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I have just filled out my ballot as an overseas Filipino qualified to vote in the May 13, 2019 midterm elections. While we are outside the Philippines, dual citizens like me are entitled to vote for party-list contenders and for national officials — in this case, senatorial candidates.

Despite my being relatively familiar with the political environment in the Philippines, as a newspaper columnist of several decades, it wasn’t easy choosing 12 candidates from among the 62 contenders listed in the official ballot.

It was like playing the kiddie game, eenie meenie mini mor. Or doing the toss coin — except that in most political choices, it’s heads they win and tails you lose.

It was so much easier picking one out of the many party-list contenders in the ballot. I did what I think most voters would do. Not knowing what the clever acronyms stood for and having known about family dynasties ostensibly representing tricycle drivers or other underprivileged sectors even if they have never taken a ride in a poor man’s transport and have enjoyed nothing but privileges into their whole wealthy lives, I simply based my choice on self-interest.

Being a full-blooded Waray-Waray, I chose An Waray. So, there!

But to go back to choosing 12 senatorial candidates out of 62 — perhaps, my difficulty has been due to my relative familiarity with Philippine politics and politicians. I, frankly, have become a cynic. I have learned to take campaign promises with a bushel of salt (not just a grain), and have come to expect dashed hopes once those I vote for assume office.

But, at least, I have been able to weigh the pros and cons and have had some basis for choosing the lesser evil among the candidates, as well as the relatively better qualified.

I can only imagine how it is with those who have spent their entire lives being fed with controlled media messages, being dazzled by celebrity, and being impressed with the way candidates dance and sing on-stage. They depend mainly on ward leaders for instructions on who to vote for, expect nothing more from the candidates than the few hundred pesos (or is it now in the thousands???) handed them for their votes, and rationalize that the winning candidates will likely steal once in office pagka’t ganyan talaga ang pulitika (that’s how it is in politics). Weather weather lang iyan.

Oh, yes, some of them can expect a job because malakas si ninong kay sir (my godfather has influence on sir). And some can look forward to a basketball court or team uniforms or even a rural health clinic from the candidate they help vote into office. At least, may pakinabang ang pork barrel (at least, there’s a benefit from the pork barrel).

Eenie, meenie mini mor, who should I choose for senator?

The truth is that many voters don’t even have a chance to choose or don’t bother to choose at all. They depend on their ward leaders who hand them sample ballots with instructions not to deviate from the list. Oftentimes the instructions are accompanied with warnings and threats.

How will the ward leaders know if a voter changes a name on the list? In the old days, carbon paper was placed under the ballot. This provided proof of compliance. How is it done now? Who knows? But you can be sure that clever political operators have ways of knowing.

Of course, there’s the time-worn and proven trick known as Garcification, named after Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s favorite Comelec commissioner. The Comelec is said to be one of the most profitable business enterprises during elections. I know of a political family in Manila that had fielded a candidate for Congress. The local Comelec official actually told them to their faces that he could guarantee them a victory — for a price. They refused to pay. Their candidate lost.

What I couldn’t understand was why they did not blow the whistle on the extortionist. Their explanation was, who would respond to the whistle? Their impression was that everyone was in on the racket, including “the people upstairs.”

At any rate, if anybody did act on their complaint, the election would have been over before any action could be taken. And, in the Philippines, once a “winning” candidate has been sworn into office it could take nearly the entire tenure before a complaint can be resolved — if at all.

On the other hand, I understand that the voters have become entrepreneurial, selling their votes to the highest bidder. This reminds me of a losing candidate for Congress whom I happened to talk to at the Tacloban airport. This was back in those innocent days when votes were relatively “inexpensive.”

The loser complained that his opponent paid P100 per vote. “That was plain and simple vote buying,” he complained. And then he added: “I could only afford P50.”

Assuming that there are still many voters like me who are not in the market for my vote, how does one choose from so many candidates? How did I make my choices?

I started with a process of elimination. The candidates whose names were unknown to me were automatically out of contention. That says something about name recognition. No awareness. No vote.

Next to be eliminated from my list were those candidates with very high name recognition but in a negative manner. Thus, suspected plunderers, killers and the illiterate were automatically scratched from my list.

One could have said that every politician “steals” or generates “unexplained income” one way or the other. However, “plunder” means big-time stealing. Those suspected of plain corruption are said to be the lesser evil and, thus, “tolerable.” Ganyan talaga ang pulitika.

Of course, one can apply the NOTA rule — meaning None of the Above. In the coming election, however, I actually identified several candidates who could do some good in office, if they allow their better nature to prevail. So, I did not resort to NOTA.

In fact, I included one reelectionist senator who I personally know to be a decent person. There’s another candidate I do not know personally but whose track record as a former public servant and as an opinion maker has been good. This candidate, unfortunately, has lost in past attempts for a Senate seat — but he has my vote, even if his chances of winning are slim.

Another type of candidate who immediately got the virtual axe was the kind who invariably ends up in the Committee on Silence. The certified illiterates who, for some reason, have gotten elected to high office. I knocked off at least one such candidate (who happens to have already served in the Senate, expectedly, in the Committee on Silence).

Next in the process of elimination were the candidates with blood on their hands and those running on the basis of OPM or Other People’s Money, more specifically, the Filipino People’s Money. They were easy to spot because their campaign billboards were blocking off the view on the provincial highways months before the actual campaign season began.

They are not to be confused with the candidate whose main credentials depend on OPM (Original Pilipino Music). This latter candidate could run for a spot in American Idol or Tawag ng Tanghalan, but mercifully not the Philippine Senate. I eliminated him from my list.

After laboring over the names on the ballot, I finally came up with 11. Needing one more to make it an even 12, I scanned the names I was familiar with who have not yet been accused of plunder nor of killings nor of using OPM, and who have also not been members of the Committee on Silence (although all have been silent where they should have protested the vulgarity and the bloody and unconstitutional ways of the current administration).

To make my choice, I played eenie, meenie mini mor and made my 12th choice for senator.

I’m just hoping that this selection won’t end up like a toss-coin. Heads they win. Tails I lose.


Greg B. Macabenta is an advertising and communications man shuttling between San Francisco and Manila and providing unique insights on issues from both perspectives.