Seasoned lawmakers, political neophytes, and individuals young and old made their presence known in front of lights and cameras as they bared their plans to be put in the highest seats of power in the government last October 11 to 17. The Philippines saw its democracy at work when individuals from all walks of life marched up the steps of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) quarters to file their certificates of candidacy (COC) for the upcoming 2019 general elections.
While the list of hopefuls is long, as Comelec confirmed that 152 people have shown their interest in a senatorial seat, it would be very remiss not to notice that some of them are not at all fit for the job.
Section 3, Article VI of the 1987 Philippine Constitution dictates that the qualifications for a person to be a member of Senate is not stringent on requirements. In fact, they call for only the bare minimum: is a natural-born citizen of the Philippines, at least 35 years of age, literate, is a registered voter, and is a resident for no less than two years. Moreover, the requirements for other positions in public office—both national and local—vary just minimally. This is all well and good; after all, in a democratic society, anyone must be given the opportunity to run for office.
However, recent history has shown that these lenient requirements demanded from our leaders have been taken advantage of by individuals who are legally permitted, but not necessarily competent enough to take on the responsibilities granted to them. In some instances, leaders who were elected in certain positions had unresolved political cases that were overlooked by the public and ruled by the court.
One of more notable instances is that of Ramon Revilla Jr., Juan Ponce Enrile, and Jinggoy Estrada’s bid for a reelection in the Senate. Known to the public, the three are charged with plunder at the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan; Revilla’s case has been submitted for decision, whereas Estrada’s and Enrile’s are still pending. All three were allegedly tied with the misuse of their pork barrel, otherwise known as the Priority Development Assistance Fund, in a scandal linked to Janet Lim Napoles last 2013. Yet, in a survey conducted by Pulse Asia early September on senatorial preferences in the 2019 elections, Estrada and Revilla still land in the 6-10 and 11-17 ranks, respectively.
With such turnouts, does this mean that those who have existing criminal records still have the trust of the public?
This instance is nothing new in Philippine politics and transcends even to the smallest government units. Eight years ago, Agapito J. Cardino and Dominador G. Jalosjos Jr. were both running for the position of Mayor of Dapitan City, Zamboanga Del Norte. However, Cardino petitioned to omit Jalosjos’ certificate of candidacy, claiming that Jalosjos gave “a false statement of a material fact in his certificate of candidacy” once he declared under oath that he was eligible to hold the position of mayor. Cardino further added that Jalosjos was previously convicted as he committed a crime of robbery, and that Jalosjos’ case was not resolved by the court, even if the latter countered that he gained probation. In the end, the certificate of candidacy that was filed by Jalosjos was deemed void from the start, and the court ruled his ouster from the position of Mayor. Despite the resolution of said case, there lies a big issue at hand. If citizens of guilty conscience still push to take the leniency of running for public office for granted, there must be something flawed with the qualification system put in place.
To put it into perspective, even the most common of jobs have more rigorous recruitment processes as compared to that of putting people in power, whose influence is undeniably on a much larger scale. It is important to be critical with such standards, for even holding the most basic position in the workforce entails big enough responsibilities in itself.
As it currently is, the system is built to provide a “fair” opportunity for everyone, but should it be fair for the nation to continue to suffer because they are fooled by the spotless and charming facades masking the electorates’ greed for power?
If we look deeper in the narratives of those running for public office, it seems as though Filipinos love supporting the underdog, those of whom whose life story resembles a fairytale, a well-loved dramatic soap opera. But we have to remember that we do not live in a make-believe world where we expect things to turn out for the better. If the underdog is incompetent, why must we support such a candidate?
Filipinos do not need a hero for this particular narrative to end well, it is up to us to save ourselves. So, before the pen touches the ballot, we have to ask ourselves: are we ready to leave the nation’s future in the hands of the people we will be voting? The elected, after all, will be in charge of the laws to be passed and the responsibility to govern each of the Philippines’ constituents. It is we who are in charge of granting them such, along with the power and influence.
There are those who know little about how the government works, and how important electing people into power will be, and that is what the desperate will bank on. Catchy campaign jingles, dramatized narratives, and insincere promises disguised in wordy platforms will be utilized to imprint their identities and grab the voters’ attention.
We should do well to remember that the efficiency of democracy will only be observed if the general populace is educated. Educating the people from the get-go on how to distinguish actual platforms from false and unattainable promises will certainly play a part in building a more representative democracy. If we do not recognize the importance of being informed—more than just being fooled—the public will be distracted and brainwashed into believing that only the “visible” should be voted for.
Ideally, it is the government’s responsibility to make sure that its citizens are informed before they vote. Yet, seeing time and time again how they have failed in fulfilling this job leaves the responsibility to the people with avenues and opportunities to bring about change in this situation—that is us.