NOT THAT we’re singling him out, but we think the senatorial candidacy of Juan Ponce Enrile Jr., representative of the first district of Cagayan province, is a good example of the way cynical politics preys on something that has ailed the Philippine body politic for so long: the lack of voter awareness.
Here’s the case. Enrile, 54, is preparing to vault into higher office on the basis of—what, exactly? As far as we know, before his surname became top of mind among the public by virtue of his father’s stewardship of the impeachment trial of then Chief Justice Renato Corona, the young Enrile had never made much of an impression for his work in the House. Perhaps he has been a good representative of his constituents all this time. But on raging issues of national import in the last few years, only his most faithful supporters will insist that, at the very least, he has been heard from. Can anyone recall a public issue, advocacy or cause that can be tied to the name of Jack Enrile—the way, for instance, that the Reproductive Health bill has had for its champions Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman in the House and Sen. Pia Cayetano in the Senate, or Rep. Erin Tañada for the Freedom of Information bill?
For all of the young Enrile’s years of stay in Congress, the one thing many in the public still associate with his name is his alleged role in the death of actor Alfie Anido nearly three decades ago—a rumor so enduring that even the elder Enrile had to publicly dignify it with a clarification in a recently released memoir. And yet, because the former martial law administrator and now Senate President’s public standing has rebounded in the wake of the impeachment trial, his scion now feels emboldened to inveigle a Senate seat from the voters—not by virtue of his own qualifications and achievements, if any, but those of his father’s, in effect.
Will the public bite? UNA, the coalition forged by Vice President Jejomar Binay and former president Joseph Estrada, seems to think so, having included the young Enrile in its lineup with apparently no stronger basis than name recall. The candidate apparently doesn’t mind being seen as a freeloader this way; he and his backers think the public can’t really distinguish between father and son, that voters are too dense to realize that the credentials of Enrile pere are not and should not be transferable by fiat or private investiture to Enrile fils.
And Jack Enrile and his backers may yet be proven right—if voters once again play nonchalant about their choices in the coming elections, if they allow themselves to be lured away from the hard questions by the typical campaign razzle-dazzle (even Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño has threatened to sing and dance if that’s what it takes, he said, to win a Senate seat), instead of examining the candidates, and what they have to offer the public, with more care and caution.
If the voters do just that, they’d perhaps find out that, according to the website Rollcall.ph, Jack Enrile is one of the top absentee lawmakers in the current Congress—No. 8, in fact. Refuting this report should be a no-brainer for the candidate and others on it, but even as Marilyn Barua-Yap, secretary general of the House of Representatives, has dismissed Rollcall.ph’s list as not official, the House itself isn’t more forthcoming; the process of securing its own records on the attendance of congressmen is like running an obstacle course. Which is perhaps a measure of how wary these lawmakers are about letting the public know the extent of the dysfunction, waste and indolence that often characterize their days as so-called public servants. Hence, too, the continuing inaction on the FOI bill.
The quality of governance in this country will only improve if voters make the effort to look more closely at the people presenting themselves to be their leaders and representatives in the government. Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago has made a provocative summary of the problem: “Of the 50 million voters who will troop to the polls in May next year, the greater majority are not intelligent, they are not educated for voting, and the candidates they choose are not educated for serving.” That is a formula for continuing disaster—the lot of this country, by the way, for generations now.
The young Enrile is not the only candidate who deserves greater scrutiny. All those who aspire to serve in our name must be held up against the light. Caveat emptor, always. Now more than ever.