Carvajal: Can but don’t

Orlando P. Carvajal

YOU only do what you can. But it does not follow that because you know the good that you can do… that you actually do it. As St. Augustine of Hippo famously said, “I know the good I should do but I often find myself doing the bad I know I shouldn’t do.”

I have written earlier of the uselessness, because of an extremely flawed election system, of listing down the desirable qualities of barangay officials that people should ideally elect. In theory, voters can indeed choose the candidate that has the listed qualifications. But they don’t. They can but they don’t. Here’s why.

It is actually barangay captains that deliver votes for mayors, congressmen and senators. Hence, barangay elections are financed by mayors, congressmen, senators that are planning to run in their time. Because we elect individuals and not parties or programs, a lot of money is needed to promote an individual’s real or imagined qualities through radio, TV, posters, sample ballots, snacks, meals, and entertainers during campaign rallies and finally to buy the votes of some or silence the votes of others.

To be sure, it is only cash-strapped voters who are vulnerable to material incentives. Upper middle class and upper class voters are seldom sellers of votes. They are, however, often buyers of votes. Big-money voters are loyal to politicians who have extended them favors, like government contracts or job positions, and contribute to that politician’s campaign funds.

Philippine elections are really all about luring votes by all kinds of short-term material incentives. Already now trash is being collected religiously and traffic discipline loosened a notch to court the votes of residents in general and jeepney, taxi, habal-habal, tricycle and trisikad drivers in particular.

In Talisay City a brand-new multi-million peso market was allowed to wear away in disuse because of an election promise to build one in the old site. That is now nearly finished, thus ensuring the reelection (but at what expense?) of those who made good on the promise.

No such thing as a non-partisan barangay election. In our very flawed system, political top dogs have no qualms breaking election rules and spending whatever amount is needed so financially vulnerable voters (and they are legion) will choose top dog’s candidate no matter how unqualified. They don’t care either where the money is coming from. Like it or not dirty money will play a big part in the coming barangay elections.

Yes, voters can make a good choice. But they don’t. In a flawed election system cash-strapped voters follow the money trail. In any case, I am seeing nothing that tells me buyers and sellers of votes will behave differently in the coming elections.