Sunday, November 14, 2004

Campaign contrast

Campaign contrast

Updated 01:15am (Mla time) Nov 14, 2004
By Isagani Cruz
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A14 of the November 14, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

THERE is a sharp contrast between the recent US presidential election and our own election last May that the thinking observer could not have missed. It should give us pause over the futility of what passes for democracy in this country despite our historic passion for freedom that should have made us more jealous of our suffrages.

For one thing, there were no reports of widespread cheating in the American election, nor was it marred by the violence that is taken for granted in our own elections. Doctoring of election returns does not seem to be endemic in the United States. There were no warlords to murder political opponents or coerce the voters to support candidates dictated by the barrel of the gun. Bullets and ballots have an ominous synonymy in this country, but not in Chicago after Al Capone.

For another, the results of the elections last week were known within the day, or shortly thereafter, despite the wide expanse of the US territory and the 115.8 million Americans who exercised their right of suffrage. Our elections last May took more than a week to resolve although we had only about 42 million registered voters and our whole archipelago could fit in the state of California. Even now, Sen. Robert Z. Barbers claims that the senatorial election results have not yet been completed.

It is argued in defense of the slow count of votes here that our territory is not compact like that of the United States nor do we have the communication facilities that advanced countries enjoy. India, however, has a bigger voting population than ours, but its election results are determined much faster there than here. Appropriately, Kilosbayan president Rafael Alunan III and former Senate President Jovito R. Salonga have criminally charged the Commission on Elections before the Ombudsman for its illegal purchase of the Automated Counting Machines that has been invalidated by the Supreme Court.

But the most important difference between elections in the United States and the Philippines this year was the quality of the campaigns they separately conducted. One was intelligent and intellectual; the other was plainly stupid. The American election was a lesson in democracy in action while ours was a foolish charade of vulgar entertainment. Some of those entertainers are now in public office, in the Senate and almost even in MalacaƱang.

The protagonists in the US elections were the incumbent President of the United States and a four-term member of the US Senate. George W. Bush and John Kerry faced each other in three presidential debates sponsored by the media and watched by millions of Americans and even on satellite TV. These candidates represented the two major political parties-the Republicans and the Democrats- that have exchanged power for more than two centuries. Ralph Nader was only a vexatious nuisance.

In our election last May, the contending groups were practically undistinguishable because none of them could claim to be a major political party. Past elections used to be a contest only between the Nacionalista Party and the Liberal Party, but these political giants have lost their dominance and even their identity. Now they are only among several other splinter groups composing what is conveniently called a "coalition." The personalities of these combinations are as vague as their initials. It is possible that even their members sometimes forget where they belong.

The US election campaign was based on issues, the Philippine campaign on non-issues. The former called for serious reflection; the latter for mindless applause. The American voter was willing to discuss with the candidates matters that affected his welfare and future, but the Filipino voter only wanted to hear them sing or see them dance or exhibit their prowess in the martial arts. It was all simply show for us.

Bush and Kerry differed on such serious subjects as Iraq, terrorism, abortion, same-sex marriages, medical insurance, the economy, taxation, social security, stem cell research, and unemployment. In 1947, the Philippine electorate was widely divided on the issue of parity that President Roxas advocated and the Nacionalista leaders like Recto and Laurel attacked. But Estrada in 1998 and Poe this year refused even to debate with their presidential rivals, most likely because they were simply scared. Or maybe they had nothing to propose or defend or even a platform to stand on.

In this country, all parties and all candidates agree on the motherhood issues like nationalism and family solidarity, denounce graft and drugs, and support lower taxes. Having none to disagree about, they simply exhibit their histrionic talents, like President Macapagal-Arroyo who cheapened her office by donning ethnic costume and undulating in tribal dance to enthrall her indigenous audience.

The voters who elected those three misfits in the Senate and almost made that ill-prepared actor to be the President of the Philippines should learn to be more circumspect in the choice of our public officials. Bush beat Kerry 8 to 1 on the moral issue but many of our less discriminating voters do not bother with such substantial matters. They are more bedazzled by crudity and nonsense.


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