Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004


@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

The poor are glamorized victims during elections. They become VIPs – Very Imporant Poor – as candidates try to woo their support. Election then becomes a contest between politicians offering the best pro-poor platform. But platforms are not enough. Often the winners are those who distributed cash gifts and other small value items.

During elections, politicians are very critical of government policies that fail to curb poverty in the country. They see poverty and government failure everywhere. But after elections, poverty mysteriously disappears. The new winners belittle the impact of Really Existing Poverty in the country. They even accuse the lazy, noisy, and non-competitive poor of destroying the image of a progressive and soon-to-be First World Philippines.

To win over the trust of the poor, politicians depict themselves as saviors of the poor. Macapagal was the Poor Boy from Lubao; Ramos vowed to help the Mang Pandoys of the Philippines; Erap was para daw sa mahirap; Gloria was Inang Bayan, Ate Glo, and Gloria Labandera. Patronizing the poor is a sure-win formula, even if it is insincere.

Villar was aware of the power of the masa vote. This was evident in his campaign slogans, “Ang galing sa hirap ay tumutulong sa mahirap” and “Tapusin ang kahirapan” which made him an early frontrunner in the 2010 elections. Even Noynoy had to re-calibrate his campaign, initially focused on the anti-corruption fight, by linking poverty and corruption – “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap.” Afraid of losing the support of the poor at the start of the campaign period, Noynoy had to pander to the masses by assuring them that he is also concerned about their plight – which was quite different to his pre-campaign pledge of “Hindi ako magnanakaw.” And most important of all, Kris (minus Baby James) was dispatched to entertain the crowd. Let ‘em eat Kris.

But the masa vote is ridiculed. The poor are condemned for selling their votes to the highest bidder. They are mocked for joining hakot rallies. The poor are stereotyped as unthinking beggars who are willing to sell their principles, kidneys and even their children for a small amount of money (preferably dollars).

These accusations are harsh and unfair. The behavior of the poor must be interpreted in the context of their concrete conditions. It is more precise to claim that the poor, because of their circumstance, are forced to make absurd and unreasonable decisions. But from their point of view, these choices may not be irrational especially if these will allow them and their families to survive during these difficult times. What we should ruthlessly examine is the unjust social order which perpetuates the exploitation of man by man. Those who deserve our politically-incorrect indignation are the defenders of this abominable social set-up.

The actions of the poor during elections are not necessarily uncritical. Their motives are more sophisticated than we think. There are voters who sell their votes in order to earn or acquire something tangible from entrenched political families. They believe that selling their votes is a wise economic choice because they do not expect the winners anyway to perform good politics after elections. Others just wanted to spite the electoral process, a meaningless political event for many people.

Money is not the only reason why poor voters participate in hakot rallies. They want to be entertained. And they do not want simple entertainment; they want politicians to entertain the crowd. They want to see the candidate warlords and landlords humiliated or even booed in public. They want to witness how politicians perform like clowns on stage. After all, these dancing and singing politicians will not be seen in public again after three or six years.

Maybe the poor are not hesitant to ask for money during the three-month campaign period because it is the only opportunity to demand something from politicians without being refused. And politicians during elections are very willing to distribute money to the poor because this cash hoard does not really belong to them. It belongs to the public, to the poor, to us.

Can we then describe the actions of the poor during elections as acts of resistance? The poor are unaware of their untapped political power. Today they sense that the only political option is to sell or not to sell their votes. But one day, and that day will come thanks to the power of collectives, the individual poor will realize the radical potential of being an organized poor. That solving poverty, defeating the oppressors, and reclaiming humanity are possible without the fulltime intervention of elitist politicians. That politics is more than just elections because real politics involve the conscious and bold attempt of the collective to assert its power in the community.

In summary, do not simply instruct the poor to reject vote buying. Organize them. Make them militants of politics fighting for democracy and justice.

Related articles:

Poverty indicators
Balik Probinsiya
Urban displacement
Poverty and system losses

5 Responses to “Poverty and elections”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by mong palatino, Rick Eriksen. Rick Eriksen said: @ Mong Palatino » Blog Archive » Poverty and elections: Often the winners are those who distrib… […]

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  2. Amen!


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