Duterte surrounded by crowd and cellphone cams as he arrives to vote at Daniel Aguinaldo High School in Davao (Shot by Dong Plaza, ABS-CBN News)

Waiting for Digong

Crowd waiting for Rodrigo Duterte to cast his vote in Davao City Daniel Aguinaldo High School (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

DAVAO CITY— The Daniel R. Aguinaldo National High School hardly saw a crowd in its grounds like the one that descended outside Precinct 216 on the afternoon of May 9, election day.

It was like a mob waiting for a rock star. Many of them dressed in red and raising fists and cheers at broadcast cameras, people were jockeying alongside media and police for a view.

Precinct 216, a room labeled Aster (after the flower), was one of 14 clustered voting precincts in the school where 90,000 Davaoeños would vote.

As the noontime heat gave way to afternoon shade, fewer voters came to vote in the precinct. Still, the rush of people who wanted to see the precinct’s most famous voter did not end. The rest of the school gradually emptied, except for the area surrounding the bungalow classroom.

Some had arrived since morning, others after they cast their own votes. They were pointing cell phone cameras at the scene, on themselves, or on familiar faces from the national media, hoping their angle would capture the moment they saw him.

Couple waits for Duterte in Davao City precinct before he casts his vote (Shot by Dong Plaza, ABS-CBN News)

(Shot by Dong Plaza, ABS-CBN News)

The people here were waiting for Rodrigo Duterte, the man they believed would be president. And as the minutes of that fateful day passed, it was not just in Davao.

Everyone across the nation awaited him.

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Duterte-Cayetano wall mural in Davao City (Shot c/o Melchor Zarate)

Countdown to the end game in Duterte-land

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

Davao City private billboard supporting mayor Rodrigo Duterte's presidential bid

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

DAVAO CITY— In the city of pomelos and durians, it’s business as usual under the scorching sun.

The streets bustle only with the rush-hour jams of vehicles driving under the mandatory 30-kph speed limit. Pedestrians shy away from the elements at high noon, except for the occasional street hawker peddling beads.

If not for the campaign posters that sparsely dot this city, you would hardly notice that it’s election season.

It still qualifies as quiet here, much as it was in the days that led to an election that has elevated Davao City and its most famous resident to national and international prominence.

Common poster area at Davao City for 2016 elections

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

The quiet is also characteristic. This city has gained a reputation as a blueprint for where 16 million Filipinos think the Philippines should be.

But the tranquility masks the mix of anxiety and excitement here, as it did during the countdown to the May 9 vote.

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‘Harapan Na!’ A primer to the PiliPinas town hall debate

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

PiliPinas Debates 2016 logo (courtesy ABS-CBN)

DAGUPAN CITY, PANGASINAN–For one last day, all roads in the 2016 race for Malacañang will converge here.

At a basketball-court-sized covered quadrangle in the center of the Phinma University of Pangasinan, lights, columns, speakers and streamers have risen over the stage that will bring together Jejomar Binay, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Rodrigo Duterte, Grace Poe and Mar Roxas for a final appeal to voters.

ABS-CBN technicians and set assembly crews were the first at the campus early Thursday, selecting and securing spots for their set-ups in Sunday’s big event.

Students at the U-Pang continued on with their classes, occasionally sneaking glances at the court and casually passing through the piles of equipment as if no hauling was going on.

Venue of the PiliPinas 2016 Town Hall debate (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

The venue. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

Still absent are the touches of politics that will pervade this area during the weekend. No colors, posters or supporters.

But the school residents know all eyes will be on their school when all these arrive, more so the objects of all this support.

At a stairway, one student watches snippets of the last Comelec-sponsored debate on his phone. A duo of communication majors go around the school’s food court asking people they could interview their expectations on how the presidential candidates will perform.

Much indeed hangs on the April 24 debate hosted by ABS-CBN and the Manila Bulletin.

