GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/25 June) — I’m done with Philippine elections. I did not vote last May 13; I did not vote in the October 25, 2010 barangay election. By that I will be delisted from the voters’ list. To vote in the 2016 national election I have to register again. But, why should I?
I boycotted the May 13 election because I could no longer take part in the perpetuation of sham democracy. I never voted in barangay elections for similar reason but I’m not going to discuss that here.
I had never missed voting in a national or midterm elections since I registered in 1946. In the 1930s, even when I was too young to vote, I had been an interested observer of elections. The electoral system then was “crude” compared to that of today. Then violence, cheating and other forms of irregularities and corruptions were real news; today, they are regular features, much more so it seems with computerization – so much perfected as an art and abetted by the rule of law.
Why have I considered it a perpetuation of sham democracy to continue voting?
The only qualifications for suffrage or the right to vote are Filipino citizenship, age and residence. Unless “otherwise disqualified by law,” all Filipinos possessing those three qualifications are qualified to vote. Disqualifications are very rare. This has come to be after electoral reforms during 78 years since 1935.
Under the 1935 Constitution, suffrage was limited to 21-year-old male citizens. This had been so in elections under the American rule before 1935. Very macho democracy! However, a provision in the Constitution called for a plebiscite in 1937 to “extend the right of suffrage to women” should “not less than three hundred thousand women possessing the necessary qualifications” vote “YES.” No problem, suffrage granted!
Much later, the voting age was lowered to 18. The 1987 Constitution provided absentee voting to allow Filipinos working abroad to vote through the Philippine consulates.
As explicitly provided in the 1972 and 1987 Constitutions – “No literacy, property of other substantive requirement shall be imposed on the exercise of suffrage” — the illiterates and physically disabled were allowed to vote. Until a specific law was enacted, the Commission on Elections devised a system to secure “the secrecy and sanctity of the vote” for the disabled and illiterates enabling them to vote assisted by the Board of Election Inspectors or by assistors of their own choice or appointed by the BEI.
On February 15, 2013, President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III signed RA 10366 mandating the Commission on Elections to “design systems and procedures that will enable persons with disabilities and senior citizens to register and vote by themselves” in time for the May 13 election. Also a first under Aquino III, inmates voted last May 13 despite the temporary disenfranchisement of persons convicted of crimes. Commission on Elections Resolution No. 9371 specifies five categories of inmates or detainees still “entitled to vote.”
The Philippines must be among the democratic countries extending the broadest right of suffrage to its citizens. This is genuine – not sham – democracy. The sham that led me to boycott the last May election has nothing to do with suffrage.
Sham Party System
On putting the Philippines under martial law, President Ferdinand E. Marcos formed the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL or Movement of New Society) as the martial law regime’s political arm. This effectively killed the two-party system with a third-party alternative even if the existing political parties were not decreed abolished.
Most in the Nacionalista Party — Marcos being the party titular head — joined the KBL. And so did the Liberal Party members who gladly accepted Marcos’ invitation. Those who defied Marcos either fled the country, went underground, lay low or were detained. However, in the three national elections held during the 14-year dictatorship, regional and national parties – including the skeletal resurrection of the NP and LP – were allowed to oppose the KBL to show the world that democracy was robust, not dead.
Regional and new national parties fielded candidates for the Batasan Pambansa (National Assembly) election in 1978. The token NP fielded a token candidate in Alejo Santos to give a token opposition to the KBL and President Marcos in the January 16, 1981 presidential election. Winning by16 million votes, Marcos “lifted” martial law on the following day. In the February 7, 1986 snap presidential election, eight political parties and groups coalesced into the UNIDO (United Nationalist Democratic Organization) to field Corazon C. Aquino against Marcos and the KBL.
Marcos nurtured sham democratic elections as democratic mask of his dictatorship. But in a different fashion the sham ingenuously continued after Marcos.
The 1987 Constitution did not revive the two-party system. Instead, it wrote the final death sentence of the two-party system by enshrining the multi-party system together with the party-list system. Ironically, the two are good features of electoral democracy; but abused, they have become tools of sham election in the name of democracy.
