By Fr. ROLANDO DELA ROSA
The other day, I asked my students what they think is the easiest way to become powerful and wealthy. One cynically answered: “By winning in an election.”
It was not the ideal answer, but neither was it unexpected. Young people today see that even the ordinary and mediocre can acquire power and fortune by winning a major public office in an election.
It is common knowledge that businessmen and political brokers invest huge sums of money in a candidate in exchange for special concessions for the latter’s business interests. To be sure, they often invest not only in the leading candidate, but also in his or her rivals. No wonder, members of one family fight for the same public office in one election. Win or lose, power stays in the family and they monopolize the contributions from competing donors and patrons.
The big role that money plays in an election makes our democracy suspect. In a democracy, there should be a level playing field. But the way election campaigns are being conducted today, and the way the majority of Filipinos vote, those who have more money and machinery are almost always assured of victory.
As early as next month, campaign ads will clutter the airwaves, television, and the internet. Since many Filipinos vote by name recall, they are most likely to remember the candidates who have continuous exposure in the various media of communication.
Money transforms voters into pragmatists. They cast their vote for the candidate who surveys show is winnable, not the candidate who is honest and sincere but with nochance of winning.
This mind frame encourages crooks, thieves, and even those in prison, to run for public office. Parroting the usual line of defense — “The court has not given its final verdict yet” — they assert that they are not guilty of anything, even if a mountain of evidence exists against them. With their ill-gotten wealth, they buy their victory which, for them, spells public absolution for their crimes.
Corrupt candidates no longer worry about the media’s power to destroy a person’s reputation by exposing his faults and misdeeds. In fact, like self-confessed exhibitionists, they delight in seeing their crimes broadcast by the media. After all, that’s free publicity, and they can always dismiss those crimes as fake news perpetrated by their enemies.
The late Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, who tried to raise the bar of credibility and respectability in the Senate, once revealed that although senators received only 35,000 pesos as monthly salary, unscrupulous and corrupt senators ended up richer by at least 100 million pesos at the end of their term because of the perks, travel allowances, commissions from projects, and budgets for their offices. No wonder, most of them want to be re-elected.
The politics of greed and shamelessness is a bottomless pit and submerges all of us into one vast network of illusions. Election in our country was once an arena for exhibiting the nobility of the human spirit. But today, dilapidated, recycled, greedy, and power-hungry personalities, who continue to run for office, have transformed it into a means to buy respectability, and amass unlimited power and wealth.