The Philippine Electoral Process

In the Philippines, problems concerning accountability – in all its aspects – have its genesis in the very beginning of a supposedly democratic process: elections.

Cheating is a well-developed art in Philippine elections. Local politicians are adept at manipulating the process from beginning to end. Cheating begins during the registration process when politicians work to remove supporters of competitors and paid the voters’ list with “flying voters” (those who vote more than once in several precincts). During the campaign “guns, goons, and gold” are used extensively to intimidate competitors’ supporters, and to literally buy support. Cheating does not end at the time of the actual election. Election return canvassers, often public school teachers are bribed to manipulate the results. If cheating before and during the election is “retail” cheating, at the canvassing stage it is “wholesale” cheating that occurs. Now, if a public official wins by “cheating” his mandate to lead, how could one expect him to lead with a full sense of accountability?

Another problem is electoral finance. If in the past patron-client ties limiting effective participation by the electorate was the most serious problem corrupting democratic representation, today rapidly growing election campaign expenses is the key problem (Rocamora, 1998). To win Philippine elections, candidates have to spend thrice: once to get nominated (that is, to gain the support of lower level leaders in support of his/her nomination by the party), second to garner votes (that is, to organize the campaign), third to get his votes counted, (that is, to organize and pay for poll watchers). The higher up the ladder, culminating in the presidential candidate, the more you have to spend. Running election campaigns have become so expensive that only rich people or those dependent on rich financiers can run. Qualified, popular candidates without money and without financial backers cannot win. Even when relatively honest people do win, they have to spend so much money to campaign that they invariably become corrupt in order to recover their expenses or to return the favor of financial backers. For these official who spent so much (for too little salary), accountability is the least word they would care for.

Our political parties are also makeshift coalitions that are useful only for elections. Traditionally, they are formed around landed clans who control votes in the countryside. The evolution of Philippine political parties mirrors the history of class relations in our country. The landed oligarchy and natural resources concessionaire, and later, the industrial elite and Filipino-Chinese businessmen continue to set and control the political and policy agenda, often delaying or mangling legislation designed to facilitate social change. Through the years the primary purpose of political parties has been to control local and national offices and to protect and enhance their political leaders and patrons’ wealth and power.

This vicious cycle of elite democracy, money politics and poor governance prevails today more than ever. It has distorted public policies and weakened public institutions by undermining its decision-making and continuously threatening its integrity and autonomy.

Election education and information campaign are weak and have repeatedly failed to improve the quality of citizen involvement in the electoral processes, and/or to ensure the election of quality leaders.