We have missed the boat and the remaining years of the Duterte administration is very tight to get electoral and political reforms done.
This column originally appeared in The Manila Times on February 12, 2019.
TODAY is the start of the 90-day campaign period for the May 13, 2019 elections where the 61,843,728 voters will be electing 12 senators, 297 representatives (238 from geographical districts and 59 from party lists) and around 25,000 local positions, from governor, vice governor, city mayor and vice mayor, municipal mayor and vice mayor and councilors. In the Senate race, there are seven reelectionists, seven balik-Senado in a field of 63 candidates for the Senate, 134 accredited party lists and approximately 40,000-plus local candidates.
Three years have passed for the Duterte administration and it has not seen it fit to push for any electoral and political party reform measures in Congress. It probably does not believe piecemeal legislation would suffice and yet, even federalism is nowhere near second base as Congress went on recess for the midterm elections.
The previous administration failed to implement any political reform in the six years or from 2010 to 2016. We are now running nine years, but nothing has moved in the 17th Congress on initiatives, including those on electoral (Smartmatic to Comelec modernization) and political party reforms (subsidy to political parties, ban on political turncoatism, anti-dynasty, party-list reform, etc.).
How can changes be brought about in the political terrain? How can we have better legislators and timely and relevant legislation at the national and local levels when 80 percent in both levels are controlled by dynasties? How can we have local chief executives who would lead strategically and create the ripple of change? And for 2019, the party-list system has been gamed with termed-out legislators leaving the candidacy for the district seats to other family members while they invade the seats reserved for party-list representatives of so-called marginalized sectors. Imagine if 59 party-list seats are controlled by Family Inc. That would mean the edging out of the marginalized sectors, which were brought in courtesy of a Supreme Court decision in Banat vs Comelec which opened the floodgates to what we have today, far different from what the Constitution provided for.
And so, we search for the 12 men and women who will be for us. Fighting and slaying the dragons that retard our political system and yes, the same seven who voted for the pork-laced GAA 2019. It was only Panfilo Lacson, who dared and continues to do so. Not that he is a saint but at least, there is one who questions the practice. That pork is the money of taxpayers. Their salaries, benefits and all expenses plus some earnings all come from taxpayers, and that is why it is important for us to choose wisely our elected representatives from the national to the local.
And the wily leader from Mindanao deals the card, while his team holds the machine. Nothing new. Same old, same old. A reprise of “what are we in power for?” In administration after every administration, midterm has always been a zero-sum game. The difference being there is no coalition to speak of. It’s having three lists under Duterte and a well-placed Otso Diretso for the momentary opposition. What makes otso relevant? Surveys show voters will vote, on average, eight candidates in the midterm. And the biggest political party in town did their Big Brother Otso very recently. Coincidence? Remember what a politician once said, “In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, it was planned that way.”
The Otso Diretso line-up is composed of Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano, reelectionist Sen. Bam Aquino, human rights lawyer Chel Diokno, civic leader Samira Gutoc, former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay, election lawyer Romulo Macalintal, former Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, and former Deputy Speaker Erin Tañada. The coalition is composed of several organizations, including the LP, Magdalo, Aksyon Demokratiko and Akbayan.
With a PDP list of five (MaBaGoKoTo), an HNP (under presidential daughter, Sara Duterte) list of 15 and a personal PRRD list of eight, the administration party is hard put to come up with a coalition for the midterms. What appears to be a coalition is that of HNP (a regional party) because of the affiliation it signed with various national and local parties.
Because of the pressured negotiations to put together a 12-member slate, Duterte1, or the DU1 train, has been delayed. Last week it was announced that DU1 was planning to do 110 campaign events in the 90-day stretch, to begin in Pampanga, home province of Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and the bailiwick of Gov. Lilia Pineda, chairman of regional party Kambilan. The kickoffs will be the bellwether cities of the province: San Fernando and Angeles. DU1 will then hit the Central and North Luzon trails before doing its first run in NCR.
As of last week, HNP was endorsing 13 candidates for the Senate, namely: Senators Cynthia Villar, Koko Pimentel and Sonny Angara; former senators Jinggoy Estrada, JV Ejercito, Bong Revilla and Pia Cayetano; Maguindanao Rep. Zajid Mangudadatu, Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos, former police chief Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, former presidential aide Bong Go, former presidential legal adviser Francis Tolentino and journalist Jiggy Manicad.
There has never been a 12-0 sweep for an incumbent administration. In 1987, Lakas ng Bayan was 22/24. In 1995, Lakas-Laban was 9/12. In 2001, the People Power Coalition was 8/13. In 2004, K-4 was 7/12. In 2007, Team Unity was 2/12. In 2013, Team PNoy was 9/12.
We have missed the boat and the remaining years of the Duterte administration is very tight to get electoral and political reforms done. Will we likewise miss the train in getting fresh faces into the Senate? Or will voters become conscious of the next generation and seriously examine the candidates for what they stood and stand for, for what they have done and can do for us and the country? You see, “democracy is not just an election, it is our daily life.” Choose and vote wisely!