Any election is defined as an exercise of rights and power of the people in forming the government that carries their mandate and implement their decision. This is the reason any electoral exercise has always been considered as a sacred act.

Yet this definition is far and even runs counter in practice and reality of our elections where the obligation to elect is significantly narrowed down by our choices among the   candidates. The electoral landscape and the hold of power at various levels are painted by a dynasty rule of families and clans in the form and essence of feudal patronage politics. Positions from the local to the national level has been regularly shifting within members of families and among relatives of traditional politicians and have been reduced into political fiefdoms where the rule of the governance is amassing wealth in the name of public service.   Together with the conditions and institutions, culture and mindset that support and promote it, feudal patronage politics prevents the realization and conscious engagement of the people in their democratic rights and freedom to decide and ensure the realization of their decisions.  Consequently, what we have today is elite democracy instead of people’s democracy.

At the current juncture of the nation’s electoral exercise, the insidious effects of feudal patronage politics have been exacerbated by the preponderance of fake news.  According to Andrew J. Masigan, “administration candidates have an advantage since their trolls are firmly in place. Although they will never admit it, I have it on good information that their army of trolls are managed (and funded) by no less than a department of government, under the supervision of an undersecretary. For brevity, let us call this undersecretary the ‘Soft Master’. He added that “analytics derived from social media listening platforms estimate that there were approximately 250,000 unique accounts tagged as “pro-Duterte trolls” last year. The actual number of individuals is significantly lower since trolls operate numerous accounts. Out of all active trolls, about 30 percent are organic (real people with real convictions), while the remainder consists of paid individuals under the employ of public relations or messaging agencies.”

Another 12-month study conducted by Jonathan Corpus Ong and Jason Vincent Cabanes using in-depth interviews with 20 “disinformation architects” showed that “on top of the disinformation hierarchy sits advertising and public relations executives acting as the ‘chief architects of networked disinformation in the country.”

Other candidates similarly engaged in disinformation.  One candidate that is projected as a “frontliner” in surveys for the presidency is no different.  There is nothing sacred about what this candidate and his family have been doing   to make a political comeback. All their efforts have been laced with repeated lies and condemnable political posturing, even engaging on historical revisionism.   With the handling of the COMELEC on BBM disqualification case and Imelda remained free despite a conviction in 2018 for seven counts of graft, there is indeed truth to the adage that “some are smarter than others. The tandem BBM-Sara Duterte even dangles the call for national unity minus rendering justice to the victims of martial law.

Another candidate harps on healing the nation after reducing the complex issues confronting the people as a “war” between Marcoses and the “dilawan”.  Another presidential candidate even refused to account for his involvement in torture of activists during the martial law.  His running partner conveniently distances himself from Duterte after navigating the Senate as appendage of an authoritarian rule.

Arendt captures the unfolding scenario by stating that “the liar is defeated by reality, for which is there no substitute; no matter how large the tissue of falsehood that an experienced liar has to offer, it will never be large enough, even if he enlists the help of computers, to cover the immensity of factuality. The liar, who may get away why any number of single falsehoods, will find it impossible to get away lying on principle.”

As we commemorate the 36th anniversary of EDSA revolution, let us again be firm on the side of the truth amidst this massive disinformation. In her acceptance speeches of international awards, Maria Rezza, the co-founder, and CEO of Rappler is noticeably clear in saying that “there can no integrity of elections without integrity of facts”.

At this crucial historical junction of our society, we should not be afraid of confronting the issues of power and be part of people’s efforts in ensuring the thieves, dictators, and pretenders cannot make a political comeback.   We have a saying that “the personal is political and the political is personal.” As citizens, we have an obligation to ensure that the interest of the people is best pursued and served in the future. As one quote extolls “the next time somebody says you are ‘too political’, tell them silence is a political stand. It is a full-throated endorsement of the status quo.”

Enrico Julian Estrellado inspires us to be part of this historic mission by saying that “making a stand is always glorious if it is a call for freedom. I will make a stand again, if the signs of the time call for me to make a stand as I do now, since the tyrants are taking a step to curtail the truth and change history.”

Social Work Action Network (SWAN)-Philippines

February 25, 2022