An open letter to our young voters
By Francisco S. Tatad
ON May 14, 2007, we shall be electing twelve senators, 274 or so regular and party-list members of the House of Representatives, and close to 18,000 local government officials. I am not a candidate, neither am I working for any. But I am terrified by what I see. I am particularly concerned about the senatorial election.
The media generally describe the senatorial campaign as a circus. But then they take to it as though their actual job was to bring in the crowd. They complain that none of the candidates are discussing the issues --- not even corruption and the rule of law, the supposed cheating in the 2004 presidential elections, the spate of political killings that has now gone up to the United Nations and the United States Congress, the rise of narco-politics and its deadly impact on society itself, the unabated brain drain and the frightening hordes of unprocessed visitors from the “northeast,” the virtually open-ended foreign military presence in Mindanao and elsewhere without any clear treaty arrangements, the disappearance of basic industry and the virtual integration of the national economy into the Chinese market, the rising specter of “balkanization” in the South. Then the media proceed to rave about popular incompetents who, for no sane reason, are said to be leading the “surveys.”
Our society rests largely on Christian moral values, and partly on Islamic ones. But our government is officially rated by some as the most corrupt in the world. Our politicians, with some notable exceptions, are generally corrupt. Politics has become the most, if not the only, lucrative business for our dynastic political class. Do we have at least one senatorial candidate who takes objective morality seriously, recognizes it as the basis of law and good governance, and lives his life according to genuine Christian ---or Islamic, as the case may be ---moral values?
Who among the candidates will not put their personal interests above all others and everything else? Who among them are not yet involved in large-scale bribery and graft, or in syndicated crime such as drug trafficking, illegal gambling, smuggling, and similar operations? Who among them have not already amassed unreported and untaxed wealth far beyond what they could legally own and justify? Who among them will not mind throwing away tens or hundreds of millions of pesos, ill-gotten or ill-sourced, just to win a position that carries a measly annual salary of less than one million pesos? Is there at least one candidate who would rather lose than bribe, steal, cheat, or kill just to “win” the election and lose his soul?
Sadly, not even the all-knowing media seem to have the energy or time to waste on these questions. So we have to ask and answer them ourselves, whatever our limitations. We need to know the candidates as best we can, so that we do not end up falling for their manufactured image, which is often the very opposite of their actual personalities. We need to see through each of the little games they play so that we do not fall prey to their designs or to our own lack of malice.
Serious contradictions confound this exercise.
First of all, this is one election the Arroyo administration had tried so hard to avoid. They tried to abolish the Senate but failed. In so doing, they gave up whatever right or reason they had to participate in the senatorial elections. Nonetheless, they are fielding senatorial candidates. So senators who would have been “abolished” are now sleeping in the same bed with those who had tried to “abolish” them. And those who used to call Mrs. Arroyo “bogus president” are sleeping there too with those who used to snap at them for “destabilizing” her presidency.
What do they say to each other now? And what have they to say to our people, especially the youth?
The “Genuine Opposition” (how imaginative can they get!) is not much better off either. In picking its candidates from outside parties it opened the door to some of President Arroyo’s favorite “pets” who now saw her official backing as a “kiss of death” but who would not mind maintaining an independent arrangement with her provided it is not exposed to the public. In the process, GO shut out from its ticket the real oppositionists who had built and fed the fire under Mrs. Arroyo’s seat these past three to six years. At least nine of GO’s 12 candidates are plain power-seekers who had played an active role either in ousting then President Joseph “Erap” Estrada in 2001 or in depriving Fernando Poe Jr of his presidential landslide in 2004.
GO compounded its error by indulging the misplaced ambition of two young politicians ---Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel Jr. and Alan Peter Cayetano ---the son and brother respectively of incumbent senators Aquilino Pimentel Jr., and Pia Cayetano --- who want to set up their political dynasties in our exceptionally small Senate of 24 members. What the administration had failed to do last year, GO will now try to accomplish through this royal option to turn the Senate into the family estate of the Pimentels and the Cayetanos.
Both camps are stained by the dynasty issue, although in different degrees. TU is fielding Mike Defensor while Miriam Defensor Santiago, who may or may not disown any kinship, sits in the Senate until 2010. TU is also fielding Teresa Oreta Aquino while Beningo “Noynoy” Aquino III, her late brother’s son, is running under GO. And Tito Sotto is running under TU, while Francis Pangilinan, the son-in-law of Mrs. Sotto’s older sister, is a guest candidate of GO. It gets messier the longer you look at it.
What is their argument? That neither the Ten Commandments nor the statutes passed by Congress forbid it. They agree that the Constitution prohibits political dynasties. But they insist that until a coercive statute exists, the Constitution should be ignored, and no father-and-son or brother-and-sister team should be barred from bonding in the Senate. So you may know something about China’s dynasties from 221 B.C. to 1911, or America’s dynasties from Thomas Jefferson to George W. Bush; but until the Philippine Congress defines it, you may not say you know what a “dynasty” is. It is tantamount to saying that nobody in the United States knew what sex meant until President Bill Clinton defined it, after engaging in some sexual perversity with Monica Lewinsky inside the Oval Office.
