Sunday, May 16, 2010

Why I Might Have Voted for Mel Carreon: Post-Election Thoughts

This web site says today that Carmelo Carreon, perennial candidate during elections, has 1,427 votes in his bid as Vice Mayor of Iloilo City. It's a mere 60,000 plus votes away from the leading candidate.

I remember an anecdote about how he was being treated at the Western Visayas Medical Center for an ailment that I cannot recall right now. As it was the height of the campaign period, he still found ways of completing his self-imposed duty of pressing the flesh among the unsuspecting patients and companions at the Emergency Room.

I also saw him drinking coffee at one of the malls here. He was in his best suit, with a sash over it that declared who he was in bold letters. He also had a small tarpaulin with his name and the position he was seeking, pinned to the side of the table he was seated in.

One time when I was in a jeepney, I saw him near a busy intersection, resplendent in his suit and sash, mildly waving to the passers-by, a reminder that he was contesting this election.

Breaks your heart, isn't it? No? You're saying, "Who the hell is this Mel Carreon guy? Am I supposed to care?"

Think about it. The results of the last election, barring some exceptions, have reinforced the idea that personalities are more valued than policy statements. Ask any one to elucidate the stand of their preferred presidential candidate and you will get motherhood statements like "end corruption", "finish poverty", "faster recovery". Long on rhetoric, short on substance.

I could be wrong. I might find out later that amid the glitz and glamour there is actually a specific set of policy statements supported by a specific candidate. But it's a subtle perpetuation of the ignorance of the masses when the campaign teams fail to print out a manifesto or even a set of commitments online. It prevents discerning voters to make the decisions on who to vote using something more than "he's handsome" or "he fits the position" or "he will not steal".

Stripped of party machinery, movie stars, half-a-million-peso commercials, pedigree, and millions of pesos spent on posters, streamers and stickers, some candidates are not too far removed from Mel Carreon. I'm sure that if Mel was given money to run a credible campaign, he would get a decent share of the vote. Heck, I would vote for him. It's not a surprise to see that behind the veneer of media-painted spin, candidates do not have concrete plans to bring to the table.

The recent automated elections was a success because technology made elections credible again. Now we have to make the process of voting painlessly by minimizing those horrendous waiting times for some precincts. And we have to make sure that the credibility gains are not wiped out by the inability of the electorate to choose based on policy.

I know that this is completely unscientific, but I don't know how significant their names' position of the ballot was for some candidates. I'm just saying that there could be a cohort of people, who were too tired to vote, and voted for the most recognizable names for the national positions. Aquino and Binay are on the left of the ballot paper and a very irritable voter can always just "get it over with" by voting them. Same with the senatorial candidate going by the new last name of "Bong Revilla". This might be evidence that when some voters are ill-informed of how important their choices are and they are pressed for time, they will vote for the first names that they recognize. As of this post, more than 160,000 people voted for Vetellano Acosta for president even though he was clearly disqualified weeks before the election, maybe because he was conveniently the first name on the ballot paper.

So much for the high turn-out. The oft-used cliche of "vote wisely" is still not completely understood by the Filipino voter. Filipinos still vote like they are selecting clothes from a rack. If it fits and it looks good on you, you choose to buy it and take it home.

This is a call for genuine election reform. No matter what kind of system we will be in for the next election (presidential or parliamentary), we should be able to ensure that people are well-informed about their choices, about the candidates' and parties' policy positions.

Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago said that the deterrent for qualified candidates to seek the presidency is the difficulty of funding an election campaign. It is debatable for the state to provide funds for each candidate, as is done in some countries. It would be more equitable if access is improved by requiring attendance to a set of debates, moderated by an impartial moderator. A party manifesto written in both English and Filipino should be published online in a common website maintained by an unaffilliated civic organization, and hard copies should be freely available in COMELEC offices or in some other point of public distribution.

The focus going into the next round of elections should be on how to educate our voters to be more discerning, especially those coming from brackets D and E. We should take the lead on how to choose leaders that appeal to their concept of the short-term future, not to their emotions. We should not repeatedly hit ourselves on the head because our candidate lost, but instead return to the drawing board on how to elevate the level of intellectual discourse of the voters. We always talk about how we should dumb down our candidate so that the masses will be able to understand and make an emotional connection. It's time for us to educate the voters so that they will be better equipped to make the correct choice the next time.

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