For decades, various groups have been striving to educate voters, reminding them in every election to thoroughly study the candidates’ qualification to ensure that only those who have the best intentions and competence would lead the country. They emphasize the need for honesty, integrity, competence and selfless service for candidates. They also call on people to give importance to platforms and agendas rather than on popularity in selecting their leaders.
Obviously, the calls have fallen on deaf ears. Elections after elections, many candidates who possess the opposite qualifications win, some for the simple reason that they are popular and can charm the audience during campaign rallies. Never mind that they have spotty records and dubious past, or are simply incapable of dispensing the duties of the positions that they were seeking.
With the midterm elections coming in May, candidates will be cuddling babies, dancing and singing on stage, clasping hands, distributing giveaways and even attending wakes to win over the voters. Very few will be discussing issues or defining platforms because, let’s admit it, most Filipino voters couldn’t care less.
An interesting voters’ survey conducted by the Social Weather Stations found that while 25 percent of Filipino voters wanted a candidate who will not be corrupt, 21 percent preferred those with good personal characteristics, and 21 percent liked trustworthy candidates, only 3 percent liked candidates who were bright or intelligent, and only 2 percent preferred those with plans for growth or vision for the country!
No wonder the candidates of the Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HNP) are refusing to debate with Otso Diretso bets. For example, why would former actor Lito Lapid be interested in a debate when he had won as senator, governor and vice governor without having to participate in one nor had to explain his plans and platforms? Or why would Bong Go have to sweat his way into a debate when all he had to do was smile, give away shirts and other things, or simply sit beside the popular President Rodrigo Duterte?
Indeed, why waste precious hours and sweat when only 2 percent of voters care about what they would say and that only 3 percent are interested if they have the brains and ability to perform their duties once elected?
But the courageous presidential daughter Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, the Hugpong leader, said she was willing to take the cudgels for her silent lambs and debate all by herself against the eight candidates of Otso Diretso. Such bravado!
But, as correctly pointed out by the opposition Otso Diretso bets, Mayor Sara is not the candidate for the Senate and should not be the one debating them. Let the candidates speak for themselves, they chorused.
Why is the debate important? Because through the debates, candidates would be able to explain and expound on their supposed plans and platforms and voters would be able to discern who among the candidates understand what they are saying, have the competence to push their agenda, and have the integrity to become a member of the revered Senate of the Philippines.
Candidates from both sides would be able to question the soundness of the other bets’ plans and platforms, and their honesty, integrity and competence. The Senate, after all, is a lawmaking body with only 24 members who discuss and debate important issues needed to pass legislation. It is not a place where one can just sit and smile while the direction of the country’s future is being discussed or debated.
If the HNP candidates didn’t want to debate, they should have opted to run for the House of Representatives where with almost 300 members, one can afford to just sit and even be absent without anybody noticing it. Besides, an administration congressman needs only to say “aye” to every administration-sponsored measure and “nay” to every opposition-initiated legislation.
And then, there’s the matter of honesty. For Mayor Sara and Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo, “honesty” should not be a campaign issue in the coming elections.
“As a voter, I have to exercise my own judgment whether honesty will be a part of my choice,” Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a Palace press briefing Thursday. “Why so many who are dishonest get elected? That means many do not consider honesty. It really depends on the voter.”
We shouldn’t have to remind Atty. Panelo that as a citizen, it should be an important part of his choice.
“All candidates have been telling lies, that’s why honesty should not be an issue,” said Mayor Sara in defense of former presidential aide Christopher “Bong” Go, who has been accused of using government funds for his campaign, and Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos, whose claims of graduating from Princeton University and the University of the Philippines Diliman College of Law were denied by representatives of both institutions.
Also under question for honesty among the HNP candidates are former Senators Bong Revilla, Jinggoy Estrada and Juan Ponce Enrile, who were all indicted for plunder for their alleged participation in the pork barrel scam.
Since everybody’s been lying, voters should not worry about it? Doesn’t make sense, especially for lawyers like Mayor Sara and Panelo. In fact, to repeat the above SWS survey: 25 percent of voters want candidates who will not be corrupt; 21 percent prefer those with good moral character; and 21 percent like trustworthy candidates, all of which have direct correlation with “honesty.”
Voters should be more discerning when choosing the people who will occupy the venerable seats in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, and the thousands of local posts all over the country especially in this midterm elections because it will determine whether we would go the same path as President Duterte and his allies in Congress have led us in the past three years, or whether Congress, especially the Senate, should stand up to the abuses of the Executive Branch and bring back the constitutionally mandated check-and-balance and balance of power among the three government branches.
If Comelec wouldn’t arrange a debate among the Senate candidates, media groups and entities should initiate one. If the HNP candidates refuse to participate, we can assume that they don’t have a sound platform nor the competence to perform the duties of a senator.
After all, the Senate is responsible for writing and passing laws, confirming presidential appointments, ratifying treaties and other agreements with foreign governments, and providing oversight to the executive branch, among others, all of which require thorough debates and discussions.
Mr. Abelgas is former managing editor of Manila Standard. He now lives in the United States.