How feudalism will undo the Philippine elections

At least 34 journalists plus opposition politicians, their relatives, lawyers and aides died in the Maguindanao massacre ahead of the 2010 national elections in the Philippines. The incident made history as being the most brutal and single deadliest event for journalists ever recorded.

The Philippines is administered through a nerve-wracking bipolar order, one that becomes more pronounced  when ballots are involved. While urban hubs led by Metro Manila breath an air of diversifying industrialisation, the rest of the Philippines — the “provinces” — is chocked in feudalism.

By Justin Calderon

In provincial municipalities, competing patriarchs that field loyalty with well-armed militias are effective forces when pitted against the low scope central law enforcement has in rural areas.

For candidates in the upcoming local Philippine elections, the rules are simple: Pay up for protection or take a deadly gamble. Filipino-style Mafioso violence (a unique blend of gangsterism and banditry) is emblematic during the election season. So rampant has election-related violence been in the Philippines that the government has taken to employing a gun ban in the months leading up to the country’s mid-term elections on May 13.

Observers can be excused for failing to determine any substantial effect this may have for elections across the largely agrarian and out-of-touch archipelago. Making matters truly hairy, the Philippine government in late April declared that it was through undergoing slow-moving negotiations with arguably the most nefarious political party in the country, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

“We cannot wait forever for the other side if they continually refuse to go back to the negotiating table without preconditions. The government will be taking a new approach to pursue peace,” said Alexander Padilla, chair of the government panel negotiating with the CPP.

The result will be a surge in unchecked muscle used to gather protection money by the New People’s Army (NPA), the “tax collector” arm of the CPP, from candidates running for provincial positions, hacking away at any chance that less financially equipped runners can muster.

Somewhere between P100,000 ($2,432) and P5 million ($121,600) is the going rate for this season, a senior military official has told media.

The electorate disconnect

Team PNoy, the ticket representing the incumbent government, is currently leading surveys, proudly standing in front of a backdrop proclaiming their economic achievements (6.6 per cent growth in 2012) and rapprochement with international creditors (Fitch’s recent investment credit upgrade).

The majority of Filipinos lament these exuberant claims and any reference to “inclusive growth,” which has been all together absent at the provincial level. According to data recently released by the country’s National Statistical Coordination Board, the poverty incidence in the Philippines was estimated at 27.9 per cent during the first semester of 2012, representing an approximate 1 per cent rise since 2009.

The widening wealth gap, the largest in the ASEAN region, has understandingly disenfranchised Filipinos in rural areas, giving soap boxes from which to recruit larger numbers of the job-less population.

Unlike many other countries where respective communist politics are allowed token representation on the ballot, in the Philippines supporters of the Marxist cause vote with a call to arms. In midst of the Philippines’ meteoritic economic rise, it is a situation that has become as anachronistic as it is expected.

The last major election that rose incumbent President Benigno Aquino III, a scion of a political dynasty, to the head of state coincided with the “single deadliest event for journalists in history,” as recorded by the Committee to Protect Journalists. The Maguindanao massacre, which occurred in November 2009 ahead of the 2010 election season in the Mindanao province of the same name, was a brutal execution of journalists and a rival candidate who were traveling with supporters to register against the heavily entrenched Ampatuan family.

Mindanao is a case study in the extreme when it comes to polling pressure – each province essentially run by a ruling family that acquires votes by employing mercenary politics.

Metro Manila and other urban hubs have done well at proving the country’s grounds as a respectable player in the global economy. The rest of the country needs to severe ties with their wild, wild East past. This will doubtless not be achieved in the following two weeks.