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#Halalan2016 starts here

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

Live from Comelec Main, Day 1 of COC Filing 
209 days before Halalan 2016

Media flock the Comelec main office on the first day of COC filings for elections 2016 (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

This week officially begins election season in the Philippines. It’s also the general elections–that time every six years where all posts from councilor to president of the republic are up for grabs.

It’s part-celebration, part-chaos, all-challenge.

The best preview of the atmosphere and the stakes is seen here at the Comelec main office in Intramuros, which opened its doors this week to people filing their certificates of candidacy (COCs) for national posts.

Despite efforts to put a sense of order, the road to 2016 still opened with drum bangs, hyped crowds, unruly shooters and comic cameos.

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On the part of the Senate: Closing time at the 15th Congress

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

ABS-CBN video monitor showing scenes at the Senate during Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile's speech resigning the Senate Presidency. (Shot June 5, 2013 by Anjo Bagaoisan)

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

The last stretch of regular sessions at the Philippine Congress each year are  largely unremarkable. Even their schedule is nondescript–two weekdays snuck in at the end of summer vacation. And every three years, it comes just after the winners of the incoming Congress have been proclaimed.

This routine resumption avails little for the news media attuned more to clashes, exposés and sensational investigations. But it was different when the Senate briefly returned to session on June 5, 2013.

Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile opened the plenary with a privilege speech blasting the critics among his colleagues, ruing over his son Jack’s failed Senate run, and finally, tendering his resignation as Senate President. He then left the session hall, no longer to return till the next Congress.

Broadcast outlets, some of whom got wind of Enrile’s apparent bombshell a day before, came early that day to set up control booths for airing the speech live.

What Enrile would say was expected to be hot copy after days of news about the impending change of the guard in the Senate once the administration-heavy lineup of winning solons took their seats in July.

Few foreknew that he would resign.

Before the session began, a Senate staff member expressed hopes that the speech would avoid controversy. It would only divert attention—and precious time—from the pile of last-minute legislative work.

The speech indeed did its work, and the session was paralyzed for the rest of the day. Yet not all of Enrile’s opponents were present to hear his attacks.

Sen. Franklin Drilon making a phone call at the Senate floor after Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile walks out folllowing his resignation as Senate President (Shot June 5, 2013 by Anjo Bagaoisan)

Drilon making a call after the walkout. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

A TV news producer got the text and scanned it quickly, circling any references to other senators. He then told the live feed director near him whose reaction to show next: Senators Antonio Trillanes, Pia Cayetano, or Franklin Drilon. The two men, seated apart, were caught smiling during key points in the speech.

Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, who engaged Enrile in a personal debate months back, only showed up after Enrile walked out.

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A Tale of Two TMs

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

Halalan 2013 Maguindanao Log 2. (Read the first log here)

COTABATO CITY—In Mindanao, this was one bout to watch. Symbolic in many ways, the battle for the governorship of Maguindanao tested the new political climate of the province after 2010.

The two contenders were former political allies, mounted together during the previous election to fight the Ampatuans. They are even related by blood.

Datu Tucao Mastura, mayor of Sultan Kudarat town (not to be confused with the province) a few kilometers north of Cotabato City, is the uncle of re-electionist Gov. Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu. A “distant” one though, Mastura clarifies.

Mastura, the elder and a “kingmaker” in the province, supported Mangudadatu’s bid in 2010. Mastura even fielded his nephew Dustin as Mangudadatu’s running mate and acted as campaign manager.

But strained relations and supposedly broken promises during Mangudadatu’s first term parted the two.

Tucao Mastura and Toto Mangudadatu (Shots by Mores Heramis & Gani Taoatao)

(Shots by Mores Heramis & Gani Taoatao)

Tucao Mastura was the provincial chair of the Liberal Party in 2010 when Toto Mangudadatu ran under Lakas-Kampi-CMD. Mangudadatu and other local leaders later trooped to the LP. Following differences, Mastura bolted and ran under the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA).

