(updated 6 Feb 2009)
Despite the number of presidential aspirants trying to defy the ban on premature campaigning, not one of them has captured the imagination. While only a few seem ill-prepared to see President Arroyo finally go, not too many seem eager to welcome any of the advertised aspirants either. They have nothing to say to our people, and our people have nothing to say to them in turn.
Amid the global moral and economic distress, our people need to hear some words from their leaders on how to ride out the storm. But none of them seem prepared to say anything. Greed has been cited as a major cause of the distress – even US President Obama says so – but none of the pretenders seem prepared to say they would stamp out corruption, if they become president.
Is it because none of them have truly clean hands? Or because all they really want to see is a change of players, not a change of game?
Eventually, every aspirant will have to say something about corruption. But that would need more than a mere declaration of intent or even a proposed program of government. It would need a morally upright private life and a transparent public record to back it up.
That cannot possibly come from those who have used public funds as their own, and used public office to mulct private investors, get highly favored bank loans and tainted government deals for themselves or their friends. Or have rented armed bands and cheating syndicates to steal elections, and since been collecting rent from gambling, narcotics and smuggling lords while trying to appear clean. Or have failed to oppose anti-poor programs coming from questionable foreign donors.
Save one or two, the declared aspirants seem to have more money than they could possibly explain, and ready to spend even more, for a job whose salary the Constitution has fixed at P300,000 per annum. How could they possibly talk of rooting out corruption when their very pursuit of the presidency is already an exercise in corruption?
There are various forms of corruption. Each one involves a moral and intellectual swindle. The biggest swindle right now is for some of the aspirants to proclaim they belong to the opposition while keeping an open line to Malacanang, and long after they had erased the distinction between the administration and the opposition.
That distinction was abolished in the 2007 senatorial election. In that election, the NPC ran Tito Sotto and Tessie Oreta in the administration, and Loren Legarda, Chiz Escudero, Sonny Osmena and Nikki Coseteng in the “opposition.” The NP ran Ralph Recto in the administration and Manny Villar and Alan Peter Cayetano in the “opposition.” The LP ran Mike Defensor in the administration and Noynoy Aquino and (initially) Kiko Pangilinan in the “opposition.” Joseph Estrada’s PMP, the party with the biggest mass base, did not have a single senatorial candidate in that election.
The “opposition” won more seats than the administration. But Villar promptly confected an alliance with administration senators to become Senate president, thereby reducting the numerically superior “opposition” into a minority position. Villar had since lost the Senate presidency poetically to Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, an administration ally supported by “opposition” senators.
These developments have made it abundantly clear that the conflict is no longer between the administration and the “opposition,” but rather between our opportunistic politicians and the people. This paradigm shift has rendered the Senate unfit to provide the next president. The next president should now come from the ranks of the people.
To avoid becoming totally irrelevant, the Senate should now enact reforms to make sure the 2010 election would be less farcical than the last ones. Aside from computerization and cleaning up of all election data, these could include:
1) A law requiring senators to resign their seat upon filing their certificate of candidacy for any other position;
2) A law limiting a candidate’s authorized expenses to the full amount of his legal emoluments from the office he seeks;
3) A law that automatically disqualifies candidates who purchase so-called “permits” to campaign and to win from certain armed groups who claim to be in control of certain areas during elections;
4) A law that bans all political advertising during the election period, and instead requires the State to provide non-discriminatory information on all candidates in any election;
5) Such ban should empower the Commission on Election to disqualify candidates who try to circumvent it by engaging in massive propaganda campaign prior to the start of the legal campaign period. If the Comelec fails to disqualify such a candidate, it should charge the total cost of the candidate’s propaganda campaign within one year before the campaign period against his total authorized expense, subject to a surcharge of at least 200 percent.
The aspiring senators should lead these reforms. Even if they fail to enact the appropriate law, they should all resign their seats upon filing their candidacy for president or vice president.
If cost has put a presidential run permanently beyond the reach of the honest and the poor, then the senators should now lead in proposing a shift to the parliamentary system where no one has to spend billions to become a Member of Parliament, and eventually Prime Minister, by the grace of God and Parliament.
We need creativity and courage to overcome the yawning political desert and the permanent grip of corruption upon our electoral system.
(My next piece will take an objective look at the parliamentary system.)
1 February 2009