By Perry Diaz
The May 13 mid-term elections present an array of senatorial candidates of various persuasions, backgrounds, and abilities. The “Magic 12” or the 12 top vote getters win. And as expected the candidates of the two major coalitions – Team PNoy and the United Nationalist Coalition (UNA) -- dominate the scene due to their huge war chests and well-organized campaigns. The other candidates who are running solo or independent are not making any headway and more than likely they would all lose. And that’s the sad part because many of them are of good quality and would serve the people well in the Senate.
Senators play an important part in governance. They provide balance to a two-chamber legislative body where the lower chamber, the House of Representatives, is composed of 287 congressional district representatives elected by their constituents or through the party-list system. The upper chamber, the Senate, consists of 24 senators who are elected at-large by all voters. Once elected to the Senate, that person qualifies to run for president or qualifies as a “presidentiable,” a term used to denote that he or she has the presumed qualifications of a presidential candidate. In other words, the Senate is a stepping-stone to the presidency. And it is for this reason that those elected to the Senate should have the qualification, experience, and character of a “presidentiable.”
It is interesting to note that the upper chamber is named Senate (from the Latin word senatus), which comes from senex, “old man.” The original senate was the Roman Senate, which was represented by respected elders of the community. It was presumed that elders have the experience and wisdom to make the right decisions for the people, not for their personal interests. Although, in today’s age younger generations are running for the Senate, they should still be measured vis-à-vis a wise “old man.”
In the past, many electoral contests were won by cheating. As a popular cliché says, “In Philippine elections, there are no losers; only the winners and those who were cheated.” Remember the time when the dead voted? Or candidates who got zero vote in their own hometowns? Or candidates who bought votes with counterfeit money? Or candidates who switched ballot boxes after the polls closed? Or those who intimidated voters with armed goons?
When the late strongman Ferdinand E. Marcos ran for reelection in 1969, the term “Three G’s” was popularized. It stands for “Guns, Goons, and Gold.” Today, “Three G’s” remains the surest way to win elections.
But after the EDSA People Power Revolution of 1986 that toppled the Marcos dictatorship, a new form of election cheating was devised. Called “dagdag-bawas” – literally translates to add-subtract – it simplifies election cheating. There is no need to use the “Three G’s” or buy votes or switch ballot boxes. All a candidate needs is lots of money to bribe Commission of Elections (Comelec) officials – called “operators” or “mechanics” -- to perform a simple hocus pocus with the outcome of an election, which is to shave the votes of one candidate and count it in favor of the cheating candidate. Their combined totals would still be the same; however, the favored candidate would show more votes than the cheated candidate. This “wholesale” cheating is hard to detect because those who are supposed to tally the votes are the ones manipulating them.
With the implementation of the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines in the May 2010 elections, a new form of cheating was created – “electronic dagdag-bawas.” And since they’re harder to detect, election cheating is institutionalized. Unless the Comelec dumped the PCOS machines and adopted a more reliable automated election system, election cheating would be the rule rather than the exception.
Having said that, the May 13, 2013 mid-term elections could be a replay of the 2010 elections since the same PCOS machines would be used. And for as long as the Comelec “operators” are still around, only candidates with money have a chance of winning.
That brings to mind the question: What is then the use of voting if the winners are determined by dagdag-bawas cheating? In my opinion, the existence of dagdag-bawas cheating schemes makes it important for the voters to turn out on Election Day and vote for the good – and deserving – senatorial candidates. While it may not guarantee the victory of all of the deserving candidates, it would minimize the chances of the “undeserving candidates” from making it to the “Magic 12” list.
The latest Pulse Asia survey shows the rankings of the senatorial candidates. The Top Six are:(Rank 1-2), Chiz Escudero (1-2), Grace Poe (3-4), Alan Peter Cayetano (3-7), Cynthia Villar (4-9), and Antonio Trillanes (4-10).
The Bottom Six are: Bam Aquino (4-10), JV Ejercito Estrada (5-11), Nancy Binay (5-11), Koko Pimentel (6-12), Edgardo Angara (8-14), and Migz Zubiri (10-16).
Behind them are four candidates on the 11th and 12th spots, namely: Gringo Honasan (11-16), Jack Enrile (11- 16), Risa Hontiveros (12-17), and Ramon Magsaysay Jr. (12-17).
From this “Magic 12” list of 16 possible winners, six are running for re-election – Legarda, Escudero, Cayetano, Trillanes, Honasan, and Pimentel; four are currently members of the House of Representatives – Villar, Estrada, Angara, and Enrile; two were former senators – Zubiri and Magsaysay; one was a former congressional representative – Hontiveros; and the other three are neophytes (no political office held) – Binay, Aquino, and Poe. In my opinion, these neophytes have no business running for a Senate seat. They are not fit for the office. If they want to hold a political office, they should run for a congressional seat or local positions (e.g., governor, mayor).
There is a public clamor to put an end to political dynasties. Section 26 of Article II of the 1987 Philippine Constitution declares: “The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.” But Congress – by design or neglect – has failed to pass enabling legislation that would define “political dynasties.” The congressional members’ self-serving inaction to pass such law should not be an excuse for political dynasties to ignore the spirit of the Constitution for which they would be sworn to uphold if they were elected.
However, their failure to pass an anti-dynasty law is not an excuse for sidestepping their constitutional duty. If they don’t want to do it because of self-preservation, then it is up to the voters to decide whom to elect. They know who the dynastic candidates are.
And finally, the voters need to root out candidates who have checkered past such as involvement in corruption cases or run-in with the law like shooting incidents. They have no business occupying a Senate seat. A “senatoriable” should – nay, must! -- possess a character beyond reproach.
Article II Section 1 of the Philippine Constitution says: “The Philippines is a democratic and republican State. Sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them.” It is for this reason that the people have the final say on who their representatives should be by exercising their right to vote. But with this right comes responsibility and requires a great deal of wisdom on whom to elect.
The voters can narrow their selection based on the following criteria: Qualification, Experience, and Character. There are a total of 27 candidates. With that number of senatorial candidates, the voters should be able to pick their choices.
In the final analysis, the quality of the elected senators could only be guaranteed if the electorate voted wisely and responsibly.