Philippines Polls: Big Fish vs Small

Noynoy Aquino has called for reform. But don’t expect local races to shed their corrupt image any time soon.

Today, Filipino voters will fill 672,400 elective posts in a total of 42,025 villages across the country. The local village elections follow the presidential race in May, which saw the election of Noynoy Aquino, who was voted in largely on a platform of promising good governance through reforms and an anti-corruption drive.

Whether Aquino is on track to fulfilling his campaign promises is still up for debate, but in the meantime, calls for reforms and good governance are being echoed by local candidates from all sides as they bid for public support.

That said, there’s a general scepticism among voters, who know all too well how local politicians are often no better than some of their national cousins—both have mastered the art of creating an elaborate facade just to secure votes. The old tricks of patronage—intimidation, abuse of the power of incumbency and exploiting family ties—all still play a major role in local politics.

My own village of Silang, Cavite, is no different. A high school friend has decided to run for a seat in the village council. It’s his first venture into politics, and he’s just another of the small fish wanting to swim in a pond that’s currently dominated by local clans who have held power for as long as the town has existed.

The mayor’s camp has already approached him and asked him to reconsider his candidacy. To sweeten the deal, he was offered a scholarship. Why? Because, it seems, the mayor’s niece is also running for the position of village chief and my friend is an obstacle to the mayor’s supporters’ chances of winning a clean sweep of village councillors.

My high school friend won’t have been the only independent candidate who has received such an offer—the same scenario will have been played out in towns across the country. Indeed, some local bigwigs don’t stop at sweeteners, and use force if they believe it necessary.

Sadly, if this is the situation on the ground today, there’s a good chance it will be repeated on the national stage come the 2013 Congressional elections. The rotten old ways of doing politics are still the norm, with younger generations—and their aspirations to do things differently—still being pushed aside.