The awful circus is back in town

Less than two weeks from now, the campaign season for the 2019 midterm elections begins in the Philippines. At stake will be 12 senate seats, along with various local government posts, from governor to mayor to congressman to councilor.

Every candidate for governor will have a running mate seeking to become vice governor. Ditto with bets for mayor, whose running mate will be aiming to become vice mayor.

These “vice” positions are important for a couple of reasons. For one, the vice mayor of a city or town, for example, presides over the all-important city or town council. For another, a vice governor, as another example, is always next in line should anything happen to the incumbent governor. The governor may die while in office, be suspended for a variety of reasons, or become incapacitated in such a way that he or she may no longer perform the work required of the top ranking executive of a province.

The US will also be having its mid-term elections this November, and there are as many similarities as there are differences between Americans and Filipinos running for office.

The two-party system is entrenched in US political life, but is practically non-existent in the Philippines. And that odd political exercise of would-be bets undergoing primaries is completely alien to Filipinos, which is probably a good thing given the tendency of our kababayans to overspend.

This overspending goes into overdrive during presidential elections to the point that economists already take it for granted that the excessive free flow of funds will have an inflationary effect on the economy.

By comparison, US rules on election spending are impressively airtight. Not so with the Philippines, where candidates for any and all positions can spend as much as they want as long as they can show that the flowing money is not theirs.

We, therefore, bear witness to campaign materials being tagged as “paid for by Friends of (candidate).” This falsehood is allowed because the Commission on Elections is not too eager to audit the campaign expenses of the candidates.

Cases of winning bets being kicked out of office after it has been proven that they overspent are exceptionally rare.

The most common practice and one that is also the most impossible to prove is the giving of outright cash to the electorate. Cash and food is given to those who attend rallies. Cash and food is given to those who are about to cast their votes. And when a candidate wins, cash and food is again given in the celebratory parties.

This is vote buying in any language, yet there is not a single case of a voter being charged and penalized for this high crime against democracy itself.

Even the highest ranking official of the mighty Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines – the late Jaime Cardinal Sin – acknowledged this fact. He went so far as to say that it was perfectly all right to accept the bribe as long as the voter followed his conscience when casting his vote.

The usual questions have obvious answers.

Why should a candidate spend millions when he will never honestly earn that much once he wins?

I will spell out the obvious answer. They will get their money back via corrupt government contracts that require their approval and signature. They will be under the payroll of gambling lords and drug lords, who will give them regular stipends to look the other way while they go about their business. Once in power, their first degree relatives will suddenly own businesses that deal with the local government units headed by them.

This brings us to the next question: Is the system so hopelessly corrupt that no honest man or woman can be elected by following the rules?

I wish I had the answer to that one. I used to believe that it was possible to win by playing fair, but it’s been a long time since I have heard of a candidate for any position winning by following the straight and narrow path.

To paraphrase the Bible, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for an honest man or woman to win an elective position in the Philippines.