Choosing senatorial candidates
Will not be corrupt” topped the qualities that voters are “looking for in a senatorial candidate.” So says a survey conducted by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) on Dec. 16-19, 2018. Yet, other SWS surveys show that among the probable winners are some candidates who are not known for their honesty.
Why this theoretical desire is contradicted by practical choices could be the subject of a deeper study. As of now, however, it seems that this dichotomy is born of ignorance as to who among the senatorial candidates truly embody this elusive quality of honesty. While mentally idealizing it, voters nonetheless fail to actualize it in their choices.
Thus, the candidates were probably chosen based on their name recall, derived from their present or past Senate incumbency, or their movie, TV, radio or sports feats, or their expertise in manipulating media ads and promos, or their ability to sing, dance and entertain during circus-like campaign sorties.
Sometimes, voters are confused by the sheer number of choices (63 aspirants for 12 slots). Many of the candidates are not fit even for barangay kagawad, yet they crowd the people’s limited attention span during media debates. Worse, the voters are inveigled by guns, goons and gold, or by relationship, kinship and friendship, or by profligate vote-buying.
Unfortunately, the Constitution does not provide the specific qualities to guide voters in selecting their senators. All that the Charter requires are: natural-born citizenship, 35 years of age, ability to read and write, registration as a voter, and residence in the Philippines for at least two years prior to Election Day.
This lack of guidelines is unfortunate, because even in the simple search for household help or “kasambahay,” certain qualities are required. Foremost of these are trustworthiness, honesty and diligence, given that they would live in the employer’s home. And sometimes, certain skills are specified, like the ability to cook, to wash and iron clothes, or to clean the house.
To choose senatorial candidates wisely, I think we should also consider not only the general qualities of trustworthiness, honesty and diligence required of household help, but also the job descriptions of senators.
These job descriptions are not listed in a single section of the Constitution; rather, they are scattered in its various parts. But, mainly, they are:
First, and this is a no-brainer, the knowledge on how a bill becomes a law and the ability to participate meaningfully in the lawmaking process that, in turn, requires an understanding of basic parliamentary rules—to credibly argue during legislative debates, and to differentiate the negotiable from the nonnegotiable without conceding integrity and good governance.
Second, the ability to ask relevant questions during legislative oversight hearings and investigations in aid of legislation. They must study and prepare for these hearings and investigations, and avoid nauseous grandstanding and intellectual nihilism.
Third, the legal background (not necessarily of a lawyer) and political savvy to unravel the yearly national budget. This is necessary to prevent the wanton wastage of our people’s taxes, and to detect cleverly disguised pork insertions.
Fourth, the probity to practice fair play and objectivity when senators act as judges during impeachment and electoral tribunal proceedings, or as members of the Commission on Appointments in scrutinizing presidential nominees/appointees, or as diplomats in weighing treaties and international agreements needing ratification.
Fifth, the serenity to wear a statesperson’s garb when the Senate exercises its extraordinary responsibilities to ratify treaties, to declare a state of war, to approve amnesties, to authorize the President to exercise emergency powers, and to revoke or extend martial law and/or the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus.
Sixth, the independence and intelligence to safeguard the long-term public interest when Congress calls for amendments or revisions to the Constitution.
Do our senatorial choices possess all, or at least some, of these general qualities, and fit into these job descriptions?
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