Change Must Spring from the Source
Yet freedom of choice is wanting where elections are determined by the efficiency of political machinery.
Oct 13, 20233 min read
Change Must Spring from the Source

Graphics by: Manuel Ordonio IV

At the height of the 2022 national and local elections campaign, a video of a congressional candidate made rounds in social media for threatening a barangay chief for allegedly not supporting them. Speaking in the local dialect, the candidate can be heard making the following remarks (translated into Filipino): “Ang tumulong sa (aming pamilya) ngayon, tumaya na kayo. Babalik ako dito pagkatapos ng eleksyon, ako mismo magbibigay tig-P10,000 ang lahat”. Turning to the village chief, he then uttered a vindictive threat, “Yung mga hindi tumulong bahala kayo. Ikaw pare, alam ko, binili ng (aming pamilya) ang lupa sa ‘yo pero balita ko kontra ka sa (amin). Mali ‘yan pare. May paglalagyan ka pare. Ang mga nakatira diyan sa lupa na hindi tumulong sa (amin), hintayin ninyo. Pagkatapos ng eleksyon babalik ako dito”.

Such audacity to make this tirade during a campaign rally and against another official, even if done privately, is unbecoming of a public servant and has no place in a democracy. Yet this brandish sense of entitlement has been common to dynasties, which is perhaps the point of the sardonic parallelism between politics and a diaper: both need to be regularly changed and for the same reason. However, we must not miss the important point drawn from this threat: even the most entrenched and well-oiled political dynasty is dependent on the support of the basic political unit of our country, the barangay. 

Next month, the Filipino electorate will have a renewed chance to impose its will, at least in their villages, as the die is cast for the conduct of the 2023 Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Elections (BSKE). Suffrage is so deeply engraved on the heart of democracy that in its ruling that struck down RA 11395, the Supreme Court declared that the conduct of “genuine periodic elections” is important to ensure that the authority of the government is rooted from the “free expression of the will of electors”.

Yet freedom of choice is wanting where elections are determined by the efficiency of political machinery. Despite laws specifically mandating neutrality during elections, the barangay has often become a pawn to the predatory interests of dynasties perpetuating its grip, instrumentalizing it as a base during contests between rival clans, or in building coalitions to attain national significance. After all, our politics is a pyramid with a predilection for drama where one who sits on top is hugely determined by the strength of the base; resilience of local traditional politics has for a long time hindered political change. 

Although many advocates of good governance put high hopes on a national election standard-bearer with a kind of messianic confidence to change society, we must not forget that in a country where political machinery often defeats platforms and agenda, actions that will enable lasting transformations must spring from the ground up. Given the primordial significance of the barangay, perhaps it is only when good governance and integrity become a winning agenda on the ground that we will have a better prospect of genuine changes. However, this presupposes intensive effort and legwork, especially among advocates, a path least taken, yet worth fighting. After all, democracy must be fought and won where the people are.

The upcoming October 2023 BSKE poll will be a showdown of more than 1.4 million candidates vying for 672,432 seats across 42,000 villages in what the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) expects to be a heated election. Nonetheless, what makes barangay electoral contests distinct is that to some extent, voters have a personal knowledge of the background of the candidates, which is usually absent in the sea of gimmicks, name-recall jingles, and bandwagons during national campaigns. Thus, they are in a better position to make an informed choice. 

Ultimately, we must realize that elections, national or local, are bigger than us; it is also a vote for the nation that we aspire to become. On this note, we need capable, ethical, and honest leaders who will put in the best interest of the community, not the rubberstamps of the ruling political elite. 

Suffrage is sacred, but suffrage poorly and arbitrarily exercised is essentially suffer-age, the dawning of unnecessary suffering. With this renewed chance, it must be our collective agenda to start cleaning our backyard.

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