Like other high-profile head-to-heads this election, no words were minced as the two attacked each other and dredged up past offenses. The row reached the national awareness with ABS-CBN’s KampanyaSerye documentaries.

Both accused each other of coddling the Ampatuans. Mastura said Mangudadatu reneged on his campaign pledge to bring back the provincial capital to Sultan Kudarat town and then left Mastura and company in the air.

Mangudadatu countered that Mastura power-tripped even with no position, acting as governor by approving or killing projects. He claimed the Masturas such as his vice-governor were maligning him and hindering his initiatives.

Simultaneous meetings de avance of Toto Mangudadatu and Tucao Mastura, 11 May 2013. (Shots by Gani Taoatao & Mores Heramis)

Simultaneous meetings de avance. (Shots by Gani Taoatao & Mores Heramis)

If anything, the exchange of diatribes reflected how candidates could openly speak and campaign in Maguindanao this time around.

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Wanted in Maguindanao: Hassle-less elections

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

2013 Campaign posters on the streets of Buluan, Maguindanao (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

2013 campaign posters in Buluan (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

BULUAN, MAGUINDANAO–The rural air is occasionally broken by blaring music. It’s different from the familiar amplified chants calling Muslims to prayer five times a day. The sources of the music: roving rented mini-pickups packed with speakers and dressed in campaign posters.

One vehicle plays a down-tempo, pop tune repeating the nickname of a provincial candidate as a chorus. Another passes by moments later, blasting a rap-style song in Maguindanaoan extolling the virtues of another candidate.

It’s my second election coverage here in Maguindanao. With me are the same reporter, a few same crew mates, and some newbies to this election hotspot. Some elements have changed in three years, the sound of campaign jingles one pleasant surprise.

ABS-CBN satellite set up at the Rajah Buayan Silongan Peace center - Maguindanao provincial satellite office, May 2013 (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

Our set up at the Maguindanao provincial satellite office in Buluan (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

Our haunts have changed too, mirroring the changes in local politics. Since we arrived, we’ve set up our live point outside the Rajah Buayan Silongan Peace Center here in Buluan–the de facto capitol building which was not around in 2010.

Last election, we were stationed outside the provincial complex in capital Shariff Aguak. The capitol there is still imposing but unoccupied. The compound’s sole tenants are a brigade of soldiers.

We merely pass by Shariff Aguak on our two-to-three-hour trips from Cotabato City. The standout mansions of the Ampatuans still loom near the capitol, yet even this bailiwick of the clan seems less hushed than it looked before. More residents roam the town center, and the campaign posters are more varied.

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Thoughts of a first-time media absentee voter

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

Members of Philippine media vote during the last day of the local absentee voting period, April 30, 2013 (Shot by Edgar Soberano, ABS-CBN News)

Last day of absentee voting (Shot by Edgar Soberano, ABS-CBN News)

I stared at the list I jotted down on a sheet of grade-school-ruled pad, asking myself if I was ready to take the plunge.

I had a nagging feeling–second thoughts even–to be sure. I was casting my vote for the first time, and this list of candidates for senator and party-list was my assurance that my first time was being done right.

The list was a digital one at first–a rough draft sitting on my laptop. When I learned in February that media workers like me could vote earlier, I hurriedly listed names that had the best chance of getting my vote.

I only went back to the list the day before, April 28. The three-day period of local absentee voting (LAV) for soldiers, police officers, civil servants and the media had already begun.

This mini-Election Day felt like a final exam. I went through a review, scanning the profiles of the 34 senatorial bets on the Halalan 2013 web sites of ABS-CBN News and of the University of the Philippines.

I watched the final leg of the Harapan TV debates. I shuffled my digital list as the candidates faced the nation. I thought I wouldn’t complete my Magic 12. But after Harapan, I was already weighing who to retain or replace in an already-full lineup.

