[OPINION] 2019 elections the real battle for the opposition
I happened to be in London in 2016, when its present mayor, Sadiq Khan, was elected. I had just left the Commission on Elections after 5 years and was very curious of how London would conduct their elections. It felt like any other day – no campaign posters around or noisy caravans; there were no long lines in polling precincts (some were almost empty). To my disappointment, it was plain and boring, a complete opposite of Philippine elections.
Here, elections are closer to a fiesta. Colorful banderitas fly and streets are filled with the faces of our politicians on posters and tarpaulins. TV and radio are inundated with political advertisements. In rallies and miting de avance, politicians desperately double as singers, dancers, and sometimes clowns. The night before the elections, the country transforms into the world’s biggest palengke, where trading votes for thousands of pesos has unfortunately become the norm. Then, after proclamation, everyone forgets each other and get on with their lives. The poor go back to being poor and winning politicians work on recouping their election expenses.
Despite the color and the excitement of elections in the Philippines, we still have a limited understing of it, treating it as just a cyclic political exercise where people fill in some 80,000 vacant national and local posts. In the regular midterm elections on May 13, 2019, the whole country will elect municipal, provincial and regional officials, the whole House of Representatives, and half of the members of the Senate.
As much as it is an exciting “job placement” process,the May 13 elections could take a very different face. This election will not only be the barometer of this administration’s popularity, but a venue for contestation.
For President Rodrigo Duterte and his allies, entering midway through his 6-year term, the May 2019 elections would be the administration’s more definitive way of assessing the support of the masses and gauging the Presidents’ popularity. With his failed “drug war,” Chief Justice Sereno’s removal, the shady martial law declarations, and even the South China Sea debacle, do the people still trust President Duterte? Did his popularity wane?
While some may put too much credit on social media for having made Duterte win and stay popular, it is always a murky and unreliable world that should not be mistaken for the reality. To me, we perceive it as important only because we happen to be there. But how about the half of the country that have no access to the internet or those indifferent to social media or have no time for it?
We should also be mindful that the contents that pop up on our timelines are heavily controlled by “algorithms” or by a predefined formula that dictates what we get to see on Facebook and Twitter. Usually based on the history and frequency of our interactions (likes and comments we made), the algorithm sorts and picks posts out of the thousands generated by our friends. Those selected or curated posts are pushed to the top of our timelines, and usually all we ever will see. The danger of algorithms is that it can lead us to that dangerously narrow tunnel, an echo chamber where a pro-Duterte user would end up having a timeline filled with pro-Duterte posts and those against with anti-Duterte posts, each having a false perception of the actual reality.
The ebbs and flows of contents are also systematically influenced by well-oiled PR operations through paid “influencers,” simulated trending, content targeting, and by saturating our social media pages with clickbaits and even fake "news." And, of course, that sheer fact that active social media users do not faithfully represent the country’s voting demographics – the overwhelming majority of those may belong to that half who have no access to the internet or are simply too busy struggling with life for them to go on social media.
Thus, to me, elections – provided they are fair, orderly and honest – remain to be the most definitive political barometer. A definitive way to tell if Duterte, three years after his overwhelming electoral success in 2016, shall have held on to his popularity and influence. Apart from that, this election will be the President’s own way of gauging how far can he push his most important and legacy-setting undertakings – from amending or revising the Constitution, shift to federalism, and even his promised creation of the Bangsamoro region – all of which, would need to be submitted to the general public and needs to be voted upon.
The May 13, 2019, elections can also be the venue where the people, through their votes, can express their discontent, dissatisfaction, or disappointment in the government or, to the contrary, voice one’s support for the government.
The people rejecting the administration’s candidates and allies, particularly in the senatorial elections, and giving seats to the opposition would be an unequivocal statement of discontent and disapproval. To the contrary, an electoral success of the administration could be the proverbial pat on the back. An encouraging vote of approval, could be a way of saying, just go on, we like what you are doing!
Thus, this coming election could be the right battle that the opposition, and anyone who wants to stir and influence the policy of this government, should pick. We must not forget that despite all the rhetoric and the fanciful public image that Duterte has concocted about himself, he is a politician at the end of the day – an astute politician who reads the masses very well, cleverly rides on their sentiments and discontent, and persuasively speak what they want to hear.
Like with any other politicians, Duterte's policies were shaped and will be shaped by his desire for political stability and to remain popular, and by that tempting prospect of political continuity. The general public delivering a rousing defeat right at the door of Malacanang can perhaps be persuasive. It could perhaps be the language that the President will finally understand!
With these, everyone has to bear in mind that the real battle in the coming months is not on Twitter or Facebook, but in the voting precincts. Liking or posting a status do not count and never counted. It can never shake things up or change the status quo, but this coming election can. It can potentially be game changing, either for the better or a further slide to the kangkungan.
To be able to participate and have a say in the coming elections, one needs to register. Pursuant to Commission on Elections Resolution 10392, voter registration has resumed last July 2, and will be open until September 29 – or only for 89 days or barely 3 months. (This excludes Marawi City, where rehabilitation is ongoing.) Those who are not registered or whose registration has been deactivated cannot participate in the May 13, 2019, elections. We must also note that failure to vote in two successive elections is a ground for deactivation, so better check your status online on the Comelec website or in your local Comelec offices. – Rappler.com
Emil Marañon III is one of the election lawyers consulted by the camp of Vice President Leni Robredo, whose victory is being contested by former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. Marañon served as chief of staff of retired Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. He graduated from the SOAS, University of London, where he studied Human Rights, Conflict and Justice as a Chevening scholar.