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Where did your presidential vote go?

It is election time and some say nothing ever changes in The Philippines. The candidates change, but the social inequality remains. Candidates for the presidency this time range from two representing the wealthy elite, the daughter of a deceased movie star and a foul-mouthed mayor vowing to kill all suspected criminals, in addition to senator who is fronting for the family of the former dictator.

The frustration of the educated middle class is the absence of a visionary leader of integrity with a genuine love for the poor, immense popularity and a reform agenda to bring equality and justice.

The election is not about agenda or policy platforms, but it is about popular controllable personalities, pliable puppets able to dance and sing alongside the bombastic and crude. They must be controversial and media magnetic.

They must be submit to the interests of their financiers and accept that they have debts of honour to pay when and if they win the presidency. They are under the control of the media manipulators and the masters of the puppet show.

What a bewildering spectacle it is, as they play to the gallery and capitulate to the interests of super rich.

The ruling oligarchy would never allow the rise of an independent candidate with a pro-poor agenda and a popular following. Besides, no financial bloc would fund a candidate like that. There is no political messiah on the far horizon.

What we see as a stage backdrop is a mineral rich country of 100 million people, mostly poor. Twenty-six million are in dire poverty surrounded by the mansions and condominiums of the rich. The poor are necessary consumers and cheap workers tolerated by the financial rulers of the country.

These 100 million Filipinos are in the power of 140 families. They eliminate their opponents with ruthless violence. When a strong voice of protest and defiance rings out in defence of human rights or the exploitation of the poor, it is silenced with a shot to the head, as is well documented by Human Rights Watch.

None of the candidates can run on their own. To grab the presidency, rival families change their various alliances and rivalries, coalesce to form new strategic alliances.

Then they fight for the presidency. The most powerful office in the land is their goal, the candidate is their façade.

The candidates are owned and financed by various clusters of the 140 or so of the mega-rich dynastic families. These control or own an estimated 70 per cent of the national wealth, land, buildings, industry and the treasury.

They want to protect this ascendency and strive for the power that will guarantee their dominance and wealth expansion.

The winning group gets control of the public purse, the awarding of the multi-billion infrastructure contracts, the granting of supply contracts and the approval of controversial permits to build dangerous polluting power plants.

The president and his cabinet have the power to arrange the smooth privatisation of public institutions and utilities to their relatives and cronies.

If they win they have the power to subjugate the losers and isolate their business and political competitors. So each group chooses a popular candidate; an actor, celebrity or a winning political face will do.

Each alliance will finance its chosen candidate and their followers.

Foreign donations are given secretly and indirectly. International companies, like mining and fishing corporations, want permits and concessions, so they buy influence and give to several candidates to sit at the winning table.

In this way, the moneyed moguls of Asia and The Philippines provide the billions of pesos needed to buy the most poll surveys, media time and the votes. They want to roll the dice—The Philippines is their casino.

It is this obsession with the pursuit and retention of power, money and security that excludes the interests of the poor from the agendas of the ruling power brokers.

The 100 million are only of concern when they become restive and desperate. Then they get handouts, like the Conditional Cash Transfer Project. Small amounts of money are given to the poorest of the poor. But it is no way out of grinding poverty.

The dominance of the few over the many creates the massive inequality that besets the nation and builds intolerable slums, drives millions to flee abroad in search of jobs and bequeaths broken homes and abandoned children.

Local authorities hide the begging, hungry children away from visiting foreign dignitaries like Pope Francis. They keep the dirty faces, pleading eyes and outstretched hands from disturbing the indifference of the rich secured in their limousines on their way to church.

Such social injustice and deprivation fills the sub-human jails with street children subjecting them to sexual abuse, malnutrition and brain impairment.

Human traffickers sell thousands of young underage girls into the sex industry. These sex tourist establishments, owned by local and foreign investors, are operating with government permits.

The poor are useful after all. To get a single document from a government office, like the Department of Energy and Natural Resources, takes three months, but a sex bar permit from local governments only takes a few days. Such is the plight of the Filipino.

There is some minimal growth in the middle class, but it is a slim sliver of the economic pie. There is hardly a crumb for the poor. Nothing falls from the rich man’s table. The rich grow ever richer and the poor more numerous and hungrier.

This election will be bought. The best funded campaign will win and the poor will once again come in far distant runners up.


             • Father Shay Cullen