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The Long View
Block voting

By Manuel L. Quezon III
First Posted 00:06:00 11/20/2006

Filed Under: Elections

Published on page A15 of the November 20, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

ON THE SECOND TUESDAY OF NOVEMBER 1941, with the constitutional amendments extending the president?s term, restoring a bicameral legislature and establishing a Commission on Elections, Filipinos went to the polls to elect their national and local officials.

In that election, 24 senators were elected to fill the restored Senate (just as Filipinos were to do, again, after the approval of the 1987 Constitution). Those elected were among the most respected figures in Philippine political life: Antonio de las Alas, businessman, Cabinet officer and Constitutional Convention delegate; Alauya Alonto from Mindanao; Melencio Arranz; Nicolas Buendia (of Buendia Avenue fame); Mariano Jesus Cuenco of Cebu; Ramon Fernandez, whose election in the time of the Conley case represented a public repudiation of American colonial officials; Carlos P. Garcia, future president; Pedro Hernaez; Domingo Imperial; Vicente Madrigal, nationalist and industrialist; Daniel Maramba from the Ilocos; Rafael Martinez; Jose Ozamis (later killed by the Japanese and after whom Ozamis City is named); Quintin Paredes; Elpidio Quirino, another future president; Vicente Rama; Esteban de la Rama; Claro M. Recto; Eulogio ?Amang? Rodriguez; Manuel Roxas (another president-to-be); Emiliano Tria Tirona; Proceso Sebastian, another honest Ilocano; Ramon Torres; and Jose Yulo, former Speaker of the National Assembly and industrialist.

Of these 24, one wasn?t supposed to run for the Senate. The Nacionalista Party (whose candidates were all 24 elected senators) had originally included the name of Norberto Romualdez, an enormously well-respected judge, scholar and linguist. However, Romualdez died the day before the election; and the NP was forced to select another candidate to take his place. The candidate selected was a province-mate of Romualdez: Rafael Martinez, who was the governor of Leyte. As we noted earlier, Martinez made it to the Senate.

How could a candidate manage to get himself elected to the Senate with less than 24 hours left of the campaign period? Particularly since he hadn?t even been mentioned as a candidate prior to Romualdez?s death? Logically, the next most popular opposition candidate should have earned enough votes to take the slot Romualdez would have occupied.

The reason for Martinez?s electoral success was very simple. It didn?t matter that no one knew his name. As a Nacionalista candidate, he was automatically credited with a vote whenever a voter chose to write ?Nacionalista? on his ballot, instead of tediously enumerating one by one the candidates he wanted to vote for. Most voters apparently took the line of least resistance, and chose to simply scribble the dominant party?s name; so Martinez made it.

Since 1951, though, voters haven?t had the luxury of simply scribbling the name of their favorite party on ballots to make things simple. This was viewed as one of the necessary sacrifices voters had to make in the name of democracy. Never mind if sample ballots, which a voter could take into the precinct and copy from, gave voters the opportunity to mindlessly copy down names, thus making their choice just about as significant as the mindless effort required to write down a party name. At the very least, the voter had to perspire a great deal more to write down every single name. If democracy wasn?t necessarily exalted by this, at least it allowed the voter to exercise his or her wrist.

But then some people began to wonder if voting for a party, and not individual candidates, was such a bad thing. If you voted for parties instead of individuals, might you not be more inclined to vote for what those parties stood for instead of the figures who stood for the parties (and who didn?t mind hopping from party to party, thus making it clear that they didn?t really stand for much except that they represented the nomadic desire to set up camp wherever the current situation favored their prospects for political success)?

Some thinkers even went further to speculate that it might be better if political parties, as we knew them, received competition from groups organized along professional and occupational lines. Shouldn?t doctors, or schoolteachers, laborers and the poor, for example, organize themselves and be entitled to sending their own representatives to Congress? And so the party list was born. What I wonder about is why the party list shouldn?t be our only means of voting for candidates.

Writing in ?Filipino Politics: Development and Decay,? David Wurfel said, ?[B]efore the 1951 reforms, the Election Code actually seemed to facilitate one-party dominance. Not only did the majority party control the board of election inspectors, but ?block voting? was allowed, that is, a voter could write in the party?s name on the ballot and thus automatically support all of that party?s nominees. The 1951 amendment abolished ?block voting.? Split tickets subsequently became the most common pattern, even to the election of a vice president not from the president?s party in 1961. The electoral reform of 1951 was thus one of the most important institutional changes in the postwar Philippines, making the life of the opposition easier.?

What Wurfel overlooked, of course, is that the decline of the Philippine party system accelerated after the abolition of block voting. And since everyone seems convinced of the desirability of political parties (personally, I am not; I think they?re training grounds for ideological group-think and political tyranny), I?ve long proposed that if we are to have political parties as a necessary evil, then we should restore block voting. All it requires is a law which Congress can easily pass.

Comments welcome at www.quezon.ph

More Inquirer columns

Previous columns:
The undecided ? 11/16/06
Practical languages ? 11/13/06
Brain of Baler ? 11/09/06
Four points for discussion ? 11/02/06
Lame duck ? 10/26/06
Having the cake ? 10/19/06
A matter of logistics ? 10/12/06

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