The first post in my Twitter feed today is the stepping down of Jaen, Nueva Ecija Mayor Sylvia Austria after losing in a recount filed by her 2019 contender Antonio Prospero Esquivel. In a recount, Esquivel garnered 18,737 votes while Austria got 14,392 for the May 13, 2019 elections.
The Austria and Esquivel election case is just one of the many recounts lodged in the courts and electoral tribunals. The most notable one is the Bongbong Marcos-Leni Robredo Vice Presidential election recount which, until now, still needs closure as the son of the late strongman would not concede despite his failure to make out a case of cheating using his pilot provinces. As days pass by, it only becomes clearer that Bongbong only wants to remain the talk of the media and remain in the limelight in preparation for his plans in 2022. As the spin doctors say, “Good or bad publicity is still good publicity”.
But the electoral protests, including Bongbong’s, simply show that the electoral system in the country is flawed. While the Commission on Elections (Comelec) had been instituting reforms starting from the vote counting itself, the efforts are always the case of “mene, mene tekel upharsin” — weighed but found wanting. The reason: What is being done are just vulcaseal reforms.
Of course, we cannot place the entire blame on the Comelec because it can only do as much. As what the technocrats have been saying from the time of Fidel Ramos to Rodrigo Duterte’s, we need a whole of government approach. We need also action on the part of the executive and legislative branches, and a support on the part of the judiciary. But, will that become possible?
Fortunately, the 2016 elections produced a president who is known to have a political will, a supermajority in the legislative branch, and an iron hand to introduce reforms. Unfortunately, this political capital is just being wasted on the war on drugs and the battle against opposition and critics. Hence, instead of a legacy that could change the course of Philippine history, what is happening is cutting a deep wound of division and unrest, and grief and sorrow to those whose kins became victims of extrajudicial killings.
So what could have been done, or what can President Duterte still do? Let us count the ways:
- Request the Congress to create a law strengthening political party system. This will trigger a shift from personality-based politics to party-based politics. All actions, therefore, will be a collective action of a party and not by a party member whose motivation, at times, is political greed. In that way, we will not have a case of self-made lone rangers like Bongbong Marcos who is trying to pull the rope as far as possible just to avoid becoming a “Mona Lisa politician” – that is, losers whose popularity will just “lie there, and just die there”. If and only if there is the case, it will be the political party who will be at the front helping both the moneyed and less-moneyed party members. Imagine if Leni Robredo is not supported by citizens and the Liberal Party. Will she be able to fight the legal battles waged by Bongbong?
- Corollary with the strong political party system is a law punishing political grasshoppers. Anyone who switches parties should not be allowed to run for at least two terms. That will not only instill loyalty but also force political parties to shape up, develop principles, and do what they need to do. Otherwise, like most political parties in the Philippines, they will just remain as “Christmas party-like political parties” — that is, they exist only because of the occasion.
- The strong political party system should also punish political parties, or at least its officials, who abandon their members. A classic case is that of Ver Roque of Bataan who was abandoned by the Philippine Federal Party (PFP) in favor of the incumbent candidate. Ver Roque, who wholeheartedly believed he was accepted, and even nominated, by the PFP ran as a substitute to its gubernatorial candidate only to be abandoned by the party in the end. Worse, it was his party-mates who filed a case against him despite his efforts to strengthen, and spend for, the PFP provincial chapter. Instead of being rewarded for his efforts, he was practically murdered by the political party he is loyal to.
- Institute a law mandating the government to shoulder all, if not most, of the election expenses of political parties with candidates. This will definitely be an eyebrow raiser but the measure will not only ensure that the election expenses will be subject to an audit but will also level the playing field. Those who are deserving, with common sense and leadership skills, will not have a chance to run and an opportunity to win as against those whose only capital is money or popularity. This will also limit politicians like Manny Pacquiao and Bong Go who have started giving off money apparently in preparation for the 2022 elections. Lastly, the law will speed-up voter education and people will not be selling votes.
- Institute a law that would punish use of personal money for public service. In that way, politicians will not be investing and trying to recoup in the end thus minimizing, if not eradicating, corruption. Political offices therefore will not become money-making ventures.
According to Aristotle, man is a political animal. If this is so, then at least raise politics to a level that befits humans — something that does not politically murder unsuspecting candidates like Roque, elects into position those who are not deserving but moneyed and popular, and nurtures grasshoppers who are devoid of loyalty and even soul. Can Duterte do this? Yes he can but only if he wants. What is his political capital for?