THERE is one phrase familiar to media people, but which laymen probably have never heard of: “For the funds of it.” I first heard the phrase used at the National Press Club elections long ago, but it actually refers mostly to elections for government posts.
A twist on the more familiar “for the fun of it,” it points to one of the main reasons – other than megalomania – why so many seem to want to run for Philippine electoral posts, even for national posts. It’s an income-generating project.
This column of course was not inspired by the announcement the other day by Senators Panfilo Lacson and Vicente Sotto 3rd of their “firm” decision to run for president and vice president, respectively, in the elections next year.
The phrase describes the strange phenomenon in Philippine elections in which candidates, except for the very rich, end up richer after an election, whether they win or lose. It happens in the following way.
Politicians and government officials in the course of their careers develop friends – okay, let’s call a spade a spade, “clients” – among businessmen and the rich, which they help one way or another because of their political clout or even control over some government office.
Not a few of our wealthy outrightly give politicians and government officials money, not as bribes for some contracts but to ensure their “friendship” – which in the future would mean their “protection” or intervention in some deal with a government agency, but only when needed. “For your projects, Mr. Congressman,” they’d say with a broad grin as they hand over to the politician’s aide what almost always is cash in a gift-wrapped box or Manila folder. Politicians never accept checks, you see.
The Chinese Filipino businessmen are so much into this practice, looking at it as a necessary business expense. This is due to the fact that they have been for many decades the most vulnerable targets of corrupt government officials, not just for the common Bureau of Internal Revenue audits but even for such mundane city hall requirements as sanitation permits. One smart way of evading such continuous harassment is to be known as being close to a known political figure whose help they would seek when they’re being harassed by government bureaucrats.
Some national politicians are smarter in that they even refuse cash, but later on ask for business deals, such as a supply contract for a tycoon’s conglomerate. Many politicians’ sons, daughters or brothers become great entrepreneurs indeed.
Electoral contests provide politicians – who are of course so egoistic they care about integrity – a “decent” way to squeeze huge funds from their usual “friends,” and even from their friends’ friends – and potential “friends”: “I want to serve my country more, I can do it by running for this office, but I need funds.”
This income of course is tax-free, and there is no way for the government taxman to determine how much candidates have really received as campaign donations.
It’s a windfall if for some reason the politician appears to be ahead in race, whether he wins or not, which is one reason that smarter tycoons contract pollsters to track who’s ahead. In such cases, the funds seem to materialize, or as one political operator described it to me, “the cash came in in boxes.”
Well known of course is the story of a very respected politician in the 1992 elections who unexpectedly appeared to be the dark horse who was on the brink of victory. The politician, who had a reputation for being incorruptible, lost but ended up remarkably rich. In just a few months, the politician moved into a mansion in a posh village.
How many ran in the 1992 elections for president and vice president? Seven for each post, and none ended up poorer. In 1998, 10 for president and nine for vice president; in 2004 five and four; in 2010, nine for both posts. In the last national elections, four ran for president and six for vice president. No candidate complained of being poorer after the elections.
Of course, this is absolutely isn’t the case for Manny Pacquiao: a boxer and his money will fast be parted, to revise that famous phrase.
More participate in the income-generating exercise for senatorial slots, but of course for lesser revenues. In the last 2016 elections, 60 candidates ran for the 12 Senate seats.
For local posts, there is an even easier way to make money: Just threaten to run. In many localities, the incumbent congressmen, mayor, governors – and their vices – just offer a competitor money not to run. “Can you imagine how much I save if I just give that guy P20 million not to run?” a governor of a rich province told me. In 2016, 33 district representatives, 21 mayors and 231 municipal mayors ran unopposed.
Those figures even underestimate the electoral charades in many localities, since in many cases there is a token rival running, funded in reality by the incumbent.
I can just imagine how the party-list candidates based on religious cults get to raise their money: “God needs me to be in Congress, and prayers are not enough.”
I am convinced that maybe in just two centuries or so our descendants will shake their heads in disbelief that this was our way of determining who would run the State, the most important organization responsible for a human being’s welfare.
Can you imagine what would happen to them if San Miguel, SM or Ayala’s CEO and managers were elected by their employees or even by their customers? Perhaps China stumbled, through rivers of blood however, to discover the most rational way of running a nation: by an unelected but dedicated and incorruptible corps.
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