[OPINION | Newspoint] A desperate, self-redemptive vote

The vote on Monday, May 13, will reveal what sort of people we are, and decide our deserved fate as a nation. 

It will reveal whether we are good or bad or sick-minded – good, meaning god-fearing, self-respecting, and freedom-loving; bad, meaning the opposite of all that; and sick-minded, meaning unable either to tell the difference between good and bad or to stop ourselves being bad – although lumping the sick-minded and the bad together is perfectly justified, for, after all, no one of sick mind votes right. Anyway, the vote will test us for our values and mental state as a people. 

True, necessarily, we’re tested for those same things at every election; this vote, however, has a decidedly desperate, self-redemptive sense to it. It’s a referendum on ourselves as well as the man we voted President 3 years ago in foolhardy denial of his “anti-social narcissistic psychological disorder” and his reputation as a mayor dispensing justice by death squad. 

Oh, and don’t we get our spiting proof: President Rodrigo Duterte has been true to form! 

His war on drugs accounts for thousands of kills. He has not only made friends with China but ceded to it our resource-rich West Philippine Sea and opened our land leniently to its capitalists and job-seeking citizens; thus, the supposed joke about us becoming a Chinese province has lost all its humor. He persecutes his critics, be they from the political opposition, the news media, the Catholic Church, or the rights institutions – not to mention, he foul-mouths mothers as a matter of habit. With no time to lose on his promise, he began reigning as a de facto dictator from day one, although officially he is one in all of Mindanao, the largest of our 3 main islands, which has been under martial law for two years now.  

To be sure, a good vote will not make him go away – he has 3 more years on his term – but it gains us time and a new if limited lease on democratic life. 

Enough oppositionists voted to the Senate can slow – and, with further luck down the road, even arrest – our descent into authoritarianism. With the Lower House, the Supreme Court and much of the rest of the judiciary, and other vital institutions evidently coopted by Duterte, the Senate has remained the last rampart standing against the constitutional change that would allow him and his gang to perpetuate themselves in power, the only sure way of escaping accountability and jail. 

Still, a good vote does not count until properly counted.  

As happens, a proper count is something we could scarcely count on. "Hello, Garci," that infamously historic case of electoral fraud, haunts us more evocatively now than it has ever before, because two main characters from it are available, if not yet enlisted, for service. Both are, after all, major players in the Duterte regime.

One is Gloria Arroyo, the beneficiary of the "Hello, Garci" fraud herself. Those words in fact issued from her own lips and began the conspiratorial conversation between her and Election Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano – her “Garci” – in which she asked for and was in turn promised the presidency by a margin of “at least a million votes.” The phone conversation was caught on tape. Confronted with the flaming proof, she confessed and apologized. With that, and on the nation’s singular default, she managed still to assume the presidency, complete it, and end up with the distinction of serving the longest in it – more than 9 years, counting the remaining 3-plus years of the term she, as vice-president, inherited after Joseph Estrada’s impeachment (Ferdinand Marcos's 14-year martial-law presidency is excluded in the comparison). 

Her fraud carries on: she’s now the Speaker of the House. Her term in Congress may be expiring, but she remains a dynastic matriarch and evidently wields great influence on Duterte and his family.

The other “Hello, Garci” character is Hermogenes Esperon Jr. He was the general Arroyo sent south to preside militarily in the promised land of vote-rigging. That mission done, Arroyo made him chief of all the armed forces and, upon his retirement, adviser of Cabinet rank, the same position in which Duterte now keeps him. 

Garci himself has been long gone from the Commission on Elections – he is, we’re told, luxuriating in hidden retirement – but his spirit seems to live in some of its rulings. It shut out the long- standing citizen watchdog Namfrel, for instance. It also denied the political opposition its legitimate standing and, consequently, the rights of representation that, for simple fairness’ sake, allow the opposite side to validate the conduct of the electoral process for itself. On the other hand, it seems to have suspended the rules against electioneering for Duterte candidates.

Its partisanship is stretched to absurdity. A couple for Duterte are allowed to run for office in different districts, taking them at their mushy word that, while they remain very much married and in love, they have decided to live apart for the greater, altruistic love of their separate constituencies.

The road to redemption is always hard – it may even seem impossible – but it just has to be taken.  – Rappler.com