ABS-CBN News field producer Andrew Jonathan Anjo Bagaoisan voting at the Comelec NCR during the local absentee voting period, April 29, 2013 (Shot by Chito Concepcion)

(Shot by Chito Concepcion)

I had already covered a national election in 2010. Assigned out of town, I, like most of my colleagues could not vote. Thankfully, my registration remained active when the Comelec approved a petition to include members of media in the absentee vote.

This time, I had to grab the chance. Voting was one right—and duty—I did not miss out on, even as a student voting for the school council or for national candidates in mock university polls.

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The President campaigns in Maguindanao

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

BULUAN, MAGUINDANAO—Things were different when the previous sitting President last visited this province.

Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s low-profile stop at Shariff Aguak, the capital of Maguindanao, late in March 2009 was hardly note-worthy and routine at most.

On her itinerary was a briefing on the Solid Waste Management Program in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and a ribbon-cutting at the newly-built P218-million provincial capitol complex.

The photo-ops of Arroyo and her hosts, the Ampatuans, took a different light eight months later, when 57 corpses of civilians and media workers were found and dug up in Ampatuan town.

Gloria Arroyo and the Ampatuans inaugurating the Maguindanao capitol in 2009 (Best available photo from the Office of the Press Secretary, c/o Pinoy Weekly)

Arroyo and the Ampatuans in 2009 (Best available photo from the Office of the Press Secretary, c/o Pinoy Weekly)

The so-called Maguindanao massacre was tagged on the ruling clan, particularly Andal Sr. and his son, Andal Jr. In turn, it also tainted Arroyo’s term being the climax of hundreds of extra-judicial killings during her stay in power.

Year 2013 found them replaced by rivals and detained under criminal charges. But politics has its way of repeating itself. Maguindanao still proves the election trophy crucial even to opposing administrations.

Last April 12, red, yellow, and green frills welcomed Pres. Benigno Aquino III to Buluan, hometown of re-electionist Gov. Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu.

No longer is the governor’s seat in Shariff Aguak, where the palatial capitol complex came to signify the opulence of the Ampatuans amid the squalor of the province.

Aquino flew from Cotabato City where he checked on projects being implemented by Mujiv Hataman, the ARMM caretaker governor who is vying for an elected term this May.

Entrance to Liberal Party proclamation rally in Buluan, Maguindanao (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan, April 12, 2013)

This next stop was more political than administrative—an opportunity to raise the hands of Mangudadatu, Hataman, and the Liberal Party (LP) bets here. Nearly all top officials in ARMM and Maguindanao had now aligned themselves with Aquino.

Buluan’s nearly-completed gymnasium hosted the area’s first LP rally. Residents–estimated from 50,000 to 70,000–endured the midday heat and lined up through security checks.

The covered court could not contain all, explaining the second stage put up outside. Spectators listened to local candidates there while sitting or standing under gigantic umbrellas.

There, Team PNoy senatorial candidates Koko Pimentel, Jun Magsaysay, Risa Hontiveros, Bam Aquino, Sonny Angara, and Loren Legarda first gave their campaign speeches before repeating them inside the gym.

The attendance shows what has changed in Maguindanao in more than three years. Even a political rally here was unthinkable before.

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Shades of Halalan in UP Diliman

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

A student looks at the slate posters of UP Diliman's STAND-UP, ALYANSA, and KAISA 2013 USC bets (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

A student looks at the slate posters of UP Diliman’s STAND-UP, ALYANSA, and KAISA 2013 USC bets (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

When a Philippine news website released the results of the University Student Council (USC) elections in the University of the Philippines (UP) in Diliman, readers questioned the choice of coverage. The update came out under its “Nation” section. Was it relevant to non-members of the UP community?

While this article is not an endorsement or defense of the site’s editorial judgment, a glance at this particular student activity may offer some points in light of the coming midterm elections.

As an open campus, UP Diliman is exposed to events and issues in the so-called real world. More so, the dynamics of the students, teachers, and the community in and around UP make up an academic mirror to issues facing the country.

And perhaps the yearly elections for UP Diliman’s USC reminds us of the Philippines in many ways.

