Five hundred pesos is by local standards a tidy sum of money. It may be less than ten dollars in U.S. currency but it is almost twice the legal daily minimum wage and represents a sizable chunk of the weekly food bill for the average family in Lianga.
To have at least one five hundred peso bill in your wallet or purse at any one time is, for most people here, a welcome blessing indeed and more than what many of the impoverished folk can hope for or, even if we are to believe the stories, kill or die for. Times are that hard really.
Now, to have just one or a couple of these bills freely given and placed in your hands is, by any standards, extremely good luck indeed and, for the ordinary working man, the stuff of dreams. But more than a week or so ago, during the two nights before the Oct.29 barangay elections, such a thing did happen to a lot of people in Lianga.
Of course, it was no red suited Santa Claus on a sled pulled by Rudolph and the other reindeers who was giving away all that money instead of the usual Christmas presents way in advance of next month's Christmas Day. And the money was not given gratis or for free either.
What happened then was simply vote-buying done as it has been always done by politicians in Lianga in all previous elections. You do get the money in your pocket, delivered to your house and hassle free but in return you have to vote for the candidate shelling out the money. A straight forward business transaction, the money for your vote and no questions asked.
A foreigner friend of mine who witnessed the recent elections expressed shock and dismay at the audacity and the finesse with which the supposedly clandestine vote-buying operations were conducted, in many cases done often quite openly even in the light of day. Then he personally confided in me his disappointment at the ease and alacrity with which many of the Lianga townsfolk seem to tolerate and even accept this travesty of their basic democratic right of suffrage.
But then, the foreigner that he is and the fact that he is new to Lianga, he does not understand one basic thing about local politics.
You see, if there is one "truth" the majority of the townspeople believe in, it is the fact that their individual or even collective votes rarely make a difference in the outcome of elections, whether it be local or national in nature. When there is so much perceived cheating and manipulation of electoral votes in Philippine elections and when such offenses against the most basic democratic values and principles remain unpunished and are often instead rewarded, then who among the majority of the Filipino electorate can still believe in the sanctity and value of the ballot?
I, however, still do. But, unfortunately for the few who do share the same opinion, it is also a truism that in a "democracy", it is always the majority and not the minority that rules and, in the final analysis, make the rules.