ITOGON, Benguet – Common campaigning is not popular among most localities in the country because of intensed political rivalry which illustrates the political immaturity among Filipinos but candidates in this mineral-rich town are trying to set an example on how to effectively undertake a fruitful campaign with lesser expenditures contributory in achieving honest, orderly and peaceful elections that would result to good governance that must be emulated in other parts of the archipelago in the future.
It has been inherent among veteran and upcoming politicians here to strictly adhere to the age-old tradition of campaigning as one group instead of doing their respective campaigns in the 9 barangays of the locality. Unlike in other areas where feuding politicians cannot see eye to eye, aspirants for the different elective posts in the provincial and municipal levels interact, drink, eat, crack jokes and individually and collectively mingle with the crowd without fear of being harassed by their rivals or supporters because they adhere to what had been previously practiced in common campaigning.
Under the unwritten policy of common campaigning, politicians vying for the different elective posts, mayoralty, vice-mayoralty and councillors, hold their public gatherings in various barangays with the supervision of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) representative and tribal elders and what are discussed will be their platforms of government. Further, expenses that will be incurred in the conduct of such gatherings will be equally divided by those who will be present and those who will not attend such common campaigning will lose their chance of presenting themselves to the villagers in the area were such activity will be scheduled.
Former 3-term Benguet boardmember and 3-term Mayor Aloysius Kato, who was already a politician in the 1990s, said that politicians adopted common campaigning because of their adherence to the conduct of honest, orderly and peaceful elections considering that indigenous peoples like the Ibalois, Kankanaeys, Kalanguyas and other tribes from Mountain Province, Nueva Vizcaya and other parts of Luzon who live in the mineral-rich town respect the established cultural practices such as presenting their platforms of government to the people in a common place and time.
Itogon is composed of 9 barangays with a total voting population of more than 28600 with large-scale and small-scale mining as one of the major sources of livelihood of the people in the area.
“We are lucky that our predecessors were able to sustain a practice that has been passed on to us by our elders. Our ability to pass on such best practice in the conduct of political exercises shows our respect to our elders and the value of the peaceful conduct of elections so that we will be able to set an example for other politicians in conflict-stricken areas to emulate,” Kato stressed.
Incumbent mayor Victorio Palangadan, who is seeking re-election for his second term, will be contesting the mayoralty post against 3term Councilor Xander Fianza while Adriano Carantes is unopposed for the vice mayoralty position. In the race for the 8-seat municipal council, 24 candidates will be trying to win the votes of the electorate to serve as local legislators for the next three years.
Kato revealed politicians from the locality can be considered as the ones with the least expenditures during elections because all expenses incurred in the conduct of common campaigning will be equally divided among them.
If a politician organizes a caucus in their place and decides to butcher a pig to be served for those who will be attending such gathering, Kato said he will invite the other candidates to attend the gathering for them to be able to campaign but they have to shell out for the expenses to be incurred.
He added that because of lesser campaign expenses, officials who will be elected to their desired positions will not be tempted to commit corruption, thus, local residents are guaranteed of good governance in the administration of the affairs of the municipality.
Sources from the supporters of local politicians, who are all independent candidates, cited the expenses of the candidates might not even reach the P3 per voter limit prescribed under Comelec rules and regulations.
Carmelita Genove, newly-assigned municipal election officer, said the conduct of common campaigning made their job easier because complaints of violations of existing rules and regulations such as vote-buying, among others, have not happened during the 45-day campaign period.
“We thank our political leaders for deciding to do the common campaigning in order to lessen reports on violations of election rules, thus, we can now concentrate on other important aspects of the elections for us to be ready on Election Day,” Genove stressed.
Senior Superintendent Florante Camuyot, officer-i-charge of the Benguet Provincial Police Office, said Itogon has been one of the most peaceful areas in the country during the conduct of the elections because of zero recorded elation violence and incidents unlike in other localities, saying that law enforcers will still have to remain alert for the occurrence of any untoward incidents as some lawless elements might take advantage of the situation.
To date, police records show that except for petty community crimes committed in the locality, there were no election-related violence and incidents that could have affected the conduct of the May 9, 2016 general and automated elections.
Engr. Lumino Caniteng, president of the federation of Benguet Small-Scale Miners, cited the peaceful elections as a result of common campaigning allows the normal conduct of business and the sustainability of the employment opportunities of local residents.
“Elections just come and go that is why it is business as usual for our people. We will just go to our designated precincts and cast our votes on Election Day and that is it. We will just await the results to be declared,” Caniteng stressed.
For his part, Mayor Palangdan believes the people of the locality have reached political maturity that is why it is encouraging and inspiring to talk to the people about our respective programs that will continue to uplift the status of the municipality in the future while Fianza said that he will initiate the appropriate reforms in order to establish a proactive, people-oriented and participatory local government for the benefit of the people.
Concerend regilious leaders opted not to make a public statementment in relation to the success of common campaigning in the locality as they said that they will still have to be vigilant on possible offenses to be commited by the candidates and their supporters.
While believing that common campaigning had helped a lot in sustaining the honest, peaceful and orderly conduct of the elections, some residents of barangay Ucab and Poblacion claimed there are some isolated incidents of vote-buying through the giving of items in kind such as animals to be butchered for elders of big families, donations of chairs for barangays and schools, among other usable items for various groups and organizations that solicit from specific politicians.
Kato claimed one of the things that could not beavoided during the elections is solicitations but at least such activities have been minimized through the years.
Local officials are optimistic that the success of common campaigning in the locality will be replicated, especially in other conflict-stricken areas, so that the country will be able to progress in having a peaceful elections that will translate to good governance among leaders in the future.
By Dexter A. See and Joseph Manzano