Election in Philippines: A summer spectacle

ALCALA, Pangasinan -- Like the old “Tour of Luzon” of the late lawyer Geruncio “Gerry” Lacuesta, election is a much-awaited summer spectacle in the country, which is teeming with poll-crazy people.

During his prime, Lacuesta, the acknowledged “Father of Multi-Stage Cycling in the Philippines,” was known for his masterful display of leadership in orchestrating the annual “show on wheels.”

On the other hand, calling the shots during an election, which is democracy in action, is the Commission on Elections (Comelec), the repository of the Filipino people’s supreme right of suffrage.

Under the 1987 Constitution, the poll body is mandated to enforce and administer all laws relative to the conduct of national, local and even barangay (village) elections.

And in the exercise of its supervisory functions over elections, the Comelec must be absolutely impartial and ever vigilant to thwart designs that subvert the will of the electorate.        

In this poverty-stricken but manpower-exporting Southeast Asian nation of more than 100 million people, the millions of voters go to the polls every three years to elect new government officials.

Records show that from only 2,898,413 in the April 23, 1946 presidential election, the number of registered voters in the country has ballooned to more than 61 million, who will go to the polls on May 13, 2019.

In the April 1946 presidential balloting, Manuel Roxas (Nacionalista-Liberal Wing) garnered 1,333,398 votes, defeating Sergio Osmena Sr. (Nacionalista Party) by 203,402 votes.  Hilario Moncado  of the Modernist Party was third with just 8,538 votes.

In the vice presidential race, Elpidio Quirino (Nacionalista-Liberal Wing), with 1,161,725 votes, drubbed Eulogio Rodriguez Sr. (Nacionalista Party)  and Luis Salvador (Modernist Party), who got 1,051,243 and 5,879 votes, respectively.

Vicente J. Francisco topped the 1946 senatorial derby, with 735,671 votes, while Vicente Sotto came in second with 717,225 votes. Others in the “Magic 8” winning circle were Jose Avelino, Melecio Arranz, Ramon Torres, Tomas Confessor, Mariano Jesus Cuenco and Carlos P. Garcia.

The eight senators served for six years (1946 to 1951), while the 9th to 16th placers – Olegario Clarin, Alejo Mabanag, Enrique B. Magalong, Tomas Cabili, Jose O. Vera, Ramon Diokno, Jose E. Romero and Salipada Pendatun --  served for four years (1946 to 1949).

Later, Romero was replaced by Prospero Sanidad as a result of an election protest. Sanidad, with 556,772 votes, was 17th placer in the April 1946 national elections.

This year’s summer “political extravaganza” turns more “exciting” on March 29, which is the start of the official campaign period for those seeking local positions in the May 13 elections.

Set to be elected in the forthcoming balloting are 12 senators, hundreds of district and party-list solons and thousands of local government officials, including provincial governors and city/municipal mayors.

Under the calendar of activities of the poll body, those running for senator and party-list members of the House of Representatives started campaigning last February 12, which is 90 days before election day.

In the country, trumpeted as the bastion of democracy in this part of the world, local polls are more violent than national elections, according to records of the police and the Comelec.

This is understandable in a nation where even brothers and sisters and other close relatives, valued friends, long-time political allies and neighbors run against each other during local elections.

Besides, moneyed and influential local warlords maintain “private armed groups,” otherwise known as “private armies,” to harass and intimidate their political rivals to ensure their victory.

And in the view of various sectors, including the ordinary citizens not only in the countryside but elsewhere, election spending in the Philippines has reached scandalous proportions.

This despite the existence of a legislation which prohibits overspending during elections. It’s because establishing the guilt of law violators is better said than done.  

The sad reality is a deserving but poor candidate cannot win a Philippine election today.