Friday, March 27, 2009

Ethical Campaigning in Philippine Elections?

How does one conduct an ethical campaign for elective office which, for the reform-minded aspirant who wants to win, has to begin in the form of organizational meetings and informal campaign activities as early as 6-12 months before the official campaign period in our country?

Following the description of "transformational leadership" by James MacGregor Burns (see my Feb. 6 blog entry), the ethical campaign is transformational and not merely transactional, for it raises the candidate and the supporters “to higher levels of motivation and morality.” The unethical campaign dehumanizes the candidate, the supporters and even the opponents.

Examples of unethical acts in campaigns are cheating, fraud, unlawful violence, and deliberate misinformation about the track record, accomplishments, and mistakes of the candidate or the opponent(s). Acts of cheating and deception dehumanize, as they disregard the will and rights of the voters.

What are major reasons for the unethical campaigns of many candidates?

1. Weak campaign finance & political party systems (which make candidates vulnerable to unprincipled businessmen, tax evaders, drug lords, gambling lords & criminal syndicates as campaign donors)

2. Bad role models among “successful” candidates & campaigners

3. Pressure from kith & kin (to win at all costs)

4. Difficulty among candidates & campaigners in defining what is ethical

5. Low risk of punishment for violators of election laws

6. Culture of dependency among the masses (for whom the ideal leader is a parent-like authoritarian figure)

Given these major reasons and conditions that characterize the conduct of elections in our country, how can a reform-minded candidate undertake an ethical campaign and win? Is an ethical campaign self-contradictory or an oxymoron in this case?

Ethics is both a goal and a process with higher levels. “Ethics is Pagpapakatao (Humanization): being true to oneself as a human being, being true to the concept of humanity profoundly held by one’s culture, being true to the human in the widest and most universal sense” (Dionisio Miranda, SVD). Humanization itself is a process that takes a lifetime, as the saying goes: Madali maging tao, mahirap magpakatao (It is easy to be born human; it is difficult to become fully human).

As Fr. Miranda, the University of San Carlos President, reminds us, it is not easy to become a mature person, who uses and develops his or her isip (reason) and bait (sense or intuition of the morally good). Morality can be considered a process with levels of morality, maturity, or wisdom.

Thus, in locales where campaigners have been motivated primarily by their candidate’s offer of money, jobs, or patronage, the reform-minded candidate pursues an ethical campaign when he clearly and persistently raises the motivation of campaigners and supporters to, for example, the expectation of projects that will alleviate poverty and raise the quality of life in the whole community or locale. If possible, the motivation ought to be raised higher to that of a shared vision about the locale or the nation and the firm belief in the capability of the candidate to exercise leadership towards the attainment of the shared vision of, for example, a “progressive,” “happy,” or “globally competitive” community or nation.

In locales where traditional politicians have accustomed the average voter to expect money from the candidates, how should a reform-minded candidate conduct an ethical campaign? By simply rejecting the practice of offering money to voters? By adapting the practice and applying it in a selective and tactical manner especially towards the very poor among the voters? Is it possible to raise this practice to a higher level of meaning before it can be eradicated?

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