In the Philippine two-party system, there were two major parties and one or two third minor parties that really did not matter much in the electorate’s choices of candidates. Both the major and minor parties had national, provincial and municipal organizations; they had party platforms embodying their principles and program of government. All candidates, chosen in party conventions or caucuses, subscribed to the party platforms as the parties were committed to make them win.
As it has come out to be, in the Philippine multi-party system, any political leader – or anyone pretending to political leadership – can form a party as the vehicle of his or her political ambition – particularly, presidential. Some of the parties have national directorate but no provincial chapters. Others are without any proper organization. In this case, the party dies when the organizer quits politics or none in his or her family can carry on the party.
In the Philippine multi-party system thrive sham political parties; the system has become a tool of sham democratic election.
Countries with parliamentary form of government have multi-party system. It usually happens that in a general election, no party wins a majority. To form a government, the party with the biggest plurality invites to a coalition other parties – each party not losing its personality. At any time, any of the parties can leave the coalition. Should the coalition break up and the prime minister fails to form a new government, a new election is called. In any case, the coalition happens after the election.
In countries with popularly elected presidents under a multi-party system, if in the first election no candidate gets the 50 percent plus majority in the first election, a run-off election or second balloting is held between the two leading candidates. In this way, the president has the mandate of the majority; his government represents the majority.
A prime tenet of democracy is the majority rules. This must be true of either the parliamentary or presidential form of government.
The 1987 Constitution does not provide for run-off election. A Philippine president can win by mere plurality (President Fidel V. Ramos, the first president elected in 1992 under the 1987 Constitution, won with 5,342,621 votes or by a 23.58 percent plurality and his party won 14 seats in the Congress) and his or her party a small number of seats in the Congress. Should such happen, the president – as Ramos did – would use his or her vast powers to have a coalition formed in the Congress led by his party in order to secure for his or her government legislative support.
All other presidents after Ramos did the same. Through the coalition, the presidents’ parties eventually became dominant parties. This post-election coalition is driven by the parties’ common motive to remain in and with power at all cost. Demanded by political necessity, this is not the type of coalition to be deplored.
What then is that type?
The practice now in the Philippines is for so-called political parties to coalesce for the election. Evidently, the purpose is not to win a majority mandate for the coalition to have a government by the majority, of the majority, for the majority. As an ad hoc political “party” principally formed to win, the coalition breaks up becoming a non-entity after the election. The winning candidates are entrenched in power carrying the name of their respective parties espousing their individual interests – even joining rival blocs.
This pre-election coalition is not for the establishment a “government of the people, by the people, for the people” but a government of the powerful, by the powerful, for the powerful at the sacrifice of the people – those in power will always invoke the people as the reason for their being in power. Call that democratic election?
The state of the country is the proof of the curse of sham democratic elections.
The 1987 Constitution provides as a state policy (Article II, Section 26): “The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities to public service, and prohibit political dynasty as may be defined by law.” Elective positions are means of public service and should not be monopolized in perpetuity by powerful families and clans.
To complement this provision, the 1987 Constitution limits elective local officials and members of the House of Representatives to three three-year consecutive terms; the members of the Senate and the Vice President to two six-year consecutive terms; and the President to one six-year term without reelection.
While the merits of these provisions are debatable, their laudable objectives to enhance democracy are not to be trivialized. Yet, instead of enacting enabling laws to promote the laudable objectives, the powers in Congress never passed the required anti-dynasty law and interpreted the term limits to perpetuate their hold to power.
There have been anti-dynasty bills filed. But the Congress has always been dominated by members of political dynasties. According to a survey (See: Wikipedia), in the 14th Congress (2007 to 2010), “more that 75% of the lawmakers are members of the old political families” or political dynasties. And, new political dynasties have emerged. The members of the Congress are not fools to enact a law against their vested interests.
If the intention of the Constitution were to be adhered to, the term limits should mean “three three-year consecutive terms only” or “two six-year consecutive terms only”. But “only” has become “at a time”. By the latter meaning, a politician can occupy a position – example, of the mayor—for life as long as after each segment of three consecutive terms he or she skips one election and, after that, runs again for a new segment. This actually is what is happening.
This is trivializing if not mocking the Constitution.
“Term limit” as conveniently held by politicians promotes political dynasty. Members of the same family or clan are elected in different positions – say, the husband as governor and the wife as representative to the Congress. After each three consecutive terms, they exchange positions. Meanwhile, their children get elected in other positions; later, when their parents want to retire, they take over
“Term limit” and “political dynasty” boosted by the naïve or willing electorate perpetuate sham democratic election. The vast majority of the Filipino electorate, even those in the middle and the upper classes, easily fall for popularity, compliments, personal favors and such other pleasing gestures and gimmicks rather than weigh the candidates relative to their positions on crucial national and local issues and real performance in office. In fact, issues do not matter at all; Filipinos are shortsighted or sightless.
Time to Quit
I have had enough. Since 1946, I had voted every election hoping that my one vote would matter in strengthening a democratic government in the Philippines truly of the people, by the people and for the people. But the opposite had emerged: a government of the powerful few, by the powerful few and for the powerful few. The ruling powers trumpet to the world the opposition votes as proof of democratic elections in the Philippines. They suit laws to their interests and foist government as according to law.
The Corazon C. Aquino government, with its revolutionary powers and vast people’s support, was touted to have restored democracy, decency and integrity in the political, social and moral facets of life in the Philippines. Did it? Ironically, a decade after Cory, the scoundrels identified with Marcos were back in power, political dynasty flourished, and deftly manipulating term limit have made a sham of elections as never seen before. The Cory government bred the opposite of its noble mission.
Sham multi-party system, sham coalition system, sham term limit and entrenched political dynasties will perpetuate sham democratic elections abetted by:
- Candidates’ qualifications: Any qualified voter can run for election irrespective of his or her fitness for office. As long as he or she has the money, the popularity and the coercive and manipulative powers to command votes, he or she can be in office for life even if he or she has done nothing or uses the office for his or her vested interests.
- Subverting election laws: Candidates, their parties and leaders by necessity or design would subvert election laws – on election expenses, election propaganda; against use of violence, coercion, etc. — while challenging each other to uphold clean, honest a peaceful election.
- Cheating: Candidates, their parties and leaders would employ all means fair or foul to garner votes – from the casting of votes, the counting of votes and the official canvassing and reporting of votes. It was to avert cheating that the past two national elections were computerized. Yet, the Commission on Elections has been accused of programming the computers to favor some candidates and parties especially those of the administration.
- Electoral system flaws: There are flaws in the electoral system, particularly in the party-list system and election expenses, that the present Commission on Elections tried to correct this last election. But the Supreme Court ruled against orders of the Commission disqualifying some party lists and shortening time limits of election propaganda in the national televisions.
- Adoring electorate: A significant majority – if not most – of Filipino voters are fans of popular candidates or blind, fanatical followers of political dynasties taking much pride in identifying themselves with their idols – easy to please, easy to entertain, their hopes ever renewed by ever repeated false promises, short in memory. They are the captive votes that perpetuate sham democratic elections.
Sham democratic elections will continue. They will continue to stack the Senate and the House of Representatives with politicians, not statesmen; with brothers and sisters, parents and children and close clan members; with members who do little or nothing at all for the welfare of their constituents. To mention one, the world boxing champion, hailed as a national hero, has been returned to the House. He will continue boxing, the Congress giving him his salary, allowances and other perks while training for his fights.
Political dynasties have completely controlled many of the local government units. Many more dynasties are emerging and through the sham term limits, the political dynasties will complete and perpetuate their control of government in all levels. The Philippines will soon be a dynastic republic.
Will my boycotting the election last May 13 election and in the future prevent sham democratic election from continuing? Not at all! I’ll only have the satisfaction of my vote not being counted as proof that sham Philippine elections are truly democratic. May a miracle transform the sham to genuine!
(“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards honored Mr. Diaz with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You can reach him at [email protected])