Mimicry as survival mechanism
As strong as, and in many instances, even stronger than, the formal rules, are the informal ones that govern behavior. This applies to politics as much as any other human activity. It’s been said practically forever that if there’s one thing Filipinos won’t give up, it’s elections. Not out of any particular love for democracy, but because of the commercial and increasingly mercenary prospects elections guarantee every few years.
A few years from now, you’ll find that a few academic journal articles will have actually probed this, but quietly, ensuring no real danger to their authors who will be quoted by fellow academics but otherwise unnoticed by the public and the politicians.
For now, we have what we have, which is the noise pollution to prove that jingle-writing, recording and playing are reasonably good income generators; so is poster-printing and that analog foundation for computerized tabulations, the printing of sample ballots. The up-and-coming industry, however, as anyone traversing the Ortigas-Edsa corner will know, is that of LCD billboards which, so far, have proven beyond the comprehension (or clutches) of the Commission on Elections. And the truly big money, it will someday be revealed, has stampeded away from the TV networks and radio stations to YouTube, even as Facebook has scuttled the big administration network which, technologically speaking, was getting a bit long in the tooth, anyway.
The past three years has traumatized most normal (meaning, nonpolitically obsessed) people, who are more likely to share their thoughts with friends and family not on Facebook, but in instant messenger applications less likely to be susceptible to organized infiltration (though the Facebook of today is Instagram and “influencers” on the take).
But just as 2016 marked the end of anyone even trying to go through the motions of putting forward a platform, 2019 marks the end of parties as a national phenomenon. They are what some would say they’ve been all along for some time: personal, at most regional, vehicles. This is demonstrated not by the opposition but the administration, which has a nominal national party shell, Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban), which has been so gutted and disregarded as to be relevant only to the extent they provided a vehicle for the President’s pet candidates (Caligula’s horse, Bong Go, mainly). Everyone knows, however, that the influence and action are in the regional jumble of an alliance known as Hugpong ng Pagbabago, which is carting around its own bloated slate—bigger than the official administration one, and more interested in doing the opening act of the trial balloon candidacy of the President’s daughter.
It’s become such a charade that a Magic Otso administration slate has materialized, riding on the public’s familiarity with the Otso Diretso slate of the opposition. Which basically tells you the opposition has succeeded — the concept of “Voting Straight Eight” is one people are aware of, though the same can’t be said of the actual names of the candidates. But the administration is hobbled by the fact that it has three slates: the President’s own pets, the coalition of regional barons known as Hugpong, and the passé, formerly formal ruling coalition known as PDP-Laban. All sides seem to concede that the President’s pets plus one or two big-name incumbents are in, and everyone is left scrambling for the remaining eight slots.
But ironically, this tells you that much as all sides seem to have given up on even pretending national parties exist, their current problems reveal how at this point, at least, cobbling together ad hoc coalitions of local kingpins can’t quite cut it. The President is using his national office, and the nationwide network that office commands, to simulate what a party ought to do, he himself being only capable of supporting a couple of names at most.
The opposition, starved and terrorized as it is, can reasonably count on at least two, possibly three, winners. The big incumbents are known enough to be confident of winning. But the end result? More of the same, which isn’t necessarily in the President’s favor — or that of his daughter’s embryonic presidential run. The only possible surprises are possible opposition wins, against the odds.
Who else, on the other hand, aside from Caligula’s horse, can claim either Caligula or his daughter made their victory possible? Powerful incumbents aping the opposition shows they’ve reached the conclusion that it’s every candidate for himself or herself.