The late controversial politician Ernie Maceda seems to have been right. Any publicity, favorable or unfavorable is good for politicians. The list of leading senatorial candidates in the latest polls affirms this sad reality. Several notorious candidates are ahead of the “good guys.” Ex-detainees on plunder charges Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla are in the likely to win top 12. So, it seems, will Bato dela Rosa of the drug suspect killing sprees. Meanwhile, serious legislators like Bam Aquino and even JV Ejercito are barely making it And Erin Tañada and Gary Alejano are dangling down there. Even Lito Lapid who, last I heard, had not passed a single legislation in all his forgettable senate days is up there among the topnotchers.
The senatorial elections are less likely won by patronage; and more by media power. Voters are hardly likely to encounter the candidates in person; and will make their choices based on what media information and illusion or heavy spending reaches them.
Shall we therefore just shake our heads and wring our hands?
There are a few volunteer organizations that are mobilizing to campaign for voter education. Every little bit counts. The Namfrel (National Movement for Free Elections) and PPCRV (Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting) are mobilizing, with little funding. These and other volunteer groups could use some money, and more people to help with the nationwide campaign.
Since the Lower House seems to be a huge trapo conglomerate controlled by those who decide on budget allocations, overt and covert, we need the Senate as a counterbalance to the creeping authoritarianism and irresponsibility of this regime. The small minds in the Lower House need to be balanced with a more intelligent and responsible Upper House, which, in theory, having national constituencies, is more likely to prioritize the national interest in policy making, over their parochial patronage needs.
We cannot underestimate what a more responsible and independent Senate can do for our country which seems to be descending more and more into authoritarianism that ironically seems to be ceding or in fact has ceded our sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea despite our hard fought victory in the UN Arbitration Court. We must be the laughingstock among our ASEAN neighbors with our extreme about-face on this sovereignty issue.
We do not have a shortage of exemplary candidates. The other night I ran into exemplary senatorial candidate Chel Diokno at the Mactan airport. Gary Alejano’s courage and Samira Gutoc’s determination would strengthen the Senate’s backbone. Bam Aquino continues to work hard and consistently on pro-people legislation, with nary a spot on his reputation. Pray, tell me, why should Imee Marcos become a senator? Her family has not returned all of the ill-gotten Marcos wealth. It looks like the President’s protégé Bong Go who is probably the biggest campaign spender among all the candidates is definitely going to make it. Even the ABS-CBN network, whose legislative franchise is expiring, is producing a documentary on the (remarkable?) life of Bong Go. Well, the President himself has publicly stated that Bong Go comes from a billionaire family. I guess that explains it.
I hear that the business community has become donation shy; especially when it comes to opposition candidates. If they are constrained by their business interests, they can at least be generous with their money and time, by contributing to voter education campaigns. There are enough qualified candidates. We need to help voters make the right choices.
Otherwise, what for did we march all those years against authoritarianism? Do we care at all for a responsible and responsive democracy? The business community must straighten their backbones and help in whatever way they can.
Teresa S. Abesamis is a former professor at the Asian Institute of Management and an independent development management consultant.