Ask the expats who’ve been around us for a while. They are the most incredulous observers at how our society, inclusive of our electoral and overarching legal system, could allow persons facing serious criminal charges to run for public office. “How could you people elect someone who is most likely a criminal?” an exasperated European retiree asks me. But these conversations jolt us into pondering how tough things indeed are.
The strictly legal answer is easy. A person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Ergo, all rights and privileges enjoyed by the free man is exercised even by those physically confined to a jail. Except that the latter are inconvenienced at many aspects of it. But the right to vote and to be voted guaranteed by our Constitution is not denied of them.
It follows that once they are proven guilty of the crimes they are accused of, then these rights and privileges are curtailed. Such was the case of Romeo Jalosjos who had tried to mount a political comeback after getting a reprieve from the previous administration for the crime of rape. It had to take the Supreme Court to stop a man with a definite moral and criminal baggage on his tracks and bar him from ever holding public office.
The basic concept of suffrage in the Philippines is neat, cut and dried. You have the right to vote and be voted upon. But in reality, the local political arena is so smudgy it is reserved only for the few who have learned to control power, influence and resources to their advantage.
The case of the Reyes brothers is not an isolated instance. In Mindanao, Sajid Ampatuan, one of the principal accused in the 2009 Ampatuan massacre, is running for mayor of Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao’s capital, under the banner of a major political party. The most striking example should be that of Bongbong Marcos, who is running for vice president. After the EDSA revolution of 1986 banished the Marcos dictatorship to put an end to systematic political repression and unbridled plunder, we allow its remnants to thrive.
What makes them tick? Political clout. Its the fan base that keeps them in the game. It takes years and dynasties to create them and once created they are not easily eroded. When Grace Padaca won about a decade ago as governor against the Dy’s, an entrenched political family, it was a mere flash in the pan. The political clan’s hold on the electorate ousted her on a rematch. Hers was the same story as that of Fr. Ed Panlilio of Pampanga.
The Reyeses of Coron have that. Joel Reyes was in power for nearly 20 years. He had mastered the art of politics as understudy to his predecessors and had invested a huge amount of political goodwill on his own fan base, from casual shoulder taps and handshakes to pork barrel allocation. It is the reason why despite his murder indictment, he had remained a player.
There aren’t too many of these players – the Mitras, the Hagedorns and just recently the Alvarezes, maybe the Abuegs or even the Bayrons. We may even want to create a B League for those who are sort of apprentices of these power fulcrums – to include the wannabes that we don’t need to name here lest we be misconstrued at placing them in bad light. And while some may deride them for being political leeches that they are, we will still vote them into office to take over from the present generation of A League players.
Palawan’s political circles are awash with rumors of quid pro quo arrangements among these major players. These things are hard to cover for journalists because of the obvious secrecy involved. We only get snapshots of it, such as one report claiming that Gov. Alvarez and Mayor Fems Reyes were in an intense meeting at Westown Hotel in Coron days before the Reyes brothers filed their CoCs. But even if it was true, no one knew what they discussed. For all we know, even as political opponents, they were just planning out ways to make Coron more attractive to tourists.
As we just recently entered the political season, lots of these kinds of stories abound. The players jostle for position and engage in various sorts of tactics including one observation made by an election officer in a privileged conversation that the ongoing registration process and biometrics at the Comelec is being subjected to all sorts of manipulation by the major players.
By around June 2015, we will have a freshly mandated set of national and local public officials and they will replay the political game one more time till the next polling exercise.
I am particularly interested to see how Joel Reyes’ bid for a political redemption is going to play out. His mayoralty bid, for all intents and purposes, is an accommodation such that Comelec officials allowed them to even file their candidacies even if they were no longer in the voters’ list. The court even allowed them to update their registration, at Comelec’s expense as it will take flying in an election officials from Calamianes to the City jail in Puerto Princesa to get them registered.
If Joel Reyes gets elected by his Coron fan base, I’ll buy my European friend a drink.