The circus comes to town

President Benigno S. Aquino III (center) raises the hand of Liberal Party (LP) presidential candidate Mar Roxas and LP vice presidential candidate Leni Robredo at the Capiz Gym in Roxas City. LP launched its national campaign, February 9 in Capiz and Iloilo provinces, considered as bailiwick of LP. (Tara Yap)

After more than hundreds of millions of pesos worth of total ad spending that swamped us with countless hours of perfectly-legal political advertising and months of horse-trading and backroom deals among traditional politicians, the 2016 election campaign formally starts Feb. 9.

If you wonder why we have a few choices in the 2016 elections, look no further at how the traditional political parties came up with their slates of candidates. The parties didn’t choose the candidates. Candidates chose the parties.

Except for the Makabayan partylist coalition, the traditional political parties continued their anti-democratic tradition of not bothering to consult the public on who to field in the polls, not even their members in any formal convention.

Makabayan did better: It upheld a new democratic tradition of member-parties holding democratic processes to choose their nominees and hammer out their platforms. Neri Colmenares did not choose himself for the Senate race. Makabayan convinced him, studied paths to victory and starting today would formally convince the electorate that it is high time for a certified patriot and fighter like Colmenares in the Senate.

Colmenares and Makabayan partylists Migrante, Piston, Kabataan, ACT Teachers, Anakpawis, Gabriela and Bayan Muna are thus truly exceptional factors in this most traditional of political processes. They field new and fresh faces and a brand of politics that lays bare the bankruptcy of all the traditional political parties. Setting aside the outdated slander against Makabayan, there appears no more dependable and reliable source of leaders and parties that match our aspirations for a better politics than this grand nationalist and democratic coalition.

I’ve said it before and I say it again: People like us can expect no better outcome in 2016 than making sure Colmenares gets elected as senator, and the Makabayan parties dominate the partylist race to produce 15 truly progressive representatives in Congress. That is not only possible, but more importantly, crucial if we want politics and the elections work for us.

We have been told to wait for these elections as the mechanism to “change the system”. The ruling classes wanted us to forget the impeachment and the judicial processes when their leaders were repeatedly caught red-handed. And yet, look at how they present us the predominantly most putrid and most self-serving choices for most of the 18,000 positions at stake.

President BS Aquino wants us to forget his administration’s incompetence, abuse of power, sophistry, intellectual bankruptcy and heartlessness.

“Continue Daang Matuwid” is his battlecry and the puny Mar Roxas is his candidate. Roxas is without doubt running for a second BS Aquino term.

Armed with a pork barrel-fortified campaign kitty, Roxas campaigns for what a majority can’t begin to imagine: six more years of the past six years.

But overwhelming 80 percent consistently reject Roxas in all the preelection surveys and they appear to be preparing to vote against any of the opposition presidential candidates. Roxas’ only hope is to steal the elections through electoral fraud, the use of public funds and the powers of presidential incumbency, and the automated election system unchecked for the veracity and reliability of its results.

It is really sad that no presidential candidate has decided to honor the electorate by failing to refusing to present detailed solutions to the biggest challenges we face as a nation. We have only heard cheap talk: soundbites and motherhood statements.

It is up to us to make politics work for us. It is really unfortunate that we have the most cynical brand of politics and cast of characters that dominate it. These are design flaws beyond our control. These are pre-ordained by the politicians and political parties themselves to deny us good choices. Necropolitics, political dynasties, rehabilitated scions of dictators, incompetents, alleged plunderers, pardoned plunderers – you name it.

It is easy to be cynical at the sight and sounds of the traditional politicians. In fact, some have actually become cynical. Others want to ride on and win under this climate of rising cynicism.

At a time when we have very few choices and we have yet to build or expand progressive political parties, we could still make a difference by pitting the political dynasties against one another, punishing the worse ones, throwing out the incompetents, rewarding the patriotic, rejecting the liars, and finding the gems amid the traditional political squalor.

It is up to us to ask the candidates toughest questions, wherever and whenever possible. Take up the cudgels on behalf of those in towns, cities and provinces whose candidates have competing private armies who could terrorize voters. Promote land reform, industrialization, social services, an end to discrimination and hate, entrepreneurship, innovation, and other causes that really matter. Guard against the misuse and abuse of taxpayer funds, and demand an independent review of the source code behind the PCOS machines. Call out the BS coming from candidates and vet their claims. Demand full and immediate disclosure of sources of campaign funds. Campaign for and elect the patriotic, progressive and competent.

It is up to us to disrupt the circus, defeat cynicism and — with the power of collective and collaborative action – make change possible.

First published in the Manila Bulletin on 9 Feb. 2016. Republished here with slight edits.