Voters wait their turn to cast their vote during 2013 mid-term elections. (Photo by Joe Torres)
It's election time in the Philippines, and nothing ever changes.
The candidates change but social inequality remains. This year, the candidates for the presidency are two members of the elite, the daughter of a deceased movie star, a foul-mouthed mayor who vows to kill all suspected criminals, and a senator who is fronting for the family of a former dictator.
The so-called educated middle class are frustrated because of a lack of winnable candidates who have genuine love of the poor and a reform agenda to bring equality and justice.
Philippine elections are not about agenda or policy platforms, it's about popular controllable personalities, pliable puppets who can dance and sing or who are bombastic and crude. Candidates must be controversial and media savvy to win.
They must submit to the interests of their financiers and accept that they have "debts of honor" to pay when and if they win the presidency. They are under the control of media manipulators. What a bewildering spectacle it is! They have to play to the gallery and capitulate to the interests of the 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 such a candidate. There is no political messiah on the far horizon.
What we see as a stage backdrop is a mineral-rich country with over a hundred million mostly poor Filipinos. There are about 26 million people who live in dire poverty around the mansions and condominiums of the rich.
In this country, a strong voice of protest and defiance in defense of human rights or the exploitation of the poor is silenced with a shot to the head.
None of this year's candidates run on their own. To grab the presidency, political families change alliances and rivalries, and coalesce to form new strategic alliances. The candidate is their façade.
The candidates are owned and financed by clusters of the 140 or so of the country's dynastic families who control or own an estimated 70 percent of the national wealth.
The winning group gets control of the public purse, the mega infrastructures projects, the supply contracts, and the controversial permits to build dangerous polluting power plants.
Foreign donations are given secretly and indirectly. International companies, like mining and fishing corporations, want permits and concessions, so they buy influence to be able to sit at the winning table.
The moneyed moguls of Asia and the Philippines provide the huge amount of cash needed to buy the most poll surveys, media time, and the most votes. They want to roll the dice, the Philippines is their casino.
It is this obsession with the pursuit and retention of power and money that they forget the poor.
The dominance of the few over the many creates the massive inequality that besets the nation and causes intolerable slums, and drives millions to flee abroad in search of jobs.
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.
Such social injustice and deprivation fills the sub-human jails with street children who are subjected to sexual abuse and malnutrition. Human traffickers sell thousands of young underage girls into the sex industry.
The poor are useful after all. To get a single document from a government office takes three months, but a permit to operate a sex bar can only take a few days.
Such is the plight of the Filipino. There is some minimal growth among the middle class, but it is a slim slice of the economic pie. There is hardly a crumb for the poor. Nothing falls from the rich man's table for them.
This election will be bought. Those with the most money will win and the poor, as always, will lose.
Irish Father Shay Cullen, SSC, established the Preda Foundation in Olongapo City in 1974 to promote human rights and the rights of children, especially victims of sex abuse.