Vote buying in my unheard-of town
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ZAMBOANGA DEL NORTE, Philippines – For a fraction of my life, I have lived in a small town called Manukan in this province. Manukan is sparsely populated, with only 40,000 people.
The poblacion showcases only a handful of sari-sari stores and ukay-ukay shops, and a single relatively large wet market.
Progress here has been relatively slow. Majority of the population live on the outskirts, on the mountains, or beside coconut plantations.
My grandmother operates one of the 3 biggest copra-buying businesses in town. On a regular day, you will see a number of small-scale copra farmers selling her a few sacks of copra, and even more people borrowing money for fertilizer or to spend on food.
For most people in Manukan, it seems life is more taxing than it is a blessing. Every morning, they get up for another day of possibly fruitless toil.
I felt this brief description of Manukan is necessary to give context to the more important topic of politics in my hometown.
If slow or lack of progress in a place is a result of corruption in local government, then I can say there’s much corruption in Manukan. There are several apparent reasons for this:
- The current President’s program to clean the government of corrupt and abusive officials focuses too much on the corrupt officials of the past administration.
- PNoy’s Tuwid na Daan campaign is not properly and forcefully implemented in the “minor” or rural provinces of Mindanao. Thus, there is no pressure or fear on the part of syndicate kingpins and the local dictators.
- The hand-to-mouth existence of Manukan’s population compels its people to compromise and put their interests above that of the common good.
I would like to explain more the third reason I cited. It is the main reason behind the Manukan’s current political state; if addressed, it is the best way to change the town’s political culture.
I can attest to this because in 4 elections in the past, my grandmother ran for town mayor. There are about 20,000 registered voters in Manukan, so a candidate can expect the same number of people coming to you for all sorts of favor throughout the campaign period.
From my experience, the usual posters, radio ads, tarpaulins, and conventional barangay visits are never enough for the people of Manukan. Every election season, they would crowd a candidate’s home, expecting a daily feast to be served and their every request granted.
An experienced politician knows well enough to expect this. It is very common for people to arrive at your home asking for meals to be served—even demanding particular and oftentimes expensive dishes to be cooked for them.
Many people also take advantage of this time to borrow large sums of money, which we all know they do not have the capacity to pay with what they earn selling copra (many of these borrowers have unpaid debts of 10, even 20 years).
Any outsider would find it ridiculous to allow himself to be treated this way. But to a candidate, it is important to show a willingness to “serve,” whether it is it really service or a creative form of bribery that he or she is giving.
In all 4 times my grandmother ran for office, she lost. The first time, her camp believed to be a legitimate loss. The next 3, they believed she was cheated.
Cheating here is not a sour grape. It is a very plausible explanation, as the pre-election polls always showed my grandmother likely winning the mayoral elections by a landslide, against the opposing candidate, who had been in control of the city for 25 years, running alternately with his wife and son.
Moreover, the public school teachers assigned to watch and count the ballots always came to my family a few days after the elections to inform us that some of their colleagues accepted a sum of P50,000.00 to tamper with the results.
My grandmother became disheartened after her fourth try that she decided to no longer run. Instead, has been supporting the candidate who can also protect our family’s interests.
I am not proud of how my family is disposed to such a political orientation. However, according to the elders, if everyone is cheating, then to cheat is only to protect oneself from being cheated.
In this town, the candidates are never voted for their integrity, but for how much money they are willing to spend for your vote. The “fee” of P500, which used to gratify the voters, is no longer enough. Today, the buying fee runs to P700 to P1,000.
The candidates, who seem like ignorant spenders during election period, are actually wise investors. Although they spend an outrageous sum in the campaign, I am certain they try to recover that and profit some more during their term as officials.
This vicious cycle can be traced back to poverty and desperation. Today, Manukan’s politicians have amassed enough wealth and power to be oppressive, and no one can do anything about it. No longer do they fear whistle-blowers, as everyone’s resolve to improve the system in Manukan has languished.
This is politics in my hometown, and it is sad. The more tragic story, however, is that, I believe, it is the same in many other small, unfamiliar towns throughout the country. – Rappler.com
Ms. Lim is a business management student at the Ateneo de Manila University. She loves books, food, current events, and music.