Like Team Unity (TU), GO has nothing to say to our people either.
Unprincipled party-switching completely abolished the distinction between administration and opposition. The opposition’s casual acceptance of this, and the Senate dynasty issue had prompted me to resign from the Governing Board of the United Opposition (UNO) before it became known as GO, but nobody else has protested since. Obviously, the administration needed some turncoats to be able to complete a 12-man ticket, but certainly not the opposition.
Unless the GO leaders are more naïve than we thought, the only logical explanation here is that somebody had probably sold out. Who struck the deal with whom, and in exchange for what, we dare not guess. But the immediate result was this amorphous mass of political opportunists who could easily be lumped together under one political umbrella fittingly called “Partido Oportunista ng Pilipinas.”
For the first time in our history, we have a supposedly grand opposition coalition whose biggest party member, PMP, is headed by the “undisputed opposition leader” himself (Erap), but does not have a single senatorial candidate. In contrast, some walk-in one-man parties have candidates, and at least three political parties not organic to GO have a total of eight senatorial candidates on the ticket. These three parties straddle and have open doors to the two opposite camps. They have a total of 12 senatorial bets on both sides.
The biggest of the three is the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC). It accounts for six of the candidates. Two candidates— Oreta and Sotto --- are with TU; four – Nikki Coseteng, Francis Escudero, Loren Legarda and John Osmena – are with GO. Party boss Danding Cojuangco, however, is with Mrs. Arroyo, while former NPC president Ernesto Maceda is with GO. You need not guess whose music will play, and who will dance the dance.
The Nacionalista Party (NP) and the Liberal Party (LP) account for the other six. The NP has one candidate in TU –Sen. Ralph Recto, and two in GO – Senate President Manuel Villar and Cayetano. The LP has one in TU – Defensor, and two in GO – Noynoy Aquino and Pangilinan, although the latter has opted to do a solo.
Both LP and NP are parties that have risen from the dead to nourish the ambitions of their two richest members ---Villar for the NP, and Sen. Mar Roxas, for the LP. Both of them are eyeing the 2010 presidency. Whatever their merits or prospects, this disreputable conduct on the part of their parties could cost them the chance of getting anything for their money in the next---if there is a next---presidential election.
Never before has our politics sunk so low. The parties and candidates are no longer trying to outsmart each other; they are simply trying to cut deals among themselves ---and to hell with everybody else! The contest between and among parties and candidates is no more; the war between the people and the politicians is on. This is a war we, the people, cannot afford to lose. It will not do for us, therefore, to simply replace the administration with the opposition; we must get rid of both.
Is it doable? It won’t be easy, but it can be done. Whenever a government project is put up for public bidding, no contract is awarded if there are no qualified bidders. In a literary or art competition, no one gets the prize if no entry is truly deserving. Yet in a senatorial election, 12 senators are always “elected”, even if no one deserves it. This should change.
We could begin by simply refusing to fill up our ballots. In the novel Seeing by the Nobel Prize winner Jose Saramago, the people cast blank ballot papers to express their discontent. We could do something similar this time. Of course, the official cheaters could always fill any blank ballot, so we should try to be smarter. We should simply cross our ballots, and make sure they are counted right.
This is no guarantee that no single senator will be “elected.” The candidates will presumably vote for themselves, along with their campaigners, relatives, and close associates. So the Commission on Elections will have to proclaim 12 “elected” senators, even if none of them obtain more than a few hundred votes. But none of them –and this is precisely the point we want to make--should be able to claim a popular mandate. This should be the first step.
No doubt, some of the senatorial candidates are personally less sinning than the others. Only a few are openly amoral and adulterous; only a few are rumored to be involved in money laundering, drug trafficking, smuggling, gambling, and other illegal activities. Not all of them have been using their current or previous position to obtain fat government contracts and other favors for their proxies and associates. Among the suspects, not all their perfidies have been exposed; not all the skeletons they have buried have been unearthed.
Nonetheless, not one of them has found the courage to speak up and make a clear, principled stand against the perversities which the two opposite camps have inflicted upon the nation and the entire electoral process. Everyone simply wants to “win,” no matter what it takes; their only concern is “winning,” regardless of the means, and the cost and consequence to everybody else. We must reject this.
They have simply lost any moral claim on our people’s votes. There is no compelling reason nor sufficient moral basis for us to put even the least undeserving of them with any enthusiasm in the Senate. We owe it to ourselves as a people, particularly the young, to whom the future belongs, to declare categorically, once and for all, that our political conmen have long overtaxed our patience, and that it is time for them to vacate.
(This piece may be freely reproduced for public use, without seeking the author’s written permission. Readers’ comments are welcome.)