Criminally-tainted candidates 

OUR Marian pilgrimage group had just checked in on Sunday night at the Grand Hotel in Assisi, the town of St. Francis — after whom San Francisco, California and Pope Francis are named — when we tuned in to CNN. 

Fareed Zakaria, one of the network’s more incisive commentators, had a very interesting special report. It was about the recently-concluded elections in India, the results of which had started to come in. According to him, as many as 40 percent of the candidates are facing criminal cases and up to 29 have criminal records. Zakaria, who is Indian American, said that this was not unusual in Indian political contests. 

Although not necessarily proven guilty, these candidates have gained notoriety for their unlawful — or, at least, legally questionable — public behavior but that hasn’t stopped them from “courting” the voters.

In fact, a blurb for the report reads, “In court today, courting voters tomorrow.” And another quip states, “Law breaker today, law maker tomorrow.”

I thought that sounded familiar. Just like the Philippines, I told myself. What clinched this perception was the rest of the report. These tainted candidates usually win.

Yes, indeed, just like the Philippines.

Zakaria hypothesized that the reason for the political anomaly in India is the caste system and the fact that the rich are able to do anything they want, including controlling politics, because the poor can’t or don’t care to do anything about it.

Well, that may be a hypothesis in India, but that is a harsh reality in the Philippines. The rich and powerful own and can buy anything, including the poor and their votes. They can also buy the vote counters and those tasked with protecting the ballots.

In fact, with the Comelec finalizing the tabulation of the votes in the May 13 midterm elections, the results of the senatorial race, not surprisingly,  could have been copied from the Indian political playbook.

Actually, the similarity between the Philippines and India is replicated in many Third World countries.  Even in the U.S. where elections are generally clean, vote-buying happens, although Americans use a euphemism: “lobbying.”

If Zakaria had cast a wider net in fishing for facts and political trivia, he could have found out that the Philippines has had a more “liberal” or “tolerant” or blind-as-a-bat attitude towards criminally-tainted candidates.

Does anyone still remember — or cares to remember — that President Ferdinand Marcos, First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos, their children Ferdinand “Bongbong” Jr. and Imee, and high officials in the Marcos government were forcibly ejected from Malacañang and whisked out of the country by the United States just ahead of the rampaging EDSA One revolutionaries?

Well, Imelda ran for president and pulled in an impressive number of votes in the 1992 elections. She subsequently ran for Congress and has been serving in the lower House, first as a representative of her home district in Leyte and then as a congresswoman for Ilocos Norte. Bongbong easily won a seat in the Senate in 2010 and, but for Comelec magic (according to his supporters), should have become the vice-president in the last presidential polls in 2016. Now Imee appears to have clinched her senatorial berth. And between their return from exile in Hawaii and the present, the Marcoses have pretty much controlled all the juicy positions in their home province of Ilocos Norte (this, aside from the fact that the Romualdezes also control Leyte or at least Tacloban politics).

Of course, the precedent was set by the elder Marcos when he was convicted and then acquitted for the alleged killing of a political enemy. In fact, when Marcos, then a congressman, ran for senator in the 1959 mid-term elections, he was portrayed in the Liberal Party campaign video reviewing for the bar exams behind bars. He topped the exams and the senatorial contest, as well.

It’s highly possible that if Marcos had survived his illness and had been allowed to return to the Philippines and also allowed to run for president again (or at least for congressman), he could have won.

EDSA II saw President Joseph “Erap” Estrada ousted and then “punished” with a rest house arrest (a variation on the usual hospital arrest reserved for people in power). But even while still “incarcerated,” his wife, Dr. Loi Ejercito, ran for senator and won. His two children Jinggoy Estrada and JV Ejercito also won Senate seats.

After Erap was “pardoned” by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, he ran for president and garnered more votes than Manny Villar in spite of the latter’s humongous campaign chest. Then he ran for mayor of Manila and won.

Well, it looks like luck has run out on the Ejercito-Estrada political dynasty. Erap lost the Manila mayoralty and both his sons failed to make it back to the Senate.

It’s really no surprise that Jinggoy Estrada ran for senator in spite of a pending plunder case. What is surprising is that he lost.

However, another senator similarly accused and “jailed” for plunder, Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., has not only succeeded in gaining “acquittal” he appears to have recovered his Senate seat in the recent election.

Not to be outdone in the spectacle of criminally-tainted candidates is former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who, despite being “punished” with hospital arrest by President Benigno Aquino III, ran for Congress and won. She is now Speaker of the House. Although she will be out of office by the new, 18th Congress, don’t count her out of the race for prime minister, if her allies succeed in amending the Constitution, or even Queen, assuming that President Rodrigo Duterte has no plans to be King or Emperor or Dictator.

In Philippine politics, the rules and the law are meant for bending. Otherwise, how could my friend Romy Jalosjos have won as congressman while serving time in Muntinlupa?

In fact, the cloud of moral turpitude does not seem to affect the political fortunes of the rich and powerful in the Philippines.

So what can one expect from elections in which criminals usually win? Invariably, a government runs like the Mafia and where most officials are involved in the rackets.

There are, of course, idealistic candidates and public servants who remain clean. These do-gooders eventually lose their seats.

Quips one pundit: “These do-gooders are giving Philippine politics  a bad name.”

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