the voter level. Cheating is like a balloon, if you squeeze it in one end, it expands in another end.