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Is eight enough?

In a curious coincidence, both the opposition and the President have eight candidates for the Senate. The opposition put its slate (Alejano, Aquino, Diokno, Gutoc, Hilbay, Macalintal, Roxas, Tañada) together first, while the President’s list (Aguilar, Angara, Cayetano, Go, Marcos, De la Rosa, Tolentino, Villar) is a constantly evolving work in progress, perhaps meant to titillate and tantalize the press and the public and keep the political class angling for an endorsement (while enjoying the effects of pointedly excluding hopefuls like “Hairy” Roque in public).

There is more to this coincidental list of eight than meets the eye, however, beyond the obvious contrast in resources: The opposition hasn’t the means or the scope to scrape together more than eight candidates; the President has an abundance of choices, but chooses to operate according to his own inner political clock.

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Time and again, surveys have asked the public how many candidates they have in their own electoral sample ballot, and invariably the answer is eight. This suggests to me that when you had people who actually understood government and the necessity for practical rules to guide its operations (the framers of our 1935 Constitution or, specifically, the 1940 amendments that restored the Senate), rules will match public behavior, making electoral exercises more conducive to producing results that function smoothly.

Before martial law, except in rare occasions such as when there were unscheduled vacancies, people elected senators eight at a time. This in turn enabled the Senate, uniquely in the legislature, to be a continuing body, since even during election years when the entire House was up for election, there would be 16 sitting senators. (Thus, it would be the Senate president in the premartial law system and, again, after the tradition was revived in 2016, who would certify the election of the President and Vice President at the start of inaugural ceremonies.)

This changed under the 1987 Constitution, for no better reason than enough premartial law losers of elections were in a position to affect the Constitution’s provisions, to mandate that 12 senators at a time would be elected: giving hope to four more senatorial hopefuls and, in yet another of the many cases of post-Edsa unintended consequences, giving an incentive for cheating involving the crucial last four senatorial slots. An interesting insight into this is that those last four slots have often been decided by relatively razor-thin margins, again acting as an incentive for winning by hook or by crook—a case of pure political selfishness that set aside both the reality of the Senate being a continuing body (12 is not enough to elect a new leadership), and imposed a burden on the electorate and parties to scrounge around for 12-person slates when eight is the number that has been proven to work.

This brings us to where the opposition and the President (so far) have both let down the electorate. The forthcoming vacancies to be filled in the Senate numbers 12, not eight. At this point, both sides are asking the public to undertake a dereliction of duty by only voting for eight, though here the opposition is arguably the one which has let down the public more, because it immediately concedes four slots to the administration’s many factions who, among themselves, have a surplus of candidates. Supporters of the administration, then, will have an easier time using the President’s list as a starting point, stuffing the rest with others who loudly support the President even if he declines to notice them.

Then again, there is an opportunity here for the opposition to appeal for such voters to consider at least four opposition bets, on the basis of a pragmatic desire to balance the Senate and not pack it with too many Palace cheerleaders.

But the citizen opposed to the President and all his works only has the opposition eight as a starting point, while running the risk of actually lowering the chances of the opposition by immediately conceding four slots to the administration, which has more big proven vote-getters actually in its ranks or in collaborationist orbit around the President.

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TAGS: 2019 elections, 2019 senatorial candidates, Manuel L. Quezon III, Rodrigo Duterte, The Long View
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