Monday, June 29, 2009

My experience with partylists and COMELEC

In 2003, my frat brother and I founded a partylist organization, aptly named "Bagong Tao Movement" or BTM. BTM, as the name suggests, strives to develop national leaders among the youth and empower them to participate in the electoral process. Since we have a national constituency, the Commission on Elections approved us and we ran during the national and local elections of 2004.

As the ideological spirit behind the BTM, I, along with several others, toured Metro Manila and other provinces to spread and propagate the ideals of BTM. We were the first ones to use the tricolors and the sun as our symbols. We also propagated the platform of governance of BTM, which is composed of five points:

1. Stimulate growth and development in the countrysides through SMEs and entrepreneurial trainings.
2. Create a martial character among the youth by encouraging them to engage in martial arts and exercise.
3. Assist the poorest sectors of society by helping them with a monthly living stipend for six months and in exchange, they help government in its developmental projects.
4. Create youth leaders in every barangay through BTM youth leadership fora and programs.
5. Push for the passage of the Magna Carta for students.

These were laudable programs to say the least and we had at least 320,000 votes then. But, you know what happened? During the counting of the votes, our lead was shaved to just 70,000 on the final count and you know why? Because some COMELEC operator wanted us to "protect" our votes. And how, you may ask? By forking 5 million pesos. That's the surest possible way of protecting our votes. And since we don't have that kind of money, and we don't really intend to pay our way to Congress, we lost.

Last 2007, we again ran without our millions in our pocket and we did a decent job, again touring the country, but because of our 2004 loss, some of our supporters went the other way, thinking that their votes will just go to waste. We got about 170,000 this time and you know the official tally? Lower than, if I remember, 40,000. And again, we were approached by COMELEC operators who demanded that we pay them 10 million just to "secure" our votes. Like in 2004, we don't have that kind of money and surely, we rejected it.

In Philippine elections, if you don't have tons of money, forget it.

What do I want to say in this piece? Simple.

The reason why Filipinos are pragmatic about the elections is the very fact that it can be manipulated. I experienced it first-hand. People see elections as dirty because people from COMELEC are the ones who sabotage and subvert the will of the people in exchange for money, and tons of it. Imagine, the "going rate" for every vote costs 17 pesos per. A few months prior to the elections, its about 5-7 pesos per. The rate close to the elections cost you 25-30 pesos per.

Idealists among us would say, let's just overwhelm the system with our votes so that people like Prof. Randy David would have a greater chance of winning. Not good enough.

People with money have the power to hire good election lawyers whose mandate is simple---win the election for their clients in whatever means possible, and that includes manipulating the final results. They buy votes. They alter COCs and they even go as far as buying the Commissioners. It's an open secret. And this is a reality in Philippine politics. That's why we get leaders that oozes with money but lack the skills and the knowledge to really run this country the way its supposed to be run--with integrity and professionalism. That's why there's no chance for change to really infect our governmental institutions because our leaders are the same vote bribers who further contaminate our democratic processes with their money.

That's why we have partylists with representatives all belonging to one family. And we have Congressmen whose claim to fame are being born into wealthy pedigrees, not their skills or knowledge in public administration.

If we truly want good people to manage our affairs, we must cleanse the COMELEC of these filthy bastards.