Written by Barry Naylor.
“If rampant cheating and violence ensues in the elections, let us guard the true will of the people by announcing and denouncing the mockery that has happened by taking to the streets and shaking the foundations of traditional politics ruled by Guns, Goons, and Gold.” (NCCP).
On May 9th the people of the Philippines will go to the polls to elect a new President, a Vice President, twelve Senators alongside members of the House of Representatives, Governors of various provinces, Mayors, municipal councillors and other political leaders. Past experience does not hold out any great hope that these elections will lead to positive transformation in the lives of millions of citizens, who live in poverty and do not have access to some of the basic necessities of life.
The backdrop against which these elections are happening does not spring from a healthy democratic scenario. Political life remains very much under the influence of a few dynasties, which as Reynato Puno, a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, writes: “results in a government of the few, for the few, a government that is the antithesis of democracy […] hijacked by a small but powerful cabal of political and economic elite”. The National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) has noted that : “about two thirds of the outgoing Congress are the heirs of political families and, based on the current batch of registered candidates, that figure could increase.” This undermines the value of the electoral process in the Philippines, which is likely to keep one political dynasty in power or transfer that power to another dynasty, little concerned about the day to day lives of millions of ordinary people.
The Party List system seeks to address this issue, to ensure the poor and marginalised have a greater say but even this has been abused and, it is said, only 3% of the 257 seats in the House of Representatives come from the poorest people. ‘Marginalised’ has been somewhat open to interpretation. However, it is important that support is given to those campaigning for the Makabayan coalition’s partylists: Bayan Muna, Gabriela, Anakpawis, ACT Teachers, Kabataan, Migrante, Piston and Sulong Katribu. Solidarity in this sector is vital and working for political transformation and justice must take place in the workplace, in educational establishments and in the streets. The ballot box does have a role to play, but true political and social transformation will only take place from the grass-roots; it can never happen from dynasties who believe they have a “God-given” right to rule.
The national wealth of the Philippines has increased but this has failed to significantly benefit the vast majority of people. A few have seen increases in their personal wealth but the numbers in poverty and the number of unemployed (or under-employed) continues to increase . This is partly the result of the failure of successive governments to invest effectively in rural development and land reform. The encouragement of Public-Private Partnerships in public utilities and services has adversely affected the lives of some of the poorest peoples. Globalization and deals with foreign companies have seen benefits for some but have done little for the majority of people and have, indeed, contributed to environmental degradation. The situation is exacerbated by the policies of successive governments in encouraging the daily outflow of thousands of overseas foreign workers OFWs.
Stories of corruption are rampant and political office has often become the route to personal gain, rather than public service. There are many instances of this, up to the highest levels of political office. Former President Gloria Magapagal-Arroyo is currently detained under charges of political plunder. Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon ‘Bong’ Revilla and Juan Ponce Enrile face similar woes, although Enrile has been granted bail on the grounds of his advanced age. In 2015 the Philippines scored 35 on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index. With 0 being high corrupt and 100 being very clean.
A culture of impunity and the failure to address significant human rights abuses seems embedded in government circles. Indigenous peoples, human rights activists, environmentalists and others have been victims of extra-judicial killings, forced displacements, disappearances. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippines National Police (PNP) not only often fail to bring those responsible to justice but they are believed by many to collude in such atrocities and encourage the activities of violent para-militaries.
Meanwhile successive administrations have lacked commitment to the peace process with the National Democratic front Philippines (NDFP) and to address the root causes of the armed conflict. In recent months the situation in Mindanao has illustrated the ineptitude of government responses to long-running issues relating to the rights of indigenous peoples .
It is against this backdrop that the Philippine people look to the future. The NCCP has suggested five main areas people should take into consideration, as they prepare to vote.
Is a candidate committed to genuine land reform, just wages and job security, decent housing, health care, education, equal opportunities for women, respect for LGBT people and self-determination for indigenous communities?
Will a candidate promote respect for human rights and an end to the culture of impunity, principled peace negotiations with the NDFP and the MILF, proper political oversight of the AFP and PNP, the scrapping of Oplan Bayanihan and an end to militarization?
Does a candidate have a reputation for integrity, is he/she committed to listen to the voices of the marginalised and to ensure the views and concerns of the peasantry, workers, fisher-folk, urban poor and national minorities are heard?
Is a candidate willing to ensure a priority of economic sovereignty over globalization – to bring a halt to the privatization of vital resources? Will the candidate be willing to review treaties that infringe sovereignty, will she / he ensure that foreign relations are based on equality and mutual respect, not on “big country – small country power relationships”.
The Integrity of Creation
Is the candidate committed to the repeal of environmentally unfriendly laws, a ban on large scale commercial logging, exploitative mining, illegal fishing, a moratorium on “dirty and destructive” energy sources, the amendment of the Clean Air Act and other issues ensuring we act as good stewards of creation?
Many of the above are related to those standing for national office but some also apply to those wishing to serve at a local level – personal honesty and integrity, a concern for the environment and the integrity of creation, working for peace and reconciliation at local community level, working for the common good.
The field of candidates for presidential office does not give much ground for hope – representatives of political dynasties, totally unrealistic promises being made and appeals to populist solutions to deeply-rooted issues. If people were able to cast their votes taking into account positive responses to the above factors then there would be grounds for hope but, the sad reality is, such responses are not likely to be forthcoming.
Whatever the outcome, it is vital that people continue to organise locally and nationally, forging alliances, together with international support, to ensure that the issues listed above do remain on the political agenda and that electoral promises made are adhered to. Hopefully the elections will pass off peacefully and honestly, hopefully they will not be marred by fraud and corruption, hopefully there will not be skulduggery and violence. Hopefully politicians will be elected who will seek to serve the people and advance the well-being of all.
Barry Naylor is the recently retired Canon of Leicester Cathedral. He forged a close connection with the Philippines and spoke to multi-faith audiences during his visits there. Unfortunately the Philippine government took exception to his vocal criticism of its human rights record and placed him on a blacklist of politically suspect individuals. He is now chair of the Global Council of the International Coordinating Group for Human Rights in the Philippines. This article forms part of IAPS continuing coverage of the 2016 general election in the Philippines. Image credit: CC by Trish/Flickr.