Journ Classroom

May 15, 2007

Philippine Elections as Classroom – 2

Filed under: general,News — Luz Rimban @ 6:07 pm

If Philippine elections were a classroom and electoral fraud the previous days’ lesson, then the people and civil society groups listened and learned. The media didn’t. The people and civil society got it. The media didn’t (some, at least).

The one central issue in the 2007 elections is the unresolved cheating of the past. Those who are looking for or dredging up other issues are unlikely to find any that will stick, or that will draw people’s attention and interest. The one thing that mattered to Filipinos was the systematic, wholesale cheating that took place in 2004—evidence of which came in the form of the “Hello, Garci” recordings—which remains unpunished to this day.

And yet how come (some in) the media didn’t get it? Was it fear? Vested interest? Bias? A misreading of the situation?

Friends and I were talking about this while we were in Davao last month. Ellen noted how (some) media organizations had failed to highlight “Hello, Garci” as an election issue, and how they seemed all too willing to let administration candidates off the hook, specially those who deliberately ignored the “Hello, Garci” question. Bon said that one TV network’s election special focused on issues like jobs, housing, health care, and the like, which were more suited to elections for president (or maybe local executives) rather than elections for the national legislature where each candidate is expected to have his or her own advocacy, not to mention knowledge of law-making.

Sure, it’s ok to know what a candidate’s stance is toward the environment, on health, on education, on housing. But the key to all these other issues lies in resolving the questions of 2004.

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The church and civil society saw this clearly, and seemed to have communicated it well to the people. In fact, Bishop Antonio Lagdameo, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, said in a letter to dioceses and parishes in January 2007, “These coming elections in May 2007 are especially important. Many of our current political problems, which have hindered fuller economic development and social justice, especially for the poor, can be traced to unresolved questions concerning the conduct of past elections.”

This is why civil society geared for the counting and canvassing where the massive fraud is believed to have taken place in 2004. Groups like V-Force and No Cheats, all knew where to focus. In fact, it’s amazing how the Church managed to mobilize all those volunteers in many precincts throughout the country.

On the other hand, media seemed to have treated this election no different from previous ones, assuming that elections would be clean and cheating the aberration. Media should have taken a skeptical, cynical stance and it would still have been justified.

Instead, we read and heard about issues like housing, education, health care, even peace talks, but these are the kind you’d call formula stories, the just-add-water variety, instant reports that news people bring out of their baul election year in, election year out. Frankly, all those issues sound stale in the face of the bigger issues that demanded media scrutiny.

What were/are those bigger issues that didn’t get the space and airtime they deserved?

1) Jueteng and its ties to politics, for one, because jueteng is supposedly the source of the money used to pay those who took part in the cheating.

2) The role of the military, for another, because they allegedly provided the muscle needed to make the cheating happen.

3) The role of the Comelec, of course, and the lack of accountability for for the controversies that have hounded it these past years. There is much to scrutinize in the Comelec, including its role in accrediting party list groups affiliated with the administration.

4) The Marcos money and how it was used to bankroll the 2004 elections.

The thing is, (some) media people acted like the “Hello, Garci” issue ended when the opposition failed to impeach Gloria Arroyo, not once but twice. Maybe in their minds it did end. I remember a former colleague telling me once, “What more is there to investigate about Gloria Arroyo?” It was as though GMA was reborn pure, clean and white after the failed impeachment. But of course she wasn’t.

There’s a lot more for media to examine. And the people know that. They don’t forget, even if the media acted like they wanted people to. Not true that Filipinos have a short memory, actually. People remember.

Maybe this is why Chiz Escudero, the congressman who stayed awake all night to impeach the president, seems to be doing more than well in the senatorial race. Or why Alan Peter Cayetano, the congressman who dared go up against the president and her husband, has a fighting chance to win a Senate seat. Maybe it’s why Darlene Custodio, the congresswoman who was also vocal in the impeachment proceedings, is likely to win over the popular, administration-fielded Manny Pacquiao. Could it be why Manila voters are turning against Ali Atienza, whose father drove a wedge through the Liberal Party by making a faction of it pro-GMA? Could it be why Kapampangan priest Fr Ed Panlilio might just make history as governor-elect, against his rival, the wife of the man people say is the country’s biggest jueteng lord?

Of course in this world of manual voting and counting it’s too early to draw conclusions. But I’d say things are indeed changing because people and civil society are learning the lessons. It’s the media that haven’t.

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