Reflections by KP, Organizational Development Chair, New York Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines
I don’t get how elections work in practice. I mean, I understand that in theory it gives governed people an opportunity to express their opinions peacefully, to demonstrate dissent without fear of retaliation, that it is a means of transferring power peacefully, and that it’s necessary to democracy and justice. But can we really say that this is what happened in the Philippines? What should happen in the event there are… “discrepancies” and “irregularities” in the voting process? I’m sure it’s complex enough without the added headache of so-called “interventionists” raising their voices in unison. There have been quite a few reports of “inconsistencies” and violations of the election code in the recent Philippine midterm election, both in the motherland and at polling locations around the world. Over a week since the election, the COMELEC still has yet to adequately address myriad concerns from a vocal sector of the voting public affecting the validity of election results. So what exactly is a governed people to do when a government legitimizes an election that the people have clearly experienced as a scam?
On Friday May 17, the New York Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (NYCHRP) joined other member organizations and solidarity allies of Malaya Movement Northeast to expose and oppose the ongoing offenses against democracy and human rights perpetrated by the US-Duterte Regime. Over 70 concerned individuals convened outside the New York Philippine Consulate, the edifice of the same government that failed to fully account and accommodate the rightful votes of Philippine citizens.
Every OFW’s ballot is a love letter sent home in hope of improving the motherland, in hope of electing officials who will generously and selflessly prioritize the needs of their constituents. They are artifacts of trust, remnants of the political relationship that tether OFWs to the place of their birth and the economic-political system that drove them abroad in the first place. Failing to properly account for their votes implies the true sentiment of the current Philippine government: “Keep your opinions, but feel free to remit your wages.” Yet, this is the message that the Philippine government sends with its blatant violations of civil and political rights and Philippine law.
A contingent of the Philippine National Police (PNP) was caught electioneering, extending the war on drugs into a war on democracy. When the entity whose motto is “to serve and to protect” violates impartiality during elections, we have to ask: whose interests exactly are they serving and protecting? We anxiously await a report from the investigation, but how can we trust the fairness and cleanliness of the investigation? The unlawful electioneering of the PNP has been covered by reputable sources such as the Inquirer, MSN, and Karapatan. Despite the evidence of unlawful behavior, the Philippine government has patted itself on the back while legitimizing the fraudulent election.
President Rodrigo Roa Duterte himself has shamelessly said, “The practice of buying votes has been an integral part of an election in the Philippines.” A politician truly invested in the genuine interests of the electorate would reject such a notion, would gladly accept the will of the voting public at the cost of their own career and legacy, would never have to justify the acceptability of bought votes. And a politician doing their job–acting in the best interest of the people and properly enacting their will–should never have to make that distinction just as a citizen should never have to choose between compensation and their genuine opinion. When citizens are simply trying to survive, the ability to turn down a bribe–to choose their political interest over their economic interest–becomes a luxury.
This is not to mention the threats sent to potential voters to dissuade them from going to the poll booths, the deaths of elected officials such as Attorney Bernadino Patigas, and the fact that Senate winners had been declared while most of the overseas votes still left uncounted – 34.51% of ballots reported as of May 21, 2019. When is it time for people to preserve and repair what’s left of an already eroding democracy?
No matter the country, there is a certain luxury in the apathy of those who have been afforded the opportunity to exercise their civil and political rights but don’t: the right to vote, the right to protest, the right to speak freely, et al. Maybe they don’t see the value of their vote or the point in voting in what they see as an inevitably, incredibly corrupt political scheme. Maybe they’re genuinely ignorant of the consequences of their inaction. Maybe they’re perfectly content with the status quo, with whatever societal advances that have come at the cost of inherent human dignity. Around 100,000 Marawi refugees still waiting to return home, the extension of unconstitutional declaration of martial law in Mindanao, nearly 30,000 killed to date in a relentless drug war without foreseeable end, all somehow rationalized as acceptable collateral damage in the onward march of so-called progress. Nevertheless, this is an onward march towards authoritarianism and Marcos style dictatorship.
At the same time, there’s an irony in the outrage of people not directly affected by these mechanisms of the Philippine government and its failings. What is our investment in genuine democracy half a world away? Why do we risk being called ignorant, interveners; risk being insulted or worse? We are overcome with a sense of duty towards our fellow Filipinos and their constitutionally protected political rights. We are obligated to our fellow human beings and obligated to upholding their inherent dignity. As the Filipino diaspora and deeply concerned allies, our love for the fellow oppressed, for the people of the Philippines, is not bound by the constraints of time, space, or political geography. We see the interminable hypocrisy, injustice, and impunity and we demand better; We continue to demand fair and clean elections.
We are three long years into the Duterte presidency and unless the people assert their will, or by some act of God we have at least three more long years to go. With all three branches of government consolidated under Duterte circles of influence the Philippines is on the brink of charter change (ChaCha), federalism and outright dictatorship.
In a true democracy, every vote counts, every voice matters through fair and just elections. So what more can be done to make our concerns heard? Plenty. Many joined the Malaya Movement and contingent organizations at local Philippine Independence Day Parades in protest of the abuses to democracy. We wore black at these events as a sign of outrage and solidarity. On June 2nd, Malaya Movement Northeast presented an active voice in the Philippine Independence Day Parade. Join NYCHRP in the never-ending fight for human rights in New York and the Philippines.
Philippine independence is a continuing history of resistance. The struggle for true democracy and true independence from intervention is ongoing and this will be a summer of amplified indignance. Discrepancies, cheating, and irregularities could never silence the voice of the people but we must not remain resigned to accept injustices as foregone conclusions. Join the Malaya Movement; Join the People’s State of the Nation Address whether in DC or locally.
Laban Bayan! Kontra Daya!