Election as social contract

Manila citizens line up to vote in the Philippines midterm elections in May 2019.

Manila citizens line up to vote in the Philippines midterm elections in May 2019

By Rosalin Ferrer-Garganera
‘On Target Media Concept’ reporter,
Radio anchor/ broadcaster

MANILA: Election fever is gripping the Philippines now. With less than a month to go when an estimated 67.5 million Filipinos will troop to election precincts and choose our next political leaders. Actually, about 1.7 million Filipinos who are outside of the Philippines – either working or residing in other countries – have started to cast their ballots last April 10, 2022, thru the Overseas Absentee Voting (OAV) procedure. However, these votes will only be opened and counted after May 9, when the national election day is actually held.

For this 2022 elections, 56% are aged 18-41 years old, so we can say that there is a significant number of “young” voters. At least 4 million are first-time voters, from the 18-21 years old age-bracket. There are about 10 million more voters in this presidential election, as compared to the last one held in 2016. There are slightly more female voters than male voters, but there is no evidence that there is such a thing as a “women vote” nor a “youth vote” in the Philippines.

In 2016, about 82% of registered voters actually went out and voted, and this number decreased further to 75% in the 2019 mid-term elections. While the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) has issued several new policies to address the continuing COVID19 restrictions, the government has assured voters that it is doing everything in its power to ensure that the comfort and convenience of every voter is realized on May 9, 2022.

Electoral issues
Experts have pointed out at least three issues in the electoral-political system in the Philippines. First is the weak political party system and strong presence of political dynasties; second is the prevalence of fraudulent voting practices (vote buying, command voting and voter disenfranchisement) and finally, 3) misinformation and disinformation in the 2022 elections.

The 1987 Philippine Constitution actually has a provision that discourages political dynasties and strengthens the political parties. However, it cannot be implemented unless the Philippine Congress passes a new law that defines the operational parameters of what are exactly prohibited in having political dynasties and what are legitimate political parties. Since this specific law has not been enacted yet, political parties remain weak and family dynasties who are holding elective position is an acceptable way of electing leaders.

The main evidence for weak political parties is that candidates can organize their own political parties or simply switch their membership and allegiance to a new political party just before the campaign period. There is no punishment for any candidate who switches to another political party, and it is really very easy to switch to a new party.

The most current example is the fiasco in the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino – Lakas ng Bayan (Philippine Democratic Party-People Power) or popularly known as PDP-Laban. This party was founded in 1982 and was specifically established to resist the dictatorship and Martial Law of Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. However, this party imploded last year, and now has two factions within the party, with one faction supporting the candidacy of Bong Bong Marcos, the son of the late dictator. The irony has been pointed out many times here in the Philippines, but the top leaders of this party has not settled yet their issues.

On political dynasties, a study by a local electoral watchdog called Kontra-Daya (Prevent Fraud) revealed that families and dynasties are actually abusing the party-list system in Congress, with billionaires and relatives of elected officials running for a Congressional seat without clear links to the marginalized or minority sectors that they allegedly represent.

The second issue of vote fraud is older and a much more complicated matter. Stories about voters getting paid to vote for a certain candidate has always been present in the past elections, but few have been charged in court and there is very little record if anyone has actually been punished with this crime.

Command voting is when an influential person or leader issues a direct order to his constituents or followers to vote for a certain candidate. This may come in the form of endorsement of famous religious leaders or local politicians in far and isolated towns and in the Mindanao area. A popular Christian church that openly endorses candidates is believed to be able to deliver between 3-4 million votes. Meanwhile, a left-leaning network of ideological groups claims to be able to muster between 1-2 million votes for their candidates. Regional (geographic) voting is also known, but there are inconsistencies about available data.

Voter disenfranchisement is when voters are not allowed to vote, that reduces the votes to a popular candidate, thus benefiting the less-popular candidate. This tactic is mostly used in rural areas where election-monitoring difficult to do. The methods include threatening voters so they become afraid to go out and vote, or spreading false information about the location and time of the voting. The simplest way is to simply give cash or food to a specific community and advising them not to go out anymore.

Finally, the use of fake news in this 2022 elections is unbelievable. The social media – thru Facebook and Twitter mainly – has been the favored platform of trolls who spread misinformation and disinformation about candidates. In February 2022, a fact-checking organization called Tsek.ph informed the Philippine Senate about their research covering 200 fact-check points, and they have observed that Bong Bong Marcos benefited the most from the fake news. On the other hand, they reported that the main target or victim of these fake news is the current Vice-President Leni Robredo, who is the closest rival of Marcos in the presidential candidacy.

Social Contract
Every citizen must exercise their right to vote. This is an obligation and necessary to ensure that leaders are correctly chosen. This is part of the social contract. Individuals use their votes, sign the ballots and this serves as a contract between the voters and the elected official. The contract is understood to mean that people are surrendering their right to make decisions about government and society to the elected officials. In turn, these officials are expected to consider the best interest of the majority, if not all of the people in the country.

However, if there are weak electoral structures and systems, or if there is inadequate participation of voters in the election, and if fake news is the source and foundation of voter’s in making their decision, then the social contract is broken and void in the first place.

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