Philippine Elections: Feudal “Democracy” At Its Most Spectacular

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With more or less a month to go before the May 2016 Philippine general elections, it’s sincerely hoped that we Filipinos would now on an individual level have some sort of idea of how we want our so-called nation to be run and by whom. In the long run, however, the results would more likely than not end up the same regardless of who wins, and the Philippines would retain its status as a banana republic on the wrong side of the Pacific Ocean.

And yes, I did say “so-called nation.” In all honesty, given the circumstances of history and culture, the illusion of the Philippines being a unified nation-state has all but lost its meaning for me. This is clearly reflected in the way that we elect our “public servants,” and how these people, once put in power, strengthen their foothold in power by perpetuating their names.

You cannot hope for “real change” through the Philippine elections when political dynasties make up a good portion of the candidates from the top down, and when a big chunk of voters would wholeheartedly choose them. A study made about the 15th Philippine Congress shows that around half of all provincial governors and members of congress are related and often in power at the same time.

Curiously, provinces where dynasties have a strong foothold often have the largest wealth disparities between the rich, the middle class and the poor, while the dynasties themselves accumulate most of the money from their constituents. Dynastic families, especially those with popular names, once were (or still are) often vociferous landowners with farm workers working the land for them. If not, these families often command unswerving loyalty from their subjects (sometimes through the use of private armies, sometimes through their own displays of physical force), a few of whom would be willing to take a hit for the name they defend.

The “vibrant democracy” that many Filipinos often tout is in reality structured within the medieval European concept of feudalism. “Representation” is perpetuated through a landed nepotistic elite, and they in turn rule each province or congressional district as their own little fiefdom. The capital generated by the tenured farmer-serfs beneath them passes through these dynasties and rarely, if ever, trickles back down. Middle-income families often have an adequate education to see this disparity, but their goal is often to send people abroad and generate income there, rather than to carry the task of true nation building and genuine reform.

This feudal structure is never more bare than during what passes as “the elections.” Dynastic families running for office rely mainly on name recall, and their wealth buys them the ability to flout election campaign rules. Issues that matter become muddled by campaign rallies that look less political and more like cheap entertainment, often with the support of TV and movie celebrities who very frequently run for office themselves.

Prevalent as well in this feudal process is the influence of the church, with candidates invoking God in public and seeking the endorsements of the religious denominations that are deeply intertwined with the affairs of the state — and many of the candidates proclaiming that they alone among all others are chosen by Heaven and/or Hell to rule over them.

The Philippines is, once again, ready to elect dynastic personalities who warble sweet, snort-worthy promises to call down paradise, to eliminate evil, to complete an improbable quest, to perpetuate tradition and to expel foreign influences. These are more or less the convenient high fantasies found in European medieval myths or second-rate comic books, and sadly the voting public just loves to eat it all up literally without thought.

In the end, the people who win are often those who entertain the most — and the dynastic scions of the Philippine elite are seen as the most entertaining of all.

I would *probably* understand why the vast multitude of people with low incomes and limited access to education would vote for the dynasties, but when people such as acquaintances with middle-class incomes say that they’d rather put a dynastic personality into office because of whatever flimsy reason, it really does grate on my nerves. Especially if they once more begin to complain when that person screws up again for the nth time. It only enforces the premise that many Filipinos enjoy the feudal system of this country that masquerades as a representative democracy.

When you vote more with a personality in mind and less about the issues that matter the most, you do not deserve honest representation. When you vote with the full intention of perpetuating a system of vassalage, you deserve to be ruled over as a vassal.

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