The USC polls and the three-week-long campaign before them are a mix of the traditional and the ideal. There are elements familiar to national politics and others yet to be seen on a bigger scale, both good and bad.

Up for grabs are 33 university-wide positions and 250-plus posts in each college council.

This battle for voters, albeit among more than 23,000 students, can rival a KampanyaSerye-style local race in intensity–fortunately minus the violence known to some hotspots.

The issues can get hot and the exchange of diatribes even hotter. They range from matters affecting college students to matters relevant to the national, an involvement inseparable from the Iskolar ng Bayan. Even non-students in UP say they have a stake in the polls.

The results may have no direct bearing on the national scale, but the leaders these students elect and the stances they take will help determine the direction of the student movement led by many from this campus.

Party lines

This 2013, UP students mark 100 years since electing their first student council. To some, this year’s polls continue to test if students will keep to or depart from the brand of student leadership and national participation represented by their outgoing leaders.

UP Diliman’s polls last February 28 resulted in a council led by KAISA, the youngest of the three university-wide political alliances/parties. In a first, KAISA won top posts chairperson, vice chairperson, and number one councilor.

After students gradually voted in fewer candidates from previously dominant parties STAND-UP and ALYANSA since 2006, the incoming 2013 USC faces the challenge of agreeing on a direction to lead the campus in.

In predominantly Left-leaning UP politics, the parties all tag themselves as activists. Nevertheless, their stands on issues like tuition increase, state subsidy for education, or even the latest public scandal can vary.

This Left spectrum is color-coded too: red STAND-UP is the extreme of the left, blue ALYANSA is on the opposite end, and yellow KAISA often stands in between.

Supporters of the 3 parties react as their bets win (and don't win) in the 2013 USC elections. (Shots by Anjo Bagaoisan)

Supporters of the 3 parties react as their bets win (and don’t win) in the 2013 USC elections. (Shots by Anjo Bagaoisan)

This dedication to ideologies differs this brand of politics from nominal student body exercises. It is a big deal here for parties to be involved or have a say in campus and national issues throughout the school year and not just when elections are nearby. Do otherwise and you’ll be called out for it at the campaign.

Compare this to Philippine party politics, where the tying bonds of parties are their founders or leaders and their relationships to the administration. Party names and colors are worn and shed like clothes nearly every three years. And no issue, since national party ideologies revolve around very similar motherhood goals.

Jumping parties in UP Diliman is taboo and even rare. And while some personalities have risen in fame from the party lines through the years, they have come and gone. Still left are the parties that train and attract a new generation of leaders and voters.

Yet political parties in UPD share some similarities with their national counterparts. Their histories involve splits and break-ups–although in UP’s case, they arose largely out of differences in ideology. STAND-UP, ALYANSA, and KAISA could all be traced to past dominant party SAMASA.

The parties also have bailiwicks among the colleges and courses, making the voting behavior of UP Diliman students an observable trend, akin to the red and blue states in the US.

Personalities vs issues

Nevertheless, USC elections every year cannot avoid classic elements associated with national campaigns.

Unlike its national counterpart, UP’s election code sets no limits or monitors on campaign spending, much less guidelines on the sizes and locations of posted campaign material.

Thus by February, the campus becomes littered with flyers, posters, and stickers as parties and candidates engage in a race for recall. The flyers are filled with programs, statements, endorsements, or attacks. The posters and stickers—stuck from jeepneys to waiting sheds—are emblazoned with the names and pictures of those running.

For the parties, a vote for their ideology should mean a vote for their entire slate, no matter if the candidates are veterans or not. But straight voting has hardly been the cumulative case in UP Diliman, at least since youngest party KAISA came into the scene in 2005.

The elections are in large part popularity contests judging from past results, as students still consider their personal knowledge of candidates when casting their ballots.

With such a scheme, parties still devote their energies into drumming up their running personalities. It’s seen in the wearing and repetition of nicknames during room-to-room campaigns and in the rhyming slogans worthy of a commercial.

"Kahit Butas ng Karayom Papasukin Ko" The 2013 candidates for USC Chairperson in a poster for a "teleserye-inspired" debate put up by the campus publications. (Courtesy Solidaridad / The Philippine Collegian)

The 2013 candidates for USC Chairperson in a poster for a “teleserye-inspired” debate put up by the campus publications. (Courtesy Solidaridad / The Philippine Collegian)

The reality of personality politics often centers on the battle for USC chairperson. The most-promoted names in the lineups, the chairperson candidates are the main faces of their parties during the campaign period. That’s not to mention the clout any party would have over the council when their candidate wins.

Their clashes are focal points in the election, especially when well-known students face off for the top post. In 2000, Raymond Palatino of STAND-UP (now Kabataan partylist representative) beat now-broadcaster Mariz Umali of SAMASA, ensuring STAND-UP’s dominant presence in local politics.

The chairperson race is also where black propaganda can overshadow the more-pertinent issues permeating the campaign.

In 2013, the candidate who bore the worst brunt was KAISA standardbearer Ana Alexandra “Alex” Castro. She eventually won the election by more than 1,500 votes over both her opponents, but not without being charged with flip-flopping stances and called derogatory names during the campaign.

Independent candidates for the USC are few and rare. And not always do UP students vote them into the council. Eventual winners often presented a stand-out campaign focus—like Kester Yu, who won top councilor in 2009 with an environmental platform. This year, no independent candidate ran for the university-wide posts.

Parallels

This year’s polls did not merit the media attention they got in 2012, when the USC’s first transgender chairperson Gabriel Paolo “Heart” Diño won in a comeback victory for ALYANSA. The news stories then focused on Diño’s win as an achievement for gender rights in the country.

Hardly noticed too was the effort behind one of the country’s largest campus election automated counts. On its fifth year of large-scale use, UP Diliman’s “Halalan” open-sourced system consolidated votes cast via computer terminals in colleges spaced kilometers apart. All a student needs is his/her student number and a pre-generated password.

The UP Linux Users Group or UnPLUG developed the system. They started out automating the votes in UP dormitories back in 2005, then in selected college council votes afterward. Only after winning an IBM server in an international contest did UnPLUG have the means for a university-wide count in 2009.

A student prepares to list down the 2013 USC winners at Vinzons Hall. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

A student prepares to list down the 2013 USC winners at Vinzons Hall. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

The automation turned what was a vigil till early morning at the Vinzons student center into as early as 30 minutes. Recently, the wait has gone back to two hours at most to account for manual votes, colleges that finished late, and preparation by the University Student Electoral Board for its proclamation of the results.

Like its national counterpart, UP’s automation has its share of delays and glitches nonetheless. Last February 28, 58 of the 11,245 votes cast (5.15 percent) were still manual due to difficulties for some students in casting their votes. Even so, no fears of manipulation or major malfunction have yet to materialize.

The proclamation at the Vinzons lobby is as festive and as noisy as the national. Supporters of the three parties come in color and in force to cheer up or cheer down winners. Election day is also the center of attention for a number of student publications, including the campus radio station dzUP.

But despite a reputation for awareness and involvement, it is still a challenge to get most UP Diliman students to vote. University-wide turnout has hardly breached half the student population in recent years. This year it was only 48.4 percent.

Some students say they are “tired” of the politicking and the mudslinging, others of the extreme focus on the national compared to the local. While they have a say on issues outside campus, these students also ask what their council can do for them as fellow students–one parallel with the national psyche. And it is something the parties have taken to balancing between.

First-year students at UP Diliman are told they are entering a microcosm of society. The tuition increase of 2006 helped dispel that notion, as financial means now determines in part who enrolls in the so-called “national university”.

All the same, the USC elections show that the future leaders and voters are a parallel of their countrymen, both in how this political exercise is and could be done.