“Tuwing election doon lang pantay-pantay ang lahat. And isang boto ay isang boto mayaman man o mahirap.” During elections everyone becomes equal. One vote is one vote whether one is rich or poor. These are the lines my social worker friend reiterated as she quotes one community leader. I remember this quote and the promises it held, the pride it bears as one participates in the nomination of our leaders. I remember it especially now that the election approaches. These, however, are the very same line that haunts me—taunts me even!
My mother is involved in community work in our barangay. Since it was elections they were serenaded with sweet promises of development and commodities by politicians. It is not an unusual scene. This small but densely populated town where most people live in poverty is a favorite watering hole of votes for politicians.
Recently, the people were gathered by a political party. They were assembled in a local university gymnasium, thinking that this is just again a political sweet talk my mother prepared herself for the long hollow oratories. However, they were surprised as they were blatantly offered the cost of five hundred pesos for a straight vote, from senators down to councilors. One of our close neighbors who agreed to vote straight received two hundred pesos only but she took it nevertheless. She said many others did the same.
Their unvoiced question: what happened to the remaining three hundred pesos? It could have easily trickled to middlemen and organizers. But I ask: what happened to the voter’s education that the barangay held? What happened to the equal rights if it can be easily swayed and bought? When would they realize that the very politicians that buy their votes are the very ones that would readily siphon the funds intended for them. They are the ones that would hastily recover the amount they have lost.
I asked our neighbor why she sold her vote. Speaking with a jovial voice, she said that they needed it to buy food and basic necessities. “Kailangan namin!” We needed it! In my mind the exchange isn’t quite fair. The two hundred pesos will only last for two days, lucky if it reaches to three. While in return they are seating leaders who may rob them for years to come.
Who would blame them? I’ve lived in this place for almost a decade—that is equal to three elections—and no matter what party won nothing has changed. The roads are still potholed. People still need to go to the nearby towns to get medical attention. Peace and order still remains chaotic especially the neighborhood gangs that plagued the streets at night. Mostly, the people are still in threat of being relocated due to a pending battle with land ownership. Truly, it is only the face that changes in politics. When one lives day to day via hand-to-mouth how could they even look farther than the hopes of sleeping with their bellies satiated from its violent churning.
In the end, it doesn’t matter who won and will win, they simply get the most out of the elections and the money the campaigning so eagerly spreads. Thus the bidding game of promises, of money, of gift checks, etcetera. Yes! it has become a bidding game where people acquiesce to the highest bidder.
I look back to the words of my friend. Not so much as to how many votes are cast into the ballot for there will be only one, but so much as to how anyone could put price to it. How cheap they believe it to be. How they exploit the needs of the people, the masses who barely have anything. What is the worth of a vote then? Surely, it is more than two hundred pesos. It is priceless. For it could bring about the transformation to our ailing nation by electing—no matter how hard they may seem to find—deserving leaders and public servants.
The night after the vote bidding/buying there was a videoke machine playing until dawn; our neighbors happily singing. I could hear the merry-making, the unceasing laughter of people and the stuttering conversations which only alcohol could influence. Sadness and frustration came upon me because I know that their votes have gone the drain, contributing to the spiral that impedes the progress we, Filipinos all have dreamt for this country.
The news about vote buying have been all around the news. It is true that there is so much underlying histories and mechanisms to it embedded in our elections. Too often most of us consider it a tradition, even so a culture. But then if we do sell them: are we victims or accomplices to our own decay?