An election in a country where many hunger

By Matt Lang

To understand the elections in the Philippines, you need to first understand a bit about the economics of the Philippines. There are many statistics that I could roll out, but allow me to start with one: 40% of Filipinos often or sometimes lack food. 40% out of a population of 90 million equals millions of hungry people. There are, at the same time, a handful of very, very rich people. One of these rich people is outgoing President Gloria Magdapagal-Arroyo. She does not lack food. In fact, on August 7, 2009 GMA (as she is known), the president of a nation in which the per capita GDP is $3,406, spent $20,000 dollars on a meal for her and her entourage. Who in the United States, even, has that kind of cash? Not many, and even fewer have enough left over to drop another $15,000 five days later. But GMA did. There are a handful of families in the Philippines who have money like that to spend, money that was inherited, money that goes back to when the Spanish ruled and built haciendas on which the peasants worked and the landowners made money and the local families who cooperated with the system prospered.

So what happens when there is an election in a place where the few have so much wealth and power, while the many are often or sometimes hungry? What would you do if you were hungry, and your daughter was hungry, and you struggle to make the 96 pesos per day that would allow you to scrape by, and the election was coming, and the mayor offered you 2000 pesos and all you have to do is vote to re-elect him?

Matt is a Presbyterian Pastor who served as an election observer with the People's International Observers Mission for the May 2010 election in the Philippines, in response to a request by the United Church of Christ in the Philippines. Check out stories from Presbyterian participants in the PIOM.

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