The senatorial contest, I think, provides for us an example of how limited the election (the type that we do in the country) is as an exercise of democratic will. People vote for a senatorial candidate mostly based on his/her track record, promises and personality. Sometimes, though very rarely, people vote for a candidate because we think he/she stands for something, and we adhere to that something. For instance: With all due respect to his supporters, what does Escudero stand for? He has a track record as an oppositionist, he supported and passed some good, progressive bills and laws. He kinda looks good. But does he stand for, say, genuine land reform? Not necessarily. Does he speak in behalf of the youths of marginalized sectors? I don’t know. For all I know, he does stand for something. I don’t know. Same for the others.
What do they usually say they stand for? Most of the candidates would say they stand against corruption. It is the least controversial among “issues”. Noynoy Aquino says he is against corruption. Who would say they are not? Even Gloria Arroyo said it. Even Estrada. Or Marcos. Standing against corruption — however the candidate defines the term – is certainly the “safest” advocacy for candidates, probably next to the “environment”. (But ask those who say they are for the environment if they would campaign for a repeal of the Mining Act; I doubt if they would categorically say yes). Same with “pro-women”, or “pro-poor”. Or even those who say they are for entrepreneurship (*cough* Villar, *cough* Bam Aquino): are they for building of basic industries? Are they for passage of a non-neoliberal mining law that prioritizes our own need for industrialization while protecting indigenous communities from plunder? When they say they want to give jobs to the poor, they don’t say what kinds of jobs, or if those jobs will be there after six months or if the salaries are enough to sustain a family. They don’t say that, because saying that, explicating issues, going for the concrete, would make them less appealing to the least common denominator. Doing so would mean they would really have to stand for something.
Politicians are great talkers. Politicians from the ruling class much more so. They are populists, they speak plainly, dance, sing. But very rarely do they stand for something, and stand consistently for something. We saw that rare moment of standing for something when senators like Salonga, Guingona and Tanada voted, against all odds, to reject the US bases extension in September 1991. It is supposedly an issue that one can easily see where right and wrong are. For one thing, permanent US military presence is something that the Philippine Constitution expressly forbids. Fast forward to 1999, and many of the senators who voted to reject the US bases begin mouthing the “need” to have the US military back. Enrile, for one, voted in favor of the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement. So did Honasan. Even Nikki Coseteng, the star of the anti-US bases film, “Sa Kuko ng Agila”. Her leading man, Joseph Estrada, signed it as president.
So pardon if I have little faith in politicians from the ruling classes (landlords and–Google it–big comprador bourgeoisie). Even Hontiveros—or rather, especially Hontiveros—who often claims of being the nontraditional candidate, but whose actions and whose party’s actions loudly speak traditional, old, reactionary politics.
Pardon, too, if I approve of only one candidate, Teddy Casino. Not because he is a good guy (although he probably is), or because he is articulate or he is an eye candy (sorry, I don’t get this). I go for Teddy because he stands for something, for things noble and important to the majority. I know because he represents, and brings with him, the mass movement that has been fighting for things noble and important for decades now. Genuine land reform (not just the deceptively bad law called CARPER). National industrialization (you don’t need to be NDF to see the need for this). Immediate significant wage hike for workers. Consistent respect for human rights. Mass access to basic social services. Many, many more.
And mass empowerment, not just through elections, but through organizing ourselves, speaking and acting as one voice for our interests and aspirations. Nowadays, and during elections, we always hear the TV networks and civic groups harp about the need to participate in the electoral process in order to have a voice in politics. Well, we don’t see them producing nice TV ads about the need to participate in rallies, in exercising the right to protest, to peaceably assemble. Protesting is a high form of democratic participation; it is, among other things, a direct action to influence policy-making. Protest is as important as—in my view, even more important than—the vote. Activists who study the issues, organize themselves, unite with other sectors, defy their own limitations (physical, financial, etc.) to participate in an exercise of freedom of speech and assembly, of protest, express political maturity that cannot be seen among mere voters. During times when we don’t have the power of the ballot, or when we are effectively marginalized by the ruling classes, people can only count on their power to disrupt and hoist banners and make noise and burn effigies. We can only count on our unity, on ourselves.
This unity, this high level of political maturity of people from hitherto marginalized sectors, is the very foundation of Teddy’s Senate run. The campaign, as it stands now, is already a huge success. Teddy and his (and the movement’s) platform of government have now reached more people than any time in history. A Senate win will surely add a progressive voice to mainstream politics. But it will also expand the reach of Teddy’s and the movement’s platforms, until majority of oppressed people are reached, united and enjoined to act.
The Senate, already reeking in traditional politics and dynasty-building, badly needs someone like Teddy Casino. The movement where Teddy came from and continues to be part of does not necessarily need the Senate to effect the changes it fights for. But it sure as hell helps if Teddy Casino is there.