Edwin Santiago, Executive Director of the Stratbase ADR Institute
There are two ways of understanding and answering the question. One interpretation can be are the election results as they are because the Philippines is doomed or cursed? Another inference can be because of the election results, is the Philippines now doomed?
Perceptive observers would immediately realize that the question—regardless of how interpreted—is loaded. It is bundled with a controversial assumption that the results are bad. But, are the results bad? If they are, what makes them bad? From whose perspective are they bad?
Of the 18,071 positions that were up for grabs in the 2019 midterm elections, the limelight was mostly on the 12 senatorial seats. As already announced in the official tally of the Comelec, Otso Diretso did not win a single seat of the 12. And why some of you may ask is this bad? Just because some do not agree with the final set of winning candidates does not automatically mean that they are the wrong choices. After all, the candidates simply presented themselves to and for the public to decide?
It is bad because the electorate could have done infinitely better in their selection. In what sane world are plunderers elected and given the power to plunder the country even more? Why would we condemn the country as poor but continue to choose people who made us poor, those who have robbed us blindly of our national wealth and development all these? Honesty and integrity should be non-negotiables. These traits are universal and are not subject to interpretation.
So yes, the election results are as they are because the Philippines is doomed even before the elections happened. We are doomed to repeat history because we have not learned from it, as Winston Churchill would put it. The Philippines has not outgrown its celebrity politics. While we have seen some traces of success in local governments, by and large, it is still a personality-based electoral system.
How else can you explain a political advertisement that says nothing about his legislative agenda nor of his accomplishments and yet win? The message in that TV material is clear and frankly insulting that people will vote for him on the basis of his antics. Nothing more, nothing less.
It is also bad because the majority bloc in the Senate is poised to be 20 with the addition of the newly-elected 12 to the incumbent 8. The president will not only have the majority but a supermajority, conquering even the tough two-thirds majority at 16.
With a two-thirds majority, whatever the not-so-timid president wants, the president will most likely get under a political environment where the opposition is merely a nominal participant in the process. For one, the Senate can expel another senator.
The Senate, according to Article VI, Section 16, paragraph 3 of the 1987 Constitution may punish a senator for disorderly behavior, and with the concurrence of two-thirds of all senators, suspend or expel a senator. We know what happened to people who stood in the way of the president.
Moreover, the president may easily persuade Congress to declare the existence of a state of war, which requires two-thirds vote, voting separately, of both the House of Representatives and in the Senate, according to Article VI, Section 23, paragraph 1 of the 1987 Constitution. And, if we are to take his words seriously and literally, he wants to declare war on Canada over their unwanted trash. On the other hand, there seems to be no imminent threat of war with China, despite its aggression over our territory.
The president may also have a figurative walk in the park in having treaties and international agreements concurred in by the two-thirds of the Senate, based on Article VII, Section 21 of the 1987 Constitution.
So, it is a resounding yes again to the question of whether the Philippines is now doomed because of the election results. Having a supermajority in Congress gives the president access to the express lane of legislation. This has effectively crippled the opposition as a fiscalizer and together with it—the system of checks and balances that is not only critical to any functioning democracy, but also indispensable.
Should the people then just ride the storm and wait for the next political cycle in three years? But if we do, we will be like Sisyphus of Greek mythology, condemned to an eternity of rolling a boulder uphill then watching it roll back down again. We would be doing the same things over and over, making us doomed even before the elections happen. It then stands to reason that some changes are in order if we are to get out of our doomed situation.
Some of those changes may even be happening now and are just too sluggish to take effect at once. For instance, educating the ever-growing population of voters that now stands at about 62 million is not going to happen overnight, giving some people reservations about its efficacy in effecting changes.
The system is definitely going to put up a fight. The political inertia may be so strong as to prevent some changes from gaining traction. For example, even now when automated elections have brought the visible benefits of technology to our electoral process, there are still those who try to bring us back to a manual system for obvious reasons.
French political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville said, in a democracy, “we get the government we deserve,” and by inference, we deserve the leaders that we elect. And, the Philippines, like any other country, will never get a set of leaders that will be to the satisfaction of everyone. But, we definitely deserve better leaders. And, this objective is a must for everyone—regardless of political affiliation. We should not settle for men and women of steal and those with terpsichorean ambitions.
Is the Philippines doomed? It will only be doomed when people stop demanding and expecting better leaders.
This article was originally published in